Shoe Column: Why Doesn’t Anybody Play Marbles Anymore?
By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
Marbles: Small hard round things made out of marble.
Defining a marble was easy. Didn’t even have to look it up in Webster’s.
Back in the day in Stevens Point, all of the kids in the neighborhood played marbles. Every day. It was the thing to do.
We played marbles all the time. Mainly at Lincoln School down the block. Tommy Jensen. Charlie Rossier. Billy Gruba. Linkie Saito. The Stroik brothers. Someone always had a marble game going on.
You played marbles when you lost your baseball cards. Marbles were great things to have. And there was definitely a pecking order. At the very top were the “steelies”. Funny thing is, the best marble wasn’t a marble at all. Steelies were small metal ball bearings, and they were tough to find.
Maybe it had something to do with the war ending a little earlier. Steelies were in very short supply.
You’ll get a debate about what was the next best marble. Some say boulders. Wasn’t anything special about boulders except that they were big. Others would choose “puries”. Puries were really awesome: always one solid color. Blue. Red. Green. Kids would kill for a purie.
Close behind puries were the cateyes. Usually had a stripe down the middle. You could never have enough of them, either. And bringing up the rear were the commons. Everyone had a ton of the commons.
It was very important that you had something to put your marbles into. Something to contain them. A cloth bag did the trick for me. Jensen kept his in a cigar box. Ronnie “Minnow” Shimek went with a coffee can.
The crazy thing about collecting marbles was that nobody ever went to the store to buy them. No reason to. Why buy ‘em when you could win them?
THE RULES: You would think that after playing a thousand games of marbles, one would remember how the game was played. I don’t. There were a few different versions. In one, you and the other kid dug a hole in the dirt. With your thumb, you flipped your marble and tried to get it into the hole before the other dude did. Kinda like golf without the stick. Another way had something to do with a circle. Again using your thumb, you tried to knock the other guy’s marble out of the circle. In either case, the object was to win the other kid’s marbles.
On the spur of the moment, you might go knock on Jensen’s back door. If Tommy came to the door, all you had to do was ask “Ya wanna play some marbles?” Jensen would say: “Yeah. I’ll meet ya at Lincoln in five minutes. Bring all ya got.”
And the game was on.
Playing marbles was always for “keepsies”. Nobody ever played just for the hell of it. You would play for hours and hours, and the only object was to leave with more marbles than you brought in the first place.
In a way, marbles was like croquet. Or shooting pool without the cue.
Everyone played by the rules. There was a Code of Honor. Except if you played against a girl and she won. Then you just took her marbles anyways.
The best day was when a new kid came around. The word on the street got around fast. “Pssst. A kid on Shaurette Street has some steelies!! And puries!!! Everyone would want to play that kid immediately, especially if he was rich and sucked at marbles. The neighborhood guys couldn’t get a crack at that dude fast enough.
Sometimes you would start playing marbles at noon and play until dark. And things got heated when you weren’t sure if your marble actually made it into the hole. And you better know for sure cuz there usually was a cateye or two riding on it.
So, you might be wondering, what does one actually DO with one’s marbles? It’s a fair question. As far as I can tell, they have very little redeeming social value. Oh, you can hold them in your hand and look at them. Or you can roll them. They roll pretty good. Or you could probably use them in a slingshot.
Marbles are great for bragging rights. You can tell your buddies that you have more marbles than they do. Or that yours are better. You can’t do much with them, but at least you DO have them.
Not that your buddies will be overly impressed. They don’t care how many marbles you have. The only thing on their mind is getting some of yours.
Kids today? Hah! You NEVER see kids playing marbles today. Some of them don’t even know what a marble is. They can text or play video games, but they wouldn’t know the difference between a boulder and a common. It’s not their fault. Different era is all.
Just for the heck of it, I started thinking about marbles. Used to have a bunch of them. So I looked around the house for those little nuggets. And I looked and looked. And came up empty.
Yes, it’s true. I’m afraid I lost all my marbles.