Shooting Marbles

Feature Story June 2005
Shooting Marbles
Credits: This piece was written by Mike Cummings in his book of “Remembers”, and published by the Grit Publishing Company of Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
When I showed up for my first marble tournament, a girl in pigtails stood opposite me with a poised thumb and index finger into which was inserted a plunker that looked like a Mack truck ready to hit somebody.
I’m not going to tell you who won that match. Nobody can make me tell you. I will say this much, though. When I went home that day, the only thing in my pockets was lint.

Not many young folks play marbles anymore. Pac-man’s the “in” thing now. That’s all right. At least with Pac-man, you don’t rub your knuckles raw or sprain your thumbs.
And you don’t need a whole can of Boraxo to wash your hands after the game.

I’m not sure why so many kids shot marbles when I was growing up. After all, the only thing you could do with them was count them or pour them down a heating duct during a temper tantrum.
Of course, you could admire them too. There were moonstones, rainbows, cat’s eyes, purees, peppermint stripes. Each one looked like a celestial orb, a little world unto itself. If you held it up to the light, you could see an undiscovered planet – with swirling seas, green mists and cottony clouds – in some undiscovered galaxy two billion light years away.

I had a whole universe of marbles, which I kept in cigar boxes. On rainy days, I’d run my hands through them to feel their coolness and roundness. Then I’d count each one – Silas Marner with his secret cache.
The steelie was the Darth Vadar of marbles. It was legal to use one unless you and your opponent had agreed beforehand to send yours into battle.
When I used a steelie, I’d sort of loft it in an arc, like a guided missile, toward the huddled mass of glass at the center of the ring.

Out they’d go in all directions, scurrying toward the otter limits of fear.
Whenever I had a good day, I’d rattle my pockets and just let them bulge as I walked past as many neighborhood kids as I could find.
Caesar triumphant with his spoils of war.
I got to be pretty good a marbles – so good, in fact, that I required five cigar boxes to store my universe. I’m not bragging when I tell you I could pick off a puree at 10 paces without looking down.

In the fifth grade, I won a marble tournament and even got a trophy. Somebody took my picture and put it in the paper. Caesar triumphant.
Then one day that girl showed up with that poised plunker, and I went home with lint in my pockets.
I swear she hunched.
She must have.
I know she did.
I still had four full cigar boxes at home…
…and Darth Vader.