Web photo courtesy of catseye-marble.zip
I was out early with Ringo the dog this morning, before 6 a.m., and the thick grass on the South Common and flawless sky over Lowell were of such pure color that I began thinking about the bright cat’s-eye glassies that I collected and played with as a kid. As a group, the glass and ceramic spheres were called marbles when you took them outside for a game of “plunks” or “bunny hole.”
In grade school in my day, spring was the season of marbles in the the school yard. I don’t know what signaled the start of marble season. Someone would show up with a pocketful or a small bag of glassies, and the next day dozens of kids arrived at school with their own. We must have bought new ones occasionally, but my hazy memory puts this activity together as a kind of local custom with marbles and glassies passing back and forth between kids who won and lost in turn. Exchanged like currency. The marbles came out of old jelly jars and empty fruitcake tins in cellars. The five-and-tens, variety stores, and druggists sold small plastic bags of marbles with other small toys.
Champion players would “run the table” and come back to class after recess with front pants pockets over-spilling with the earnings. Some games required use of larger versions called “goggies.” Our games were totally made up or handed down from older brothers and sisters, who had either invented them or learned from elders. Another type of marble was called a “pure” or “purees”—these were clear glass of various colors, from purple and gold to cardinal red and transparent no-color glass (very rare).
For games, I favored “plunks,” which involved two or more players. The first person to go would toss a marble a reasonable distance away, and the second player would try to “plunk” the first marble to win it. A missed toss would give the first player a chance to “plunk” back, and so on. The plunked party had to throw out another marble to keep things moving. Thinking about it now, I have memories of eagle-eyed shooters who could hit a glassie the size of a fingertip from ten feet away, a hand-eye coordination feat that we took for granted because it happened every day.
I just remembered a 1960s home-decorating fad that I associate with French-Canadian grandmothers. On a side table or book shelf, there would be an ornamental vase or small fish bowl filled with multi-colored glassies beaming their colors in the room.