Playing for love, for glory and for all of the marbles [Part I]

Editor's note: This short story will appear in a series over the next weeks. Watch the Golden Valley Gazette for each installment.

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The clod of dirt sailed high into the air and then, slamming in to the ground, sent up a grand shower of dirt.

"Take that, you krauts," I screamed. Then, using a stick as a rifle, I charged up the side of a tall pile of dirt, blasting imaginary enemy soldiers clear to hell.

The mounds of dirt I had been playing on were from the excavation for a new building. I had been downtown on an errand for my mother. What first started as a hiking trip across the Himalayan Mountains quickly became an all-out war with the first clod of dirt I found.

Tiring of that game, I slid down the pile of earth and started walking across the field toward home. I had walked only a few feet when I saw a marble half buried in the ground. My first impulse was just to leave it there. "It's probably just a rock," I thought.

Besides, my hands were stiff and cold now, and my pants were wet and muddy from playing in the wet dirt.

But my curiosity got the best of me. I bent down and dug the marble out of the cold, damp earth and I began rubbing away the caked-on dirt, revealing a rich, brown surface.

"This is no ordinary marble," I thought.

Further rubbing brought another surprise, revealing a white ring with a dark, almost black center.

I was utterly astonished! This was truly no ordinary marble; it was a bulls-eye flint, the best marble a boy could ever have.

It took a while before I was able to convince myself that I really had that marble and it wasn't a dream. The only bulls-eye marble I had ever seen was in a display case at Kemmeyer's Sporting Goods store. I never would have been able to afford one.

I had thought about talking to my parents about one, but I knew better than to ask. It was hard enough just to get them to buy me a yo-yo. I think they had already decided to get me a yo-yo, but I also think they wanted to get me all worked up first.

My parents had taken the family downtown one night. This should have been a tip-off because my dad never went anywhere at night, except to a baseball game.

We went into Woolworth's store, and as we walked through the door, there were two men on a platform over the counter. As we moved closer, I could see that each of them had a yo-yo and were making them do the most amazing tricks.

They would do "walk the dog," and "dog bites man," where the yo-yo would grab one man's pants and hold on. Then there was "around the world" and "the baby swing."

We stood there, transfixed by the performance until my brother, Larry, began to finger the display of Duncan yo-yos on the counter.

Most of them were plain, with a colored stripe painted on one side. Others were much prettier, with jewels embedded in the center. They were nicer but also more expensive.

In the end, we were allowed to select one of the cheap yo-yos, and even if they weren't the most expensive, I was mighty happy to have one.

This marble was even better than those at the sporting goods store. I continued to rub the remaining flecks of dirt from the marble, marveling at the rich colors. The center seemed like a dark pool of water, and as I gazed into it, it seemed almost alive.

I began to feel invincible. With a marble like this, I could be the best marbles player at Madison Elementary School.

That evening after dinner, I went into my bedroom, closed the door and began to practice shooting marbles.

I had never been much of a marble player and had been too lazy to learn how to hold the marble properly. My method was to hold the marble in the crook of my index finger and flip it out with my thumb. This method was fairly accurate but lacked the power to knock a marble out of a regular circle.

There were other games I could play and was pretty good at. One was "potsies." Four small holes were dug into the ground, forming a square. Then a fifth hole was dug into the center. Each player would put two or three marbles in the center pot and then would take turns shooting his marble from one pot to the next around the square.

The first player to complete the square and then shoot into the center pot would win all of the marbles in the pot. This was my favorite game, but for some reason, I had difficulty getting other boys to play.

Another game was called "chasies," a game of skill and luck. It required only two players. One would shoot and then the other would shoot at his opponent's marble. This would continue back and forth, until one boy would hit the other's marble and win the game.

One day, Ann, one of the girls in my class, invited me to play. Being the sportsman I was, I readily accepted.

She had one really nice marble that I was envious of and I cunningly figured it would be a cinch to beat this girl and win that marble.

As I dug in my marble bag, I realized I did not have a marble to match hers. If we were going to play for keeps, I had to make it look even.

To be continued...