We had no television until the summer before I was 10, but I never missed something I never had. Even then, when TV came into my life, I didn’t give up my games. Playing was too much fun to be replaced by sitting still and watching television. The grownups could have it, I made that decision early on, I’d much rather play.
My grandmother had a small part of her back yard swept smooth and free of grass. I don’t remember why it had no grass, or why she swept it but it was perfect for playing marbles. I’d scoop out four small holes, like a giant square, several feet apart from each other. I’d pat those holes down till they were smooth, and in front of one of them I’d add a little mound of dirt. That’s the starting place, the vantage spot from where I shot my first marble toward the first hole. The hole behind the mound was called ‘Home’.
I had a beautiful white dog named Pepper. There’s a bit of incongruity in that name, I know, but I named her when I was only 4, so who knows why a white dog had such a name. She was my very best friend and I taught her to help me dig the holes for playing marbles. Sometimes she dug a few too many, so we often played with five or six holes.
Sounds much like a baseball game layout, doesn’t it, except when Pepper got carried away. That’s exactly what it was, but instead of a bat and ball, we had gorgeous glass balls, tiny and colorful, and we shot them out of our fingers from one hole to the next. They were called marbles. If we got the marble into the first hole, we could go on to the next, but if we missed, then we lost our turn and the marble that missed the hole was fair game for the next player.
The next player could aim for the hole, or he could choose to destroy my marble that was laying there wide open, waiting to go in the hole. If he hit my marble, it was his. I lost a few marbles, but most of the time, I won a few, too.
We had some rules, most of them we made up as we played. I loved to play ‘Keepsies’, that meant I got to keep forever those marbles I won. I didn’t like playing ‘Quitsies’ though, because that meant any player could quit the game at any time. If he quit, he took his marbles with him, and that meant I couldn’t win anymore of them. I thought it was a stupid rule made up by losers, so I didn’t play ‘Quitsies’.
And so it went, hitting some holes, missing some holes, losing some marbles and winning some. Any number could play, we just took turns going from hole to hole and back home again, winning marbles as we could. Sometimes there were those who lost all their marbles.
My cousin, Tish and I were the marble champions, because we practiced in my grandmother’s back yard and took our knowledge and expertise back to school the next day. The best part was winning all the marbles the boys had. We must have accumulated thousands of marbles and some days we’d take them out of their little leather pouches and count them. Oh we were rich!
We owned almost every marble on Bottom Fork Road, we were that good!
Sometimes we added spans. Spans were made like this: place your thumb in the scooped out hole and with your fingers widespread, make a fan impression in the dirt. Once we had made it back home with our marble, then we could add one span to the next round, meaning we were one span ahead of the hole, or one span closer to the next hole. Sometimes I accumulated so many spans, they placed me so close to the next hole I didn’t even have to shoot the marble, it was already there. The one with the most spans and the most marbles won the game.
There were variations of the marble game, most I don’t remember, but I can still shoot a good marble and hit the target every time. I got so good I remember wearing a belt everyday just to hang my marble pouch on. Some days my mother said it weighed more than I did.
When I was a teenager and gave up my marbles for boys and dances, my mother made concrete stepping stones and used my marbles to decorate them. They were so very pretty.
I’m thinking seriously about this little level bare spot just off my deck. I could scoop out four little holes…I wonder if I can find a good source for marbles these days?
The photo of marbles comes from Wiki Commons and is the work of Sam Fentress, July 2005. The first photo is a very blurry picture of Pepper and me. She smiled all the time.