In the 1950s playing marbles was a favorite spring pastime. Most every schoolboy had a marble bag and marbles. You had agates (“aggies”), cats-eyes, shooters and biggies. Some kids whose fathers worked in one of the shops in Springfield had ball bearings.
Cats-eyes were the common or playing marble. A shooter or a biggie was worth five cats-eyes. A ball bearing’s value was greater than a biggie.
Each kid had his favorite coveted marble and each kid had their own technique. Losing your favorite marble could be devastating. I remember walking home from Chester Elementary School. I was in the first grade and had lost all of my marbles. I wasn’t crying but I had a very sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was a heartbreaking loss.
Marbles was a game of skill where hand and eye coordination was developed. Kids learned to take turns, play with other kids and they learned to lose.
There were many marble games kids played. One game we played was Potsie. You would take your heel and dig it into the soil and make a hole in the soil four inches in diameter and about that depth. Then you level the dirt around the hole so the top of the hole is level with the ground. You want a nice flat surface so the marbles roll evenly on the ground.
Next, each player tosses five marbles toward the hole. Each player has their own color of marbles so they could be identified. Now the player who goes first steps up to play. He squats down with his “shooter.” A shooter is a larger marble that is flicked onto the playing field. You tuck your thumb under your forefinger as if you were going to flip a coin. Put your cocked thumb against your shooter and send the shooter out to strike one of the opponent’s marbles. If you hit an opponent’s marble you take it as yours and get another turn. A good shooter could sometimes run all of the marbles.
You could also try and tic your marbles in the hole so they were safe from being hit by an opponent. The game ended when the last marble on the field was knocked into the hole. The prize for this player was every marble in the hole. Quite often in the spring the ground was saturated with water. Your fingers would be ice cold reaching into the water-filled hole to retrieve the marbles.
Tom Hildreth remembers his eighth birthday well. As Tom told me, “I don’t believe that supernatural stuff of my birthday as playing a role that March day, but I went to school and was shooting marbles like never before.”
Tom’s marble bag was so full from his winnings that he had to put marbles in his pockets. As he walked home the marbles in his pocket made a clinking, grating sound.
Tom’s father was in the Merchant Marine and was often at sea. But on Tom’s eighth birthday Tom’s father happened to be home. When Tom got home from school his father gave him his first bicycle for a birthday present. It was an unforgettable birthday for Tom.
Each boy had some sort of marble bag to carry his marbles in. Some used an old sock while others had a handmade bag with drawstring at the top to close it up.
Paul Bladyka described his bag this way. “My mother cut the bottom off a leg of old bluejeans about 12 inches long. Then she sewed one end of the bluejeans up. Then she sewed a drawstring in the other end.”
My marble bag was a cloth bag that lead shot had come in for reloading shotgun shells. We were envious of kids who had a leather marble bag or kids who had a bag with the name of a bank printed on it.
Elementary school kids would race outside during recess to play marbles. Sometimes we were so involved in a game we wouldn’t hear the bell to return to class. It wasn’t uncommon for a teacher to have to come outside and get us.
I remember one day in class a boy somehow dumped his bag of marbles in the classroom. They bounced on the floor and rolled everywhere. Mrs. Cassidy was the teacher and was quite irritated.
I spoke to several people of my age or older about their memories of playing marbles. When I asked, their faces lit up as they recalled those days. Like me they too have forgotten the rules for the different games.
This week’s old saying is from John Wayne. “Life is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid.”