Here’s stuff people win:
money from a slot machine
favor with the king
These are all good things to win and I have won maybe two of them. When I was very young, I also won a prize from a pack of gum. Now, this wasn’t some lame Tootsie Roll Pop prize from a Tootsie Roll Pop star. Remember those? If you got an Indian* shooting a star on your Tootsie Roll Pop wrapper, you could take the wrapper to the dimestore and get a FREE Tootsie Roll Pop. This wasn’t that long ago, even though it sounds way too good to be true; this happened right there in my small town in Iowa in the early 1990s. (I promise you: the next time I’m back home, I’ll take a starred Tootsie Roll Pop wrapper to the counter and let you know here on the blog if it still works.)
It was a sunny afternoon. I was knee-high to a cornstalk. My sister Hannah and I were playing in the living room of our family’s country home. There was this huge picture window that looked out onto the orchard and I remember being afraid of the boxelder bug that was making its slow path up to the top. Somehow, gloriously, I had scored an entire pack of HubbaBubba bubble gum and I was working my way through the stack, making every piece count. I chewed one soft pink wad until it was dead and then went for the next. I unwrapped the hot pink wrapping on the gum carefully, probably because I wanted to make a dress for my finger out of it later.
Then it happened. Tearing away more paper, I saw that one of the individually-wrapped cubes of gum was wrapped in a different color of paper.
“MARY!” my sister Hannah screamed. She practically took flight, so fast she was in moving from her spot on the couch to where I was on the carpet. She tackled me, gaping, wide-eyed at the pack in my paw. “MARY, YOU WON!”
It said it right there: “YOU WON!!! YOU WON!!! YOU WON!!! YOU WON!!!” again and again, printed round and round in teeny-tiny little hot pink letters on a white gum wrapper. Dumbly, I examined it. I won? What did that mean? Luck was not a concept I grasped at that point in my life, to say nothing of fate or providence — I was just excited because my sister was. She patiently explained to me that I was going to get a toy just because I had the pack of gum with the special wrapper and I think that was exactly the moment I did understand the concept of luck. File under, “Paradise, lost.”
My prize was the coolest. I was given the chance choose between a He-Man action figure and a She-Ra action figure. I didn’t get to choose the specific doll, but I could call gender. I firmly selected the She-Ra doll and about a year later I received my Hubba Bubba spoils. I got a Catra doll. Catra was a member of — wait for it — “The Evil Horde,” the fearsome (or just “fierce” — heyy!) pack of villains in Mattel’s She-Ra: Princess of Power series. Would I have rather had She-Ra? Yes. Would I have settled for Castaspella, Spinnarella, or Sweet Bee? Don’t remind me! But Catra would do; she was the most powerful of all the Evil Horde and she was free, after all. That’s the second best part of winning something: first comes the surprise, then comes the free stuff.
When I think about childlike wonder this time of year, I think of winning a She-Ra doll in a pack of Hubba Bubba bubble gum. I guess it’s because I felt like there was magic in the world that would find me, or that there were forces beyond me that were waiting to grant favors to kids who were good. The best news ever is that we’re all good and the force is with us already. And yeah, I know I just mixed my sci-fi action figure catch phrases, but I don’t think Yoda minds. He didn’t sign with Hubba Bubba.