Down South They Never Had Their Marbles
By Tom Poland
I can stand on the brick patio Dad laid down in the 1980s and show you right where we boys shot marbles. There in the 1950s, long before the bricks came along, we’d scratch a circle into the ground, fill it with marbles, and shoot ’em out. We didn’t complicate things with fancy words.
We just threw our marbles into the ring and took turns shooting. If a buddy knocked your marble out, it was his. We played for keeps.
Lagging and knuckling down? What? We weren’t highly technical when it came to rules; neither did we use all that marble jargon, which I quote: “That mibster knuckled down with a taw and shot an aggie duck.” Translation. You shot ducks with taws, a duck being a target marble and the taw being your favorite shooting marble. A mibster? That’s someone who shoots marbles, and it’s just one letter removed from mobster. Sounds like a bunch of Yankee gibberish to me but some lingo made sense. Aggies were not crazy SEC football fans. They were marbles made from agate. An alley was a marble made from alabaster. Bumblebees were yellow and black striped marbles, jaspers common blue marbles, and onionskins were glass marbles with swirls of color. I use the past tense because marbles seems to be a game that belongs to the past.
If they ever had any, surely today’s kids have lost their marbles. Not me, I kept my marbles secure in a soft bag of dark blue velvet … maybe it was an old Crown Royal bag, but lost them I did. Father Time stole them.
In my day, just as our fathers and grandfathers had, in a solar system of our own making, we created planetary collisions, knocking worlds all over the place like asteroids run amuck.
If you tell me you know kids today who shoot marbles, it will shock me. Oh, I’m sure some programmer has developed a game of marbles you play on an iPad, tablet, computer, or phone. Kids don’t have to kneel on the ground and get their blue jeans all dirty. I spent so much time wearing holes in the knees of my jeans that Mom tired of patching them. Instead, she sewed buttons inside the knees and kneeling down hurt.
Marbles may be passé but folks remember them. From a fellow kid of yesteryear. “Boys on my block bought them, collected them, played against each other in the neighborhood, and at school. You drew a big circle in the dirt, then went at it trying to knock the marbles out of the ring. I remember my thumb getting sore from shooting marbles. I had a great shooter marble, called a green agate.”
Another fellow remembers clog knockers and cat’s eye marbles, and said he used a steal ball bearing for the shooter. In tournaments steel marbles were outlawed.
Marble memories … We traded ’em at school too, and anytime I see a beautiful marble (a rare thing these days), my mind goes back to hot summer afternoons beneath the oaks just beyond the steps to my parent’s porch. That porch was screened in once upon a time, and as Mom shelled peas she could hear the clack of colliding marbles. Time marched on. My parents are gone, boyhood friends are no more, nor are games like pickup sticks, jacks, and marbles. Lots of us whiled away many a childhood hour playing those games. Maybe that’s why they call them pastimes. But marbles? Well, that was yet another good reason to play outdoors, just as catching lightning bugs and putting them in a Mason jar were.
Today’s kids stay indoors where the clicking of keys has replaced the clacking of a cateye against an agate. Finding a long-lost bag of marbles in an attic, a relic of youth? That’s another thrill they’ll miss.
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Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. The University of South Carolina Press released his book, Georgialina, A Southland As We Knew It, in November 2015 and his and Robert Clark’s Reflections Of South Carolina, Vol. II in 2014. The History Press of Charleston published Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia in 2014. He writes a weekly column for newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia, “Georgialina.”