IRH - Playing for Keeps

This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.

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IRH - Playing for Keeps

Post by David » Sat April 27, 2019, 8:31 pm

Playing for keeps!
1940's - 1950's
by: Russ Lancaster
"You played for keeps?", my Mama said in one of those threatening tones.
I had left our Washington Court Apartment a few hours earlier with a small bag of marbles and returned home with a cigar box full of marbles. That was not usually the case. Most times I was the kid who'd show up with a bag full of marbles and go home with an empty bag. I usually explained that I had just "lost" them without going into details.
But, on this particular day in the late 1940s, I came home with a lot more than I had left with and a cigar box to boot! I had finally found someone on Washington Avenue that I could beat!
Most times, I walked down the street to Mike Gray's house where a marbles game was generally going on. I usually added all my marbles to Mike's collection before going home because we always played for keeps. Was there any other way?
Mike's front yard had a clear patch of that old dark sand that was found in Richmond County resting feet above the orange clay beneath. It was there we would draw our circles, ovals and such to play marbles. Mike and I were about the same age and he was the one to first introduce me to the many games of marbles and I guess my first introduction to gambling in a kid's sort of way.
"We play for keeps", he told me that very first day as I found him and a few other kids knuckling down in the dirt. "You need some marbles."
Indeed, I did. I walked back up the street and searched my room until I found a dime. I walked down Washington Avenue to Corning Street and across to Hamlet Avenue. Then down to Rose's 5 and Dime. It was there I bought my first bag of marbles and then I headed back to Mike's house to play.
I watched for a few minutes as Mike and Donald Harris played a game until I learned the rules. They had drawn about a one foot circle into which they each put in a number of marbles of their own. They determined who would shoot first by something they called "lagging". This was done by drawing a straight line and shooting one marble each to see who could get closest to the line without crossing it. That person would shoot first.
They then took their "favorite" marble which they called a "shooter" or a "taw". I always pronounced that word "toy" back then because in our old Richmond County drawl that's what I understood them to say. It was usually a bigger marble than the rest.
From outside the circle, the shooter would thumb (shoot) his marble at those arranged in the circle. If he was successful in knocking one of the others out of the circle and keeping his "taw" inside, he could continue shooting until his taw crossed outside the circle or he failed to knock another marble out. Then the other shooter would follow suit. Of course, those that you shot out of the circle then became "yours to keep!"
The worst possible mistake would be to fail to knock a marble out of the circle AND to leave your "taw" in the circle. It then became fair game for the next shooter. To lose your "taw" was the ultimate loss.
Their were many variations of this game (please comment on our message board if you care to about those). One involved an almost "football" looking oval with basically the same rules. There was even one variation of trying to shoot marbles into a small hole dug into the ground. It has been too many years for me to remember all of them.
But, back to the day I finally came home with more marbles than I left with. I had stumbled on a younger friend in the neighborhood named Jackie Booker. He just happened to have some brand new "Cats-eyes". They were the absolute best marbles around back then being clear in color with a colored swirl somehow visible inside them.
I dared not risk taking Jackie down to Mike's house. This was my opportunity to add to my collection.
Jackie and I walked down to the field just West of Seaboard Street on the Washington Court Apartments property. We drew our circle and made sure we knew the rules and that we were going to "play for keeps!". It took less than an hour for me to clean Jackie out of his marbles AND the cigar box he carried them in.
I went prancing home and he went home crying.
My mom accosted me as soon as she heard the rattling noise those marbles made in that cigar box I was trying to hide behind my back. I confessed that I had indeed been playing for keeps, that all the kids did.
I think she knew all the time what had been happening to my marbles but was surprised that I had actually won. Anyway, her fussing didn't last long though she did tell me what "gambling" was and that I should not do it anymore. Her tone was not too severe so we more or less had an understanding that I would probably do it again (I did many times) but that I would be responsible for my own collection.
I went back out to play a few minutes later and Jackie's mom came out and confronted me about what I had done to Jackie. This was a scary situation. She said that Jackie had to get even so she held my hands behind my back and let Jackie pop me a couple of licks. Not nice of her but at least she didn't make me give the marbles back!
I finally got good enough to hold my own with Mike Gray, Donald Harris and the others. It took lots of practice but it was a good game for kids.
We were always on the lookout for the newest style of marbles including those BIG steel ball bearings that we made taws. They were a little hard to control but great for knocking the glass marbles out of a circle and stopping dead in their tracks inside. We couldn't find those in the dime store but we found ways to get them though it escapes me now as to how.
There are folks these days that collect those little glass spheres that once had kids knuckling down in the dirt and playing for keeps. Kids don't seem to play with them much anymore. I don't even remember the last time I saw a marble except on EBay.
A little history research revealed that marbles have been around thousands of years, back to ancient Egypt and Rome. They were carved from stone or baked from clay.
In the mid-1800s, Germans created a tool that made the handmade process quick enough to make enough glass marbles to sell to the public.
Germany was the source of glass marbles until the early 1900s when U.S. factories, mostly along the Ohio River in Ohio and West Virginia, got into it. Those companies -- Akro Agate and Christensen Agate were some of the better known -- produced millions of glass marbles, sold to kids for pennies a pack.
But in the late 1940s, cat's-eye marbles from Japan showed up in the U.S. Those are the clear glass marbles with a swirl of color in the middle. They were so popular that most of the American marble companies went out of business. They were the only kind kids wanted.
There are even "marble shows" at convention centers around America today. You go to a marble show, and people don't hesitate to spend a lot of money on marbles. But these folks are old like me and trying to buy back a piece of their memory.
So, maybe I have saved you a buck or two today by keeping you away from the next "marble show" with this little tale that may just jog your memory of playing marbles and "playing for keeps".
Do you know where your marbles are today? I don't. I can only imagine they are buried underground somewhere in Richmond County or maybe even in the Hamlet City Lake.
I don't remember when I quit playing with them or whenever I first realized they were gone.
But... I remember Hamlet.

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