Shooting Marbles – A Look Back

Glass marbles
Image by Couleur from Pixabay

This morning I posted a black and white film from the neighboring town where I grew up. In one of the scenes, it shows a group of kids ‘shooting marbles’ which was a favorite pastime of children at the time. In the film, you can see a large circle drawn in the dirt with kids kneeling around it. The scene immediately caused memories to come flooding back.

Every kid had a sack of marbles. Some carried them in a cloth sack and some in a paper sack. The game was part skill and part luck with the intention of winning your opponent’s beloved marbles.

A circle would be drawn in the dirt with a stick, and marbles poured into the center.  Each player would have a larger ‘shooter’ marble which would be cradled between the thumb and index finger and shot into the marbles into the center of the circle. The hope was that the force of the shooter would knock marbles outside the circle. Any marbles you shot out were yours to keep – keepsies. If you were smart you never out your favorite marbles in the circle.

Marbles were special and prized among kids. There were ‘steelies’ which were often forbidden because they were made of steel, too heavy, causing an almost sure win and possible destruction by chipping of the marbles they would strike.

Marbles were often treasured because of unusual colors. The most predominate colors I recall being blue, yellow, and green.  I remember having one with bright orange streaks. Then there were ‘cats-eyes’ (the center having the shape of a cat’s eye), ‘aggies’ (marbles of agate), ’tigers’, ’jaspers’, ’plainsies’, and more names I am sure I have forgotten over time.

After the marble craze died down, many marbles were turned into jewelry believe it or not. The marbles were put into boiling water or fried in a pan then plunged into cold water ‘crackling’ the inside of the marble. They were glued to belts or turned into necklaces. I guess this craft lives on as evidenced by this link.

How about you? Have you ever knelt in the dirt and ‘shot marbles’?


A Slice of Time Gone By

H. Lee Waters was a studio photographer from North Carolina. He grew up working in a textile mill and also worked running the projector at the local movie theatre and apprenticed at a local photography studio which he would later purchase. During the recession, he made extra money by traveling through North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia filming small towns and showing the films at those same small town movie theaters. He made money through ticket sales and the sale of advertising.

The black and white and silent film linked below is from the small town Damascus, Va., close to where I grew up. It is roughly 23 minutes in length. There are several reels taken in Damascus. I have scanned them all closely, wondering if I might catch a glimpse of my grandparents or even my father, but sadly I have seen neither.

What I have been able to see were many of the storefronts my family frequented, me often following along in their wake. N.S. Wright & Co., the only department store. L&S Grocery where my grandmother faithfully shopped for monthly groceries. And Brown’s drug store where we enjoyed a Vanilla Pepsi or a Cherry Coke at the lunch counter. And the rock school house where both my father and I went to school.

Mr. Waters made a total of 252 films of 118 communities now archived at Duke University. They are such a slice of rural America. Scenes like these were the backbone of my family and my upbringing. I almost said it was a ‘lifetime’ ago – which actually it was. I did not find the faces of my ancestors, but I imagine how fortunate for the many families who were captured in these films.

Damascus, Va. 1940