When we were kids, we used to play marbles. From the minute the snow melted in spring to the time the snow started falling again, we played marbles. The other day, I asked my 9 year old if he wanted some marbles, and he did not know what they were. What’s going on with kids these days?
The snow had finally melted from the school playground. Fortunately for us kids, the ground was now soft, and perfect for digging small holes. I remember digging with my hands, dirt gathering under my fingernails as I prepared the area for the first game of marbles of the year. There were several variations of the game, but my favorite one was ‘Potsies’ which consisted of a smooth flat runway with a hole about ten feet from the start line. The object of the game was to take turns shooting your marbles towards the hole. If your marble did not reach the hole, you waited until your next turn to take another shot, from where ever your marble stopped. Once all the marbles were in the hole, the last person to shoot his or her marble into the hole got all the marbles. Now it wasn’t as easy as it sounded, because just when you got ready to shoot your marble, your opponent yelled “Four Fingers Flat” which meant that your four fingers had to be held flat on the ground while you flicked the marble with your thumb. I just tried the old Four Fingers Flat, and lost the marble under my desk…obviously my fingers are not as agile as they were when I was eight.
There were other games as well, such as the basic game of marbles where your opponent shot his marble and you shot yours and tried to hit his. we called this game ‘Onesies’. Hitting your opponent’s marble resulted in you winning his marble. I always had a pocket filled with marbles, which looked cool in the marble circuit, but not cool whenever I sat down…ouch.
There were also several variations of marbles. The basic marble was the plain colored glass one, with only one color of swirl. Everyone had those because they were the most common in the bag when you bought them. At twenty five cents per bag, you did not want to waste or lose your marbles.
The next type of marble was the ‘cat’s eye’ which was similar to the basic marble, except the swirl was two or more colors. These were more desirable, and when an opponent had one of those, you worked hard to make him lose all his basics so that he would play his cat’s eyes.
The most treasured marble was the Shooter. The shooter was a solid colored marble (or if you were really lucky, it was a clear glass, or a see through but different color marble). You had to buy about ten packs of marbles in order to get one of those, and it was rare that a person played these marbles. I won one once, but the school bully put me head first in a trash can and took it.
Marbles was a gender thing. The boys played marbles and the girls played hopscotch. Any guy caught skipping or playing hopscotch was dealt with severely, by the school bully. I was much better at hopscotch than I was at marbles, but it was easier to bug my parents to buy me marbles than it was to enjoy a game of hopscotch and then get beat up by a bully.
The school bully always had the most marbles, and he used to love potsies. He would wait for unsuspecting kids to gather all their marbles into the holes, and then grab all the marbles and run away. I was once challenged by a bully, I still remember that day. I had just received a new bag of marbles from my grandmother, and I was proud to go to school and show off my latest possessions. I had ten basics, five cat’s eyes, and one shooter. The shooter was solid blue, and I marveled at it all weekend. I planned to keep this one, unless I was challenged at a shooter game. Just my luck, Howie the bully (can’t remember his name, just the size of his head. What a big head he had, I guess when your head is that big, you have to be tough and mean) came to school and challenged me to a game of shooters. This was a basic game of marbles except that we had to play with our shooters. If we did not have a shooter, the loser in the competition had to give the winner five of his best marbles.
Everyone in school gathered for the game. The other kids knew how much I treasured my shooter, and they were surprised when Howie pulled out his shooter. It was cold black (like his heart, I thought) and it was a Boulder. Did I mention the boulders?
Boulders were giant marbles, around the size of a quarter in diameter. Boulders came in the same variety as the smaller marbles, and were even more sought over. You never played a game of marbles with a boulder against a regular marble, unless you played against a bully, where you basically did whatever he wanted or he either stole your lunch or beat you up, or both. On this day, the bully insisted I play against him and his boulder, using my…..shooter. He chose the game type, a game of onesies.
The crowd oohed and awed as the game got under way. I made the first shot. The worst thing to do was be first, as you opened your marble up for the second person to aim at. Howie was next; I thought for sure I had lost my shooter the minute his marble left his fingers. He may have been a bully, but he was one fine marble player. Thanks to a small bump in the ground, his huge marble missed mine, barely. My shot came next, and I too missed his marble. It must have been close though, because I could see he was already planning on the kind of beating he was going to give me. We shot one for one for about two minutes (It seemed like an eternity to me), when suddenly the world shifted. I hit his boulder (Of course I hit it, the boulder was huge, and everyone know that the bigger the target, the easier it is to hit it)…and won the game. Everyone cheered, and so did I. Howie was so surprised that he got up, grabbed one of the spectators, and hit him. I think that he took out all his spite on that guy, because he let me keep his boulder (which was a shooter boulder) and he also let me keep my life. What a day that was. I kept that boulder with me for years afterwards, until my younger brother found it once, and used it as ammo in his slingshot. Oh well, at least I have the memories.