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Ahhh, those simple days of ‘shooting’ marbles

When was the last time you saw kids playing marbles outside?
It’s been quite awhile I suspect.
In the 1950s, playing marbles was a staple of life once the snows melted and the dirt streets in International Falls dried up a bit. Often, that was late April or May at the earliest.
It wasn’t really playing with marbles so much as shooting marbles. It was competition, and often that competition was fierce.
All the neighborhood kids had a supply of marbles ranging from cat-eyes (the most common) to pure-ies (the most coveted because they were one color, clear and prettier) to boulders (the bigger marbles). Every so often, some kid would drag out a big, old ballbearing and crush the competition’s marbles, literally.
We often played in the streets and had to put up with a passing vehicle that would run over the marbles, burying them deep in the dirt.
We actually had marble tournaments each summer in the Falls at the old baseball stadium, with prizes and the winners’ photos in the local newspaper. It was quite an event, open to boys and girls.
Playing in the streets, there were no specific rules other than what the neighborhood kids agreed to. Someone would draw a large circle in the dirt and everyone would ante up some marbles to shoot at.
Shooters tried to hit the marbles in the center and move them to the edge of the circle. Then if a shooter could hit and get one of those marbles to roll outside the circle, he won that marble.
Once someone won all the marbles, the game was over. The rest of us went home “marble-less.”
Shooting marbles was pretty simple, but winning was not so easy.
There were special ways to shoot a marble. There was the “knuckles-down-skinny-bone tight” approach where one’s shooting knuckle was close to the ground at all times. The marble, nestled by the forefinger, was propelled by a flick of the thumb.
There was the higher-ability shooter, knuckle raised with marble off the ground to get a better angle from which to shoot. Again the thumb was the propeller. It took a lot of practice, and sore thumbs, to master that technique.
The game started by drawing a line and “lagging” your marble closest to the line. The closest to the line shot first.
We could play marbles all day, or until whenever you lost all your marbles. Wonder if that’s where, “Have you lost your marbles?” comes from.
But we had one fellow, Delhart, who traveled the town on his bicycle. He was a little different because he always rode his bicycle backwards. Yes, backwards. He would sit on the handlebars and pedal his bicycle while looking over his shoulder for obstacles.
Can’t say I ever saw him run into anything or fall off his bike. Never saw him ride his bike the normal way either.
Delhart, who was older, was so good at marbles that we cringed whenever we saw him coming down the street. He was almost guaranteed to “skin” us of all our marbles.
The maddening part came when the game was over and Delhart rode off backwards, he always had that smirk that said “Gotcha!” while he looked you in the eye.

Rich Glennie was the editor of The Chronicle for 23 years. He retired Aug. 1, 2014.