When I was young and the scent of spring was in the air, it was all of a sudden wonderful to be outside. The cold winter of the prairies meant we spent a lot of time inside, but when warm air and a snowmelt arrived, we were ready. And spring meant a lot of outdoor games.
In those days, not many people had toys and extras for their children, so most of us used our imaginations. As the snow melted softening the ground, we used sticks to make little canals in the runoff water and built dams. We spent hours outside playing tag or “Anti-Anti-Over” where we tossed a ball back and forth over the roof of one of our houses. We learned how to play “kick the can” before we started school.
Our school was a large 12-room brick building surrounded by eight feet of sidewalk. On that cement, we played all sorts of games. The girls were always skipping ropes, playing hopscotch or picking up jacks, but we boys had our marble quests.
I don’t remember ever buying a bag of marbles. Somehow as the weather became milder, I had a few marbles to play with. We “town” boys would arrive at school at least a half hour before the bell, so we could win as many marbles as possible. Sometimes, I was lucky enough to win a much-cherished big marble, which was three times the regular size.
I loved the colours of the marbles, some plain coloured glass, some crystal clear, and a few mottled ones. I particularly remember the cat’s eyes and the apple cores—clear marbles with a slice of colour inside shaped like a piece of apple.
When the school yard was not yet thawed, we played on the cement against the school. We simply did a “throw” game. Standing eight feet back from the wall, we gently tossed our marbles toward the wall. The winner was the one whose marble ended up closest to the wall without hitting the wall, and he gathered in all the other marbles as his booty.
Using chalk we drew a circle, and each person placed two or three marbles inside the circle. Then we walked back four or five paces and rolled our “shooter” marble toward the circle. The closest to the circle got to shoot first. The idea was to knock out of the circle as many marbles as possible without losing your shooter.
If you didn’t knock out a marble or your shooter left the circle, then the next person had a turn. If you were accurate, you could clean out a circle of marbles before anyone else had a turn. No “hunches” were allowed. That is, you couldn’t push your hand forward as you launched the marble.
When the schoolyard itself was clear of snow, we moved our marble games to spots on the playground. There we drew a circle on the earth and repeated the game we’d played earlier on the cement. Other marble games were more elaborate and involved making a small hole, which became the marble pit. I remember launching marbles toward the hole (or pot), but I’ve forgotten how the game was won.
After school in those late March or early April days, we played outside for hours trying to become marble champs. Some days I came home with my marble bag completely full. Other times as the daylight waned, I walked home with only one or two marbles left. I always quit before I lost them all because I needed marble-capital for the next day’s play.