Gumball Machine

I have always been just a little different. For instance, my idea of a fun place was not the same as most other kids’ back in the 70s. They wanted to go to the pinball arcade or the skating rink, whereas I wanted to go to the laundromat.

The only time we washed clothes there was when the electric pump on our well messed up. No pump. No water. No washing clothes at home.

I was so giddy when we parked next to the laundromat. It wasn’t because I enjoyed carrying in the many heavy baskets of stinky clothes or the big boxes of detergent powder. In those days, there was no concentrated liquid detergent. I was excited about the gumball machines that were lined up against the back wall.

That’s what I called them. I don’t know the technical name for gumball machines. They were the little vending machines with the glass tops. You slid quarters into the slot and cranked the wheel. Prizes in clear plastic bubbles plopped down into the slot.

After everything was hauled in from Mamaw Jo’s station wagon, my mom would plunk a few quarters down in my waiting palm. If I was lucky, my daddy and/or papaw were at home before we left and they’d give all of the quarters they had. With my arsenal of quarters clutched in my hand, I ran straight back to the gumball machines.

I was enthralled by the wondrous treasures those glass spheres held. There were gumballs, stickers, bouncy balls, candy, decals, and my favorite, jewelry. I couldn’t wait to put the quarter in the slot and turn the handle. What exotic treasure would drop out in a big plastic bubble?

If I had lots of quarters, I would first splurge on a bag of hot fries and a grape flavored cola. My next target was the gumballs. If an orange or yellow one plopped down, I’d give it to somebody else. The ones I wanted were grape or cherry flavored. Next, I would get a bouncy ball. If it wasn’t glittery or didn’t resemble a planet, I would crank the wheel for another one.

Yes, I was picky about my treasures. I still am.

Usually, there were other kids there too and we would all join in and play bouncy ball. If any of them had bouncy balls too, we would have them all flying and bouncing everywhere inside the laundromat. When one zoomed by somebody’s head a little too close, we had to stop playing and sit down. We would wait a few minutes and go at it again.

I remember watching people roll their eyes and hurrying up so they could leave. I think some left before they were finished with their laundry.

My laundromat adventure wasn’t complete until I tried my luck at the jewelry gumball machine. I have always loved bling. Unfortunately for my husband, my bling now costs more than a quarter.

Displayed on the front of the glass sphere were sparkly necklaces, key rings, and bracelets, but what really caught my attention were the colorful rings. On this one trip, there was a ring that had a turquoise square stone displayed on it. Turquoise was my all-time favorite color.

I thought it was the most beautiful ring ever and I wanted it!

I dropped my quarter in and cranked the wheel. The clear plastic bubble plopped down into the slot. I lifted the cover up, yanked out the bubble, and popped it open. Instead of the ring, there was a leather bracelet with bright red and blue beads dangling from it.

I slid in another quarter and cranked the wheel. Another bubble dropped down. I popped it open and found a necklace with a long black cord and a shiny silver medallion. I think a tree was carved into it. I didn’t have many quarters left. My palm started to get moist. A couple of more cranks got me a key chain with red and black feathers on it and another necklace just like the one I already had. At the next crank, I got a leather choker.

Looking back, I resembled people in Las Vegas playing a slot machine. You have probably seen them on TV or in the movies. Or maybe you have been there yourself. Each time they feed their money into the slot and pull down the vending machine arm while yelling, “Come on Jackpot.” Each time I slid my quarter into the slot and cranked the wheel, I yelled, “Come on turquoise ring!”

Finally, I was down to my last quarter. Grasping it tight in my hand, I prayed for that ring. My mom had told me not to pray selfish prayers, but I didn’t care. I had been a good girl all week. I didn’t talk back, did my homework, and brushed my teeth without being told. I deserved that ring.

I slid the quarter into the slot and wrapped my sweaty hand around the crank. I twisted the wheel one last time. My heart thumped. This was it. A bubble plopped down. I lifted the flap and jerked the plastic bubble out. In it, I saw the outline of a ring.

Yes! I had my ring. Let me tell you, I couldn’t get the bubble open quick enough. I slid that ring on my finger and held my hand out. Then I felt sick. The ring’s stone was gold. I was too close to give up now. I ran straight to my mom.

“Can I have another quarter please? Please! Please!” Oh yeah, I begged hard.

“Why do you need more quarters?” My mom asked.

“Because I didn’t get the ring I wanted. I just know I’ll get with just a few more quarters. P-u-h-l-e-a-s-e!”

“What’s wrong with all the stuff you have on?” Mom pointed to me. You see, I had put on every piece of jewelry I had gotten out of the jewelry gumball machine. I even wore the key chain on my thumb.

“But they’re not the turquoise ring!” I whined.

“I think you have enough. Besides, we only have enough left to finish the laundry.”

Like that was more important. At least, I had the sense not to tell her that. I pouted for a while, but on the way home I played with my treasures. That’s not the end of my story. Remember, I don’t like giving up.

To me, giving up is throwing your hands up in the air and walking away without having the patience to see how things could have worked out. It is in essence losing hope in something or someone, including yourself. I had no intentions of doing that.

Immediately, I started saving up quarters so I could go back to the laundromat and try my chances again at the jewelry gumball machine again. To be honest, I bummed most of them off of other relatives. I would bat my blue eyes at them and try to look so sad.

Soon, I had my quarter arsenal built up. I asked my mom to take me back to the laundromat so I could try the jewelry gumball machine again. As we drove there, I prayed that turquoise ring would still be in the gumball machine and somebody hadn’t gotten all of them.

It was and you know what? I got that turquoise ring. I showed it off to all of my friends and I even wore it for my third grade school picture. If you look closely, you can see it on my left hand.

Remember, success doesn’t always happen on the first crank or even the second one. Be patient and keep trying. God will tell you if He wants you to stop. And if He does tell you that, He is pointing you to another Gumball Machine. A better one that has treasures or, better yet, blessings meant just for you.

That ring broke shortly after my school picture was taken. I was so disappointed. My sweet papaw gave my mom money to get me a nice ring. She took me to the store and they sat out a display full of colorful and sparkly rings. I had no idea the Emery Five and Dime had such rings. Somebody needed to tell the gumball machine people about that place.

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of our heart.” Psalm 37:4 (NKJV)

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