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Instruction on an old art

Far as I can tell these days, youngsters don’t go around playing Kick the Can, Red Rover, Red Rover, let Bobby come over, or even Cowboys and Indians the way we did. Speaking of that stuff, I wonder how many chullun would even have an inkling of what you were talking about if you suggested they draw a cat eye or a circle in the dirt, and commenced to shooting marbles?

Ya just don’t see boys, or even girls, with holes in their blue jean knees from kneeling down in the dirt, and taking aim at a bunch of multi-colored marbles in a cat’s eye or in a 5-foot circle drawn on the school yard playground, but we sure had those holes to tell the tale.

Now, naturally we all had our favorite “shooter” or taw. I can still see my main taw, or some folks called it toy. It was white, and had a little gray teardrop imprinted on it.  Sure wish I still had that marble to stick down in my pocket, or set up on the shelf to remember.

First thing we did, going on with these instructions, for those of you who are unlearned in this sport, after we drew a cat’s eye or that circle, was to draw a lagging line, and everybody, in turn, would stand back, and toss their marble at that line in the sand.  Closest one to the line got to shoot first. Now, most fellows, or an occasional lady, propelled their shooter by placing that marble between the thumb and index finger, lay the knuckles on the ground, and flick that taw toward the prize in that circle or cat’s eye.  I know Ol’ Frank Aydelott could shoot those things ‘bout as hard as anybody I ever came across in my marble shooting days. On the other hand, Leo Daniels and his brother, Leander, pinched their taws between the thumb and index finger for their shooting. I never did get the hang of that.

When you had a bunch of marbles that every player had “anted” up, like chips in a poker game, setting there in that circle, you had to be mighty careful about somebody, all of a sudden like, up and hollering, “GRABBERS!” Then you better start scratching, snatching, and commencing to grabbing as many prizes as you could manage, but the one who did the announcing about “GRABBERS”  would already be ahead of the bunch, and would already be reaching for that circle when he sent out his “fair” warning. I admit that I never recollect ever calling out “GRABBERS,” but I reckon I should have on account of I was not the very best marble shot in the neighborhood to start with.  I liked to play for fun rather than for “keepers” for that very reason.

Most of us carried our marbles around in a sack, but I recollect Ol’ Billy Kirkham, Moose Glass and George Braswell always seemed to have pockets full of ‘em. Trouble with that was if you came to school with your pockets bulging in the morning, and left that afternoon with flat pockets, folks pretty well knew you didn’t do worth a toot at marble shooting that day.

Sometimes, boys like John Franklin Aydelott would invite some of us to swap licks with marbles.  What that meant was you’d put your knuckles down there on the ground, and the other boy would shoot his taw against that bone just as hard as he could, and then it’d be your turn.  Thing is, if Frank went first, you’d be so bunged up you couldn’t shoot very hard when your turn rolled around, and if you went ahead of Frank, you’d be so dang worried about his turn coming up, you’d likely just plumb miss his knuckle altogether.

Oh, yeah, you better not forget to outlaw “log rollers” before the commencement of marble shooting, ‘cause if you didn’t , somebody was gon come up with a great oversized “taw,” and just knock the tar out of that pile of marble prizes setting there in that ring.

Yep, you had to be on your toes, so to speak, when you got down to that serious marble shooting business back there at the Old School.   Well, I’m goner cut this instruction piece a little short this week, sorta like my own marble contests were back then. I will do something different, though.   GRABBERS!

— Tom Boggs is a columnist for the Demopolis Times and a native of Marengo County. His column,“Days Gone Bye,” appears weekly.

(This column originally appeared in the Wednesday, September 5 issue of the Demopolis Times.)