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Springtime marbles

April 24, 2011
By DON WILLIAMS , For The Leader Herald

I cannot help it. Every spring, when the snow begins to melt and show bare ground and the long rays of the springtime sun shoots across the landscape, I want to play "marbles." ("Has he lost his marbles?" you ask.) Playing marbles was an "Olympic event" in my boyhood; we lived and died for a good game of marbles. It was a way of life in the springtime of my youth. I do not really know why, maybe it was the challenge or the excitement of winning and losing those precious, special marbles. A good leather bag of marbles was like money in the bank.

We played a simple game. The heel of your shoe was placed on the ground and you spun around and around until a nice marble hole was dug. A shooting line was established and we shot for the hole from a standing position. The player who got his marble in the hole won a marble from each of the other players. When all had shot and no one made the hole, the player who put a shot closest to the hole got to shoot the marbles that were scattered where they were shot. He kept playing as long as they went in the hole, otherwise the next closest player got a turn. When all the marbles were successfully shot into the hole, that player took the pot.

Recently, I opened a container of marbles that came from our Buyce family. It was a "DeVoine Mavis Chocolates" container from Paris/New York. The tin container is probably worth more than the marbles inside. The collection of glass marbles included two of those valuable giant "shooting" marbles and dozens of the regular marbles. In my day, we were not marble collectors, we were marble players and gained satisfaction by winning additional marbles.

Marble playing goes back to the 1800s in America. It has been played for hundreds of years worldwide. I have some of the original marbles, they are the small plain gray ones made of clay, I believe. We played for "keeps" and often built up a prized collection, including some of the large shooters. Good players were envied by those who lost their precious marbles.

The term "knuckle down" grew out of playing marbles where it meant to put your knuckles to the ground in order to shoot. One way of shooting was to lay a marble in the crook of the index finger, put your knuckles on the ground, and flick the marble out with your thumb. A good shooter knew just how much speed to put on it.

Marble games were chosen and invented by those who played them. A variety of ways of shooting and winning were devised, although we preferred the game with the hole. The Northville school allowed us to dig up a dirt spot just off the driveway to do our shooting. I walked to school from Giffords Valley each day in the springtime so I got to play marbles before school started.

Some placed marbles at the corners of a 2-foot square with one in the middle, and shot them out of the square one at a time in a prescribed order. The first to shoot all five out won the game. The simplest marble game was to place a marble halfway between two players on a hard surface where the marbles would roll, and the winner got the center marble if his marble hit it. Another version was to place 13 marbles in the shape of a cross, 3 inches apart, in the center of a 10-foot circle. Shooting from a line outside the circle, the player had to knock out seven marbles. A player could keep shooting until he failed to knock out a marble.

Some call their marbles "agates." They could be made of stone, glass or clay. I do not know how "losing your marbles" became a definition of insanity although, in my estimation, losing some of your favorite, highly-prized and unusual marbles could lead to a bout of depression.



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