By Norris Chambers

             Our family, as well as a few others, was visiting Grandma one beautiful morning in May.  Several kids in our age bracket were present and were gathered around Grandma Williams who was seated in her favorite high-back rocking chair. Willie Adams, one of the older grand kids, suddely asked, “Grandma, how many kids did you have?” That was a good question. It had never occurred to me to wonder how many aunts and uncles I had.

            Grandma turned quickly in the chair and faced Willie directly. “I didn’t have any kids, I had children!” She used her mean voice and it was obvious that she didn’t appreciate the question, or at least the way it was asked,  “If I had borne kids,” she continued, “you would have been a little goat!”                                                                                                                                     Our Grandma told us many stories about growing up in the country in the mid 1800’s. I was particularly interested in the many games they played and the equipment required for playing them. She said that boys played marbles and the marbles were much larger than the ones we were using. They were about an inch in diameter and were made of some sort of gray clay. The marbles were perfectly round and it was obvious they worked well in a game.

            When Clifton and I were small we learned about marbles at a very young age. For farm boys there are many things that naturally resemble marbles, some of them are edible and some are not. There is a constant battle over what should go in the mouth and what should not. We knew that most berries, especially red ones, were O.K. to eat. We knew we should be suspicious of green berries; they might be better when they ripen. Marbles were not intended to be kept in the mouth. Little boy’s pants are equipped with pockets and that is the proper place to keep them.

            The size and shape of marbles had made a tremendous change since grandma’s childhood. Our marbles were made of glass of various colors. Clay marbles were still available but they were made smaller and were considered cheap and of poor quality. The marble used to shoot and move other marbles in a game was called a “taw” and it’s only purpose was to be violently pushed by the thumb and forefinger at an enemy marble. The taw was considered a very important part of pocket marbles. Although boys did not know what an agate was it was considered necessary to have an agate taw! Most marble players agreed that an agate was a glass-like substance with smoky clouds inside and was necessary to round-out a marble collection.

            The ordinary marbles used in play were called glassies, pawns or pieces and the number required depended on the game played. The most popular game was called “keeps”. It was a simple game. All players began by tossing their taws at a line drawn in the dirt. The closest marble won for his owner and entitled him to the first shot in the game. The distance of other players from the taw line determined the order of play. Before the game started each player had placed a marble in a ring, or other figure, drawn in the dirt. Play began in order of distance from the taw line.

             When every player had finished his term in the ring the play continued. The purpose was to use the taw and with the thumb, and a finger or two and knock as many marbles out of the ring as possible. The player kept those knocked from the ring. The loser of a piece could replace it if he desired, otherwise he was out of the game.

            This game did not last long. Most of the school marbles were soon in the pockets of the better players. After losing all our marbles a time or two Clifton and I retired from the process of attempting to gain from a keeps game and returned to a nice, clean ‘possum hunt where all that was required was to catch a ‘possum, skin it, stretch and dry it and sell the hide to the hide place in town.

            The expression “done lost his marbles” was quite common among marble players. Clifton lost his marbles and I lost mine in the same game. About the only bad thing I remember about ‘possum hunting is the time Clifton was carrying a live ‘possum by the tail and it reached over and exercised its sharp teeth on Clifton’s leg. Clifton didn’t think there was anything funny about that. On a dull day I might grin a little!