Saturday, June 05, 2010


I've still got mine ... what about you?

It's true. I'm one of the few people I know who still has all his marbles. The ones from my childhood, I mean. Somehow in spite of losing track of all my toys and everything else I used to own, the marbles have always come along with me. Maybe because they were relatively compact and could just live quietly in a jar or a dish on a shelf, content with just a passing glance from time to time.

It occurs to me there may be younger people out there who passed their entire boyhood or girlhood without ever owning any marbles or playing with them. I can only say I'm sorry. They will never know the crazy glee of marble season, when suddenly everyone was bringing bags of them to school and using every spare moment to scratch rings in the nearest patch of dirt and test their skills. The marble bags of the winners grew fat, and the losers made their way back to the toy store to buy more. As with any good gambling game even losers occasionally made gains, which was enough to keep them coming back.

But I also had an aesthetic relationship with my marbles. I could spend an hour gazing into them, holding them up to the light, looking through them, admiring their colors and patterns, pretending they were planets, getting to know them, memorizing them like the faces of old friends. There were aggies and puries and cat's eyes ... some like the colors of fruit stirred into milk, some like real stone, others like glowing stained glass windows, still others like flowers frozen in ice. There were new ones, pristine in clarity, and old ones battered like gladiators with the scars of many collisions in the dusty ring.

I picked my favorites and set them aside, reluctant to risk losing them at play. I had my game marbles and my keepers. It may have been selfish, but it was better than the way the kid next door kept all his black marbles in a segregated bag where they carried on a "separate but equal" existence. In those days of unbridled bigotry he called them his "nigger marbles" and would put them in the ring when he was losing, out of spite to the winner. Where are you now, Eugene? Lost years later in Vietnam, I'll bet.

So that's what I start thinking about whenever I pick my way through the marble jar. Oh -- and who is one of the few other people I know who still has their marbles? Happens to be my wife. We made this discovery in the process of merging our households, so now there are two jars on the shelf, looking very much alike.

At some point we made a ritual exchange of a single marble, just as royal offspring used to be wedded off to one another to cement the relations between two countries. The marble I contributed to her jar is lost like a drop in the ocean, but I can still pick out familiar faces in my own jar, little planets that orbited in the imaginary spaces of my 9-year-old mind ...

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