The game of marbles was played on the Holmes School playground, both before school and after school, but only when the ground was dry. The game began by first drawing a small ring in the dirt, and then each player would put an equal number of marbles in the ring.
One player would scratch a line in the dirt with a stick about 6 feet from the ring. Each player standing by the ring would toss his shooter marble toward the line, and the one whose shooter landed closest to the line played first. Others would follow in the order of their distance from the line.
The idea, if you were first, was to toss your shooter as close to the ring as possible; then the rest of the players tossed their shooters to best position themselves.
The object was to knock as many marbles as possible out of the ring with your shooter. If you hit one out, you got to shoot again.
The marbles you shot out were yours unless your shooter was hit by another player, and if this happened, you had to give the player who hit your shooter all the marbles you had shot out — and you were out of the game.
When the last marble was out of the ring, each player in his turn tried to hit the shooter of the player who had gotten the last marble. Failure to do this meant giving him the marbles you had gotten.
The game ended when one player had all of the marbles.
I became a decent player and, when I was in eighth grade, I made it to the championship game, only to lose when my shooter skidded into loose dirt and ended up next to my opponent’s shooter. My opponent gladly picked me off, thus ending my hope for the championship.
Every player had a special shooter, and the best ones were called “Bull’s Eyes,” because they were marked with a bull’s-eye target on one side of the marble.
These marbles were very valuable, and someone could get 50 or more regular marbles in a trade for one Bull’s Eye.
Some players developed great skill with their shooters, which they held between the top knuckle of their forefinger and the thumb and shot with the flick of their thumb. Some experts could spin their shooter so that when they hit a marble out of the ring, their shooter would spin back just outside of the ring, leaving them in close position for another shot.
In some cases, an expert could ricochet his shot off an opponent’s shooter so that it glanced toward another player’s shooter, leaving an easy shot to get that player out of the game also.
My pal Charlie, who was an excellent player, and I pooled our winnings, keeping them in a large cardboard box and drawing from the hundreds of marbles we had as needed.
Every time I played, I was afraid that I would lose all of my marbles.
I did lose some alas, and they were never regained.
Even now that we’re older, we try not to lose all our marbles.