Yes, Mom, I did. Jimmy Ray Smith used a steely and wiped me out.
But I just bought a whole bag of marbles two days ago.
I know, Mom. Can you buy me another bag, and a big steely to go with it? Next time, I’ll win all the marbles.
Many Boomers will recognize the above conversation because there was once a childhood sport called marbles that was as popular as football, baseball or basketball. At least it was in Beckley, WV when I was a kid.
On my first day at Lincoln Elementary in third grade, I saw a bunch of schoolmates huddled around a patch of dirt. They had scratched out the form of a triangle and inside the makeshift triangle were a dozen marbles of various colors. The boys were down on their knees, taking turns firing a marble from their thumbs into the cluster. I quickly discovered that in a game of “keepsies”, any marble a shooter knocked out of the triangle was his to keep. If you played with the wrong crowd, it was easy to lose all your marbles. I was never very good at marbles, but fortunately, they were fairly inexpensive and my Mom would graciously replenish my lost inventory with timely a visit to the dime store.
In West Virginia, marbles was such a popular sport that they staged local, regional and state tournaments. Some of these kids were really, really good. With a good “shooter” marble, they could easily clean up the pile – sort of like running the table in a game of pool.
In marbles, you never wanted to lose your shooter, or “taw” as it was sometimes called. A taw was your lucky marble, like a rabbit’s foot. But some kids had real agates for their shooters. Agates were marbles made of genuine silica, from volcanic rock. They were ultra smooth in texture with brilliant colors. The agate was the most coveted marble of all. With a higher density, an agate shooter could lay waste to a cluster of regular marbles. A genuine agate marble cost $6.95 at Keatley’s Sporting Goods. That’s the equivalent of over $100 in today’s money. The agate was one marble you would definitely not want to lose in a game of keepsies. In addition to a steely, which was a larger, steel sphere, there were steamrollers, two-inch glass marbles that just wiped out all the smaller, one-half inch marbles. Some of the marbles had white glass with colored swirls while others were clear glass with single or multiple colors. Colorful cat’s eye marbles were most popular and usually the first to go from the pile.
I suppose they still make marbles today, but I guarantee kids no longer play the game. After all, if it doesn’t have a joystick, why bother? Playing a game without electronics involved? What’s the matter, kid, have you lost all your marbles?