By: Stephanne Morris Marsh, Missionary Kid from Ecuador
Can you remember the first time you saw a gummy bear? Or any other type of food or candy, for that matter? I can. Vividly. In fact, one little red gummy bear entertained me for over 4 hours. It was New Years Eve, 1981. I was seven years old. We were on an Eastern Airlines flight from Miami to Quito, Ecuador. My family and I were returning to our home on the mission field in Ecuador, after a wonderful visit home to Florida for Christmas. This visit had been a surprise, a huge gift from my grandparents.
We were going to celebrate New Year’s on the plane. It was going to be fun, or so my parents told me. For once, the plane was not jam packed and over booked. In fact, the flight was relatively empty. The stewardess (for they weren’t called “flight attendants” yet), came up to my dad smiling and told him that as there was no one in first class, the captain of the plane told her to bump us up! She went on to explain that he thought my sister Keely, age two, and I, age seven, were very pretty and festive in our Christmas dresses. The dresses were gifts from my grandmother. I remember them in great detail. They were matching dresses, with pleated, frilly, gauzy white skirts, and soft, smooth red velvet tops, with the softest red satin bow around the waist. I thought they were gorgeous. I remember standing in front of the Christmas tree right before we left for the airport and mama taking our picture with grandmama and grandaddy Morris. Keely and I were very excited to have them as we didn’t often get new clothes. I can still remember the feeling of awe and wonder as we timidly moved to first class. I will never forget the look on the faces of either my mother or the stewardess when my mother vehemently declined the glass of “complimentary” champagne.
As I settled into my luxurious seat, I pulled the glossy flight magazine out of the seat pocket in front of me. There, on the cover of the magazine, was a perfect little red bear, adhered to the bottom corner. I looked at him carefully, inspecting and prodding with my finger. Surely, someone hadn’t meant to leave this curious toy behind! He was squishy and soft, slightly fuzzy from seat pocket dust, but still very cute. I had no idea what he was! I thought he was a toy; a strange and tiny toy, but simply marvelous all the same. I cannot tell you how long I sat there, alternately looking and poking before I peeled him off of the magazine. My mother noticed my preoccupation and asked me what I was playing with. I told her I didn’t know, and reluctantly showed it to her. I just knew she was going to make me give him to the stewardess so that she could find his rightful owner! Instead, much to my relief, my mother rather nonchalantly told me it was a gummy bear, a type of candy and then explained that since he was red, he probably tasted like strawberry or cherry and that gummy bears were actually quite delicious. After admonishing me not to eat it, because “we don’t know where it has been”, she told me I could keep it to admire. Now that I had been granted permission to keep it, I held him in my hand and inspected him, back and front. He was beautiful and nearly perfect, just the few stray fuzzies, aforementioned.
My mother told me that if I was careful, I could probably stretch him out and that he would pop back into shape. Boy, was that gummy bear stretchy! I gently stretched and pulled, this way and that, and he did. Every single time I let go, that bear went right back into his normal shape. My sister Keely chose this time to wake up from her nap. Of course, she was curious and wanted to play with my new toy. Being the generous older sister that I was, I handed it over, telling her not to eat it or get it wet with her sticky fingers. She pawed him back and forth for a moment, then proceeded to stretch him so hard and far, that his head popped right off. I don’t know who was more upset, me watching, or Keely realizing that she had beheaded my bear. I was trying very hard not to cry. My mother, who was magic, and I promise, could fix anything with the contents of her purse; took the bear, and his head, and seamlessly stuck him back together. I was amazed! His sticky was so sticky and good, that you couldn’t even see where he had come apart!
My dad then asked if he could see the bear. He asked if I minded if he performed “surgery”. He then took his pocket knife (which was completely legal to have on the plane at that time, as was smoking on the plane, although of course, we never did that), and proceeded to carefully cut the bear’s arms and legs off. He then cut the bear’s middle body section into two pieces. My dad handed me the pieces and told me that I now had a puzzle. A puzzle I could take apart and put back together countless times. Which we did. My sister and I spent that four hour flight, zooming from one continent to another, entering a new year; tirelessly putting the 7 piece gummy bear puzzle together, over and over again. I can’t remember exactly how long the gummy bear lasted before he was too dirty and wouldn’t stick together anymore, but it was several weeks. Talk about cheap entertainment. I wonder what my kids would do if I gave them a gummy bear to play with?