When we weren’t hoeing corn, fishing or swimming, bob sledding, riding trees or grapevines, playing marbles was one of our favorite pastimes (1938-1946). Dad didn’t want us to play keeps. (He said, “I’d rather see you boys drink than to gamble.” His Grandfather Boggs had to sell the family farm to pay off a debt from cosigning a note for his neighbor’s gambling debts.)
There were basically two kinds of marbles-- glassies and aggies. Glassies were, of course, made out of glass, and they had a variety of swirled patterns and colors in each one. Some were a solid color, but most of them had some sort of swirl pattern. Aggies, made from a special rock, were used for our shooting marbles. There were also steelies, which were made out of steel ball bearings and were usually outlawed because, when they hit a crockie or a glassy with one of those, it broke the marble. (You had to have a destructive vent to want to use steelies.)
The most popular game with marbles was called “Ringer”. Usually the game was played by drawing a big circle out in the dirt; and this, usually, was sandy dirt. You would take a stick or a pocketknife and draw a big circle on the ground of agreed‑upon size (at least three feet and no more than ten in diameter). Each player puts an agreed‑upon number of target marbles ("miggles") in the center. There would usually be four or five marble shooters, and each person would ante up a couple or three marbles to put into the circle. Target marbles must be at least two inches from each other, but no more than three inches. Each player takes a turn lagging to the edge of the circle from a point ten feet away. The closest to the line has the choice of going first or second (and the others play in order of their closeness).
Players shoot their marbles from outside the ring (as close as can be without hunching over the edge of the ring) to strike the target marbles and knock them out of the ring. Players must shoot knuckles down, with at least one knuckle touching the ground, unless agreed otherwise at the start of the game. (Fudging is not allowed. That’s when you take your hand off the ground and get a forward motion going while you flip the marble with your thumb.) Then the first shooter, keeping his knuckles out of the circle, would shoot. He would shoot his aggie into the circle into the other marbles, trying to knock the best‑looking marble out of the circle, but at the same time he wanted his marble also to come out of the circle. That's because if his marble stayed inside the circle, then people were privileged to shoot at it, and if they knocked it out of the circle, then they got to keep it.
You kept shooting as long as you knocked a marble out with each shot. When you missed, or your taw aggie stayed in the ring, it was the next person's turn. (It’s kind of like billiards where you keep shooting as long as you can put a ball into the pocket.) If a player's shooter remains in the ring after his turn, it becomes a legitimate target and must be ransomed if captured by another player. So they always wanted to make sure that their aggie came out of the circle after hitting the other marble. So you try to make them spin, travel quickly after they hit the other marble, and get out of the circle. If you hit one too solidly--and you had to hit them pretty solid to knock the other marble out of the circle--your aggie would stay inside the circle and you would lose an expensive marble. The taw (usually an aggie) was the thumping marble, or the one you shot with. The winner is the person who has captured the most marbles when all target marbles have been knocked out of the ring. Ringer can be played "for fairs," in which case the marbles are returned to their owners after the game, or "for keeps," in which case the players retain all captured marbles. That meant that if you won a marble you stuck it in your pocket and the other guy lost it. The game was over when the other guy lost all his marbles. That's where the expression came from, "He lost his marbles."
What marked the aggies and made them so pretty was that when they hit another marble, sometimes it would put a little moon in it. You know, like a little new moon? And so when you saw a well‑used aggie, it would have little new moons under the surface of it all the time. Aggies came in all sorts of colors. The rust‑colored ones were my favorites. They ranged from some white to some almost pure black. But black ones were pretty scarce.
The other type of marble game was called Chasies.
Players agree on the course to be followed. The first player shoots or rolls his marble down the course. The second player attempts to shoot or roll so that his marble hits the first marble. If it does so, or if it comes sufficiently close so that the second player can touch both marbles with any part of one hand, then the first player pays a penalty of one marble. If it does not, then the second player must shoot or roll and the first player must chase. Play continues until all reach the end of the course. This was a popular game for two players. When the “twins” were young, our rug on the living room floor had checkered patterns that made natural boundaries for our marbles games. We used the patterns on the carpet to mark out our boundaries. When the weather prohibited us from playing outside, we would shoot our marbles across the living room rug, all day long (when our little twin sisters, Dorothy and Dorcas didn't get in our way).
Most boys had a little canvas sack with a drawstring around the top. They carried it around their neck, and you could tell by looking at someone's sack or at the bulges in their pockets about how lucky they had been. Grandpa Boggs smoked Bull Durham tobacco in his pipe. It came in a little cloth bag with a drawstring, and he save those bags for us to carry our marbles in.
Norma was born on January 5, 1938, and Granvel arrived on July 17, 1939. Mother gave birth to all of us at home. When the contractions started, Dad would say, “Go get Aunt Julia.” Somebody walked a mile to Aunt Julia’s, and then she had to throw on her head scarf and rush to our house. I don’t think she ever got there late or missed one of the blessed events. Somebody called Dr. Harper (one of the two brothers), and he had to drive the twelve miles or so from town. (They charged $25 to deliver a baby, and $5 for an ordinary house-call.) I understand that Norris arrived before the Dr. got there. We kids were sent off to a neighbor’s house where we stayed until given the ready message to return home. I do remember somebody putting on the water to boil and gathering up clean sheets and towels. Once I sneaked and watched Dad bury the placenta. I went back to the spot and uncovered it, punched it with a stick, and covered it again. (That was the beginning of my scientific curiosity.) I had heard jokes about ignorant hillbillies and the after birth—like the one who, when he was told that he would be expected to eat the after birth (like the animals do), he asked, “Can I have salt on it?”
We had a battery operated radio that connected to our wire close line for an antenna. We listened to Country and Gospel Music: "Walking the Floor Over You" (Ernest Tubb), "The Great Speckled Bird" (Roy Acuff), "Rye Whisky" (Tex Ritter) and to barbershop Quartets (Cap, Andy and Flip). Dad loved to keep up with professional boxing—On June 22,1938, Joe Lewis knocked out Max Schmeling in the first round. Our battery was low, so we went to the neighbors’ house to listen to that fight. The contest was so short that it seemed hardly worthwhile to walk that far and sit in a crowded room to hear it. But, on the other hand, we didn’t have to sit too long in that sulfur laden atmosphere with those snickering boys who lived on ‘taters and the musical fruit.
During the "great depression", Uncle Weldon and Aunt Ruby stayed with us for a few months. They (Maxine, Deloris, Dexter, Uncle Weldon, and Aunt Ruby) all slept in our living room. The couch (We called it a “Davenport”.) made into a bed; and, I believe, they brought in a bed of their own. Uncle Weldon worked for the WPA. (People ridiculed the way they worked – “one working, one coming and one going.” But I distinctly remember when Maxine once tried to sit on her daddy’s lap after work, and he said, “I’m sorry Honey, but Daddy’s just too tired to hold you.” He must have been one of those “working”.) Uncle Weldon had a dog that he tied to a doghouse in the garden above our house. The dog died from a rotten smelling wound that wouldn’t heal. They later moved into our chicken house (after Dad cleared out all of our chickens and after they cleaned it out). Later, Dad had a house built for them on our farm on top of the hill, near the apple orchard.
Douglas—born August 1, 1942—and I both had to have assistance (forceps extraction). We were both breech born. Doug had a broken arm and a bruise on his head, and my neck was injured. Mother said that when I arrived the Doctor laid me aside because he was more concerned about saving my Mother, but when he noticed a gasp from me he picked me up and gave me a whack. I wonder if some of my quirks have something to do with that short period of anoxia at birth (There went my genius!).
When Granvel was a baby, Mother had a nervous breakdown (most likely postpartum depression—or maybe “cabin fever”). That was the first of the three episodes that I remember. Dad said, “Go get Aunt Julia.” Aunt Julia came to our house and stayed with her for a while. She was very effective in getting Mother calmed down, perhaps because Mother respected her so much. (Mother was as flawed as anyone else at criticizing people and repeating gossip, but I never heard her say the least negative thing about Aunt Julia.) Dad called Dr. Harper, and he gave Mother a sedative that calmed her down; but she was still nervous for two or three months. She did not want any of us children out of her sight. Mother was later diagnosed with manic-depressive (bipolar) disorder, but I believe that her episodes were caused by “cabin fever” as much as anything else. (Norma said Mother went into deep depression after Dad died).
Somebody of that era said, “Southern madhouses are full of women who were stifled.” One of the sayings attributed to Yogi Berra is “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.” In a comparable way, some scientists may argue that 90 percent of our personal qualities are the inherited (nature), with the “other half” environmental (nurture). Other scientists and educators prefer to reverse the figures, accenting nurture. (Shinn, R. L. The New Genetics, Moyer Bell, Wakefield, Rhode Island & London, 1996.) Either way, “our genes load the gun and our environment pulls the trigger”. (The relatively new field of epigenetics is rapidly unraveling some of these mysteries.)
When Gravel was two years old, he developed double pneumonia. His fever was so high that he went into convulsions. (That was shortly before penicillin became available.) Dr. Harper gave him sulfa-drug, and that saved his life. When he started school at Bomont, he had a lot of trouble with the teachers. They couldn’t teach him to read. They were very frustrated with him, and they punished him for not learning. We had a hard time getting him to go to school. One time I had to drag him down from on top of the outhouse to get him onto the school bus, while the bus driver (Kenneth Sizemore) impatiently waited for him. One time Mother helped him memorize his lesson; but when the teacher called on him, he started “reading” from the wrong page, and she got very angry.
Those teachers could scare the pants off you—just by frowning. They both had “buck teeth”. When they frowned, their teeth became very prominent (like rodent teeth). They must have sucked their thumbs till they were ten years old. I must say that they practiced good hygiene. Their teeth were as white as pearls. They both had their “Pets” who tattled on the other kids, and we were always taken by surprise after we confided in one of the "tattle tells". I was naive, and I got more paddlings than most of the kids. (Like my Dad, I always trusted the wrong people.)
Our version of a summer vacation was two week stay with Grandma and Grandpa McCune, usually after July 4 (when we had the corn laid-by, or between the first and second cultivation). They lived in a log house with a lean-to kitchen with no gas or electricity. They cooked with wood, heated the rest of the house with coal, and lighted it with kerosene lamps. They had a cellar that was built into a dugout space on the hill behind their house and stayed cool all summer. I remember Grandpa McCune snoring in the room next to where I slept on a corn-shuck bed. At first, I didn’t recognize the sound; but it seemed to occur each time I breathed. I would hold my breath to make it stop, and sometimes it did go away! Grandpa died in 1943, but I remember his visits to our house. He loved to sit by the fire, chew tobacco, tell stories and quote the Bible. He also loved to tell yarns about “Uncle Saul” and the Civil War, and he always chuckled at his own stories.
Grandpa raised tobacco for his own use. He cured it in a barn at the edge of their yard, and I remember climbing in the rafters where he hung his tobacco. He made his own tobacco twists, and he had some kind of a humidor box to keep it fresh. He put a few slices of apple in the container to provide moisture and flavor for the tobacco.
We used to tease Uncle Bill about eatin’ ground hog meat. We’d say, “Here comes Bill, sniggerin’ a grin. Groun’hog grease all over his chin.” I liked squirrel meat better’n ground-hog. Sometimes Uncle Pat would bring home two or three squirrels. He would skin’em and gut’em and Grandma would boil’em until they were real tender. Then she made squirrel gravy and a big pan of huge biscuits. We sopped our biscuits in that squirrel gravy, and ate them with that squirrel meat and it tasted sweeter and sweeter the longer we chewed. Then Grandma would bring half gallon of piccalilli out of her cool cellar, ‘n we’d eat ‘n eat, until we couldn’t stay on our feet. Then I’d lie on grandma’s lap and take a little nap. Grandma would sing, “I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck—You bet your sweet life I do.” Grandma McCune was very loving. When she came to visit us, she slept in our bed with us. I remember snuggling up to her, and I kept very warm. “She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes. She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes. I will get to sleep with Grandma—when she comes…”
One day after school,
Uncle Pat said: “Let’s go look for my mule.
I haven’t seen him since Thursday.
He must be very thirsty.
The weather has been very dry
since the first of July.
The spring on the hill has been low since June,
without enough water to fill a teaspoon.
That mule is no fool. Something must be wrong,
for him to be gone for so long.”
We climbed up a winding path to the an open field
about a hundred yards wide,
with no place for that mule to hide.
Uncle Pat said: “That mule is nowhere in sight.
Let’s go back down this trail to the right.”
About half way down the hill,
we saw where that mule had taken a spill.
He was laying right on his back,
about three yards from his track.
I said: “Uncle Pat, that mule has been dead for a spell.
He’s already startin’ to smell.”
Just then a fat ‘possum jumped outta that mule and
ran right past my feet.
He was dragging a piece of spoiled mule meat.
I said: “Uncle Pat, I don’t think I’ll ever eat ‘possum again.
I’ll be thinkin’ about where that ‘possum has been.”
Grandma and Grandpa Boggs both lived long lives. We got to see them often because we could walk to their house--on what is still a dirt road and is now called "Boggs Run"--only about two miles from our home on Porters Creek. They settled there in 1911. I have fond memories of them; but they were not as nurturing to us as were our Maternal Grandparents. (I suppose that it is not uncommon for children to be more bonded to their maternal grandparents.)
Grandma and grandma lived up Left-hand
In a wooden house of Jenny Lind design.
It had one room for cookin’, two for sleepin’
And another to dine.
Then there was one room with a big fireplace.
When we went there,
To our Mother’s despair,
Daddy sat in a rocking chair –
Reading about the war –
And what all our boys were fighting for.
Grandpa worked crossword puzzles,
And grandma churned the butter.
They didn’t say anything to one-another.
Then more of the family would come –
From far and near,
Along with others we all held dear.
They set up outdoor wooden tables
And covered them with cloths.
People brought big platters –
With every kind of chicken n’
Ham n’ vegetables and broths.
There were plenty of rostin’ears,
Sweet potatoes, greens n’ beans, fruits,
Cakes n’ pies and all kinds of good things
For eatin’ and drinkin’ --
With free for all thinkin’.
Then someone would PRAY
And we’d all eat and then PLAY.
We met relatives by th’ dozens –
Uncles, Aunts, Great Uncles, Great Aunts,
And twice removed cousins.
Before the distant travelers got ready
For their return trip,
A few would slip out back with Grandpa
And have a little nip.
Then we’d all go home and hear Mother rave –
About who slighted whom,
Who ate too much, and who didn’t behave.
Dad and Mother believed in starting children at an early age to do chores. When I turned six, I had to help Norris wash the dishes, rinse them in hot water (heated on the stove), dry them and put them away. I was very happy when my sisters (Dorothy and Dorcas) turned six so that they had to stand on stools and do the dishes. Norris and I were then assigned more manly chores.