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Sam G. Piatt

Outdoor Columnist

The following episode, presented for your enjoyment, hopefully, was lifted from Chapter 32 of my upcoming novel, “Oh That Summer of ’45.”

Down at the end of Tom Sycamore’s street was a “court” where the older men of the village gathered after supper to play horseshoes. Saturday tournaments, in which some money was exchanged, lasted into the darkness of the night.

Hooperville’s blackouts had ended with the surrender of Germany, so electric light bulbs with tin shades over them again spotlighted the peg boxes.

Wayne Hooper, Hobo’s dad, who could ring the peg with the best of them, brought his table-model radio onto the front porch and tuned in to the Grand Ole Opera. He evidently thought that everybody in the little Ohio River village was as hard of hearing as he was, for he always had the volume cranked up as high as it would go.

It was also a place where there was nice smooth dirt for a marble ring, and it was there that the boys from the Hooperville Braves often gathered on hot July evenings, after the radio serials, to test their skills against each other. They were all pretty adept at the game, but Hobo and Dale were clearly the best, with much greater power and sticking abilities than the others.

They most generally played for keeps, but here they learned their first lessons of altruism: Sometimes the big winner would give marbles back to the losers – a percentage of them at least. But that wasn’t a thing you could always count on.

Marbles was a boy’s game. Everyone knew that. Girls sometimes played the game, though not in the boys’ circle. Their fingers and knuckles, after all, were not made right for the game.

One sultry July evening all six of the Braves gathered for some much-needed relaxing recreation. They had spent much of the day looking and baiting their 50-hook trotline, cleaning the catfish they caught, icing them down in buckets of spring water, and rowing across to Shawnee to sell them to Herman’s Market on Market Street.

They had drawn a ring and were concentrating their full powers and skills into a marble game. The shade from the maples on the second rise combined with a light breeze from the river to make for a comfortable setting.

At least it was pleasant and comfortable for a while – until Betty Jo Hooper and Yvonne Blitz came along.

Betty Jo wanted in. Yvonne carried a one-pound coffee can half filled with marbles – Betty Jo’s marbles.

The boys believed the girls had planned something in an attempt to humiliate them. They tried to ignore the two, but they kept stepping into the ring, even “accidentally” stepping on their marbles.

It was Gale who first sidled over to the girls and looked down into the coffee can Yvonne was carrying. To give them a better look, Betty Jo took it from her and poured the contents out on the ground.

“Holy cow!” Gale said.

The others gathered round to look. Tom couldn’t believe his eyes. She had rainbows, marines, peppermint stripes, cat’s eyes – even a few moonstones.

“Where’d get all these?” Vince asked, whistling as he picked up a First American.

“Won ‘em,” Betty Jo said, slapping Vince on the hand to make sure he dropped the marble. “What’d you think? Santa brought `em?”

“We won’t play with her anymore,” Yvonne said. “She’s pretty good, really. Too good for you boys, even, I’d say – I’d warn you.”

“Ho, ho,” Hobo said, looking at the marbles and then from one to the other of the Braves.

With much relish, the invitation was extended.

Twenty-eight marbles in all were placed on the cross in the center of the ring, four from each player. They lagged for turns. Surprisingly, Betty Jo won first shot.

That should have told them something.

She knuckled down at the edge of the ring. Her taw struck a nib and knocked it out of the ring with five feet to spare. Her taw stuck, spinning right where it first struck the marble.

From there, it was knuckle down, shoot, ping, stick, and then a repeat of that process until every marble was gone from the ring and into her can. Nobody else even got a shot. Her last shot to clean the ring of the last marble was expertly handled so that her taw banked off and, like the nib, left the ring.

The boys looked at each other, making little nervous jokes. What she had just done had to be pure, unadulterated luck.

They anted up again. After zipping 20-straight out of the ring, Betty Jo’s taw came to rest behind a wood chip that had somehow got blown in or knocked into the ring.

“No cleans! No roundesters!” Vince shouted. “And no hikes!”

Betty Jo, on all fours, frowned up at him. She put her nose to the ground, sighting over the obstacle toward a marble lying near the far side of the ring. Then she knuckled down. Tom still finds it hard to believe that shot. Her taw sailed over the chip, hit the ground two feet on the other side of it, picked up speed from its forward spin, knocked the marble on the far side out of the ring, and stuck right where it was, spinning.

Then she proceeded to finish cleaning the ring again.

The third game was about the same, except Hobo finally did knock two marbles out, and Dale one.

Eventually, both Gale and Tom went home for more marbles. Pretty soon Vince did, too, and so did Hobo.

Dale and Keith lost what they had, then wisely decided to watch from the sideline. Within forty-five minutes the humiliation was complete. Yvonne helped Betty Jo carry off what were once the boys’ prized and beautiful marbles.

“Hey, we forgot to tell you – we was just playing for fun,” Vince shouted after them.

Both girls were laughing as they turned the corner and headed down the alley.

Tom walked home with Gale. He was concerned about his red-headed friend. He was acting strange. Tom had to jump back when he slammed the door behind him with much force.

He followed Gale on in and up the stairs to his room. His mother, hands on hips, watched from the kitchen door as they ascended the stairs.

“What in the world’s wrong?” she called up the steps after the boys.

“What’s wrong?” Gale said, slamming a pillow against the wall. “Betty Jo – a girl! – won all my marbles, that’s what’s wrong!”

Tom thought he heard Gale’s mom giggle. Then she called up, “Do you want me to go win them back for you?”

Gale didn’t bother to answer her, but to Tom he mumbled, “Having your mom win your marbles back for you is the only thing that could be worse than losing them to a girl in the first place.”

Then, in spite of themselves, both boys laughed out loud.

After that, when they played marbles – which wasn’t for a long time – they put a sign up outside the ring that matched the one on the side of the tree house: “No girls allowed.”

CORRECTION: Two weeks ago I mistakenly wrote that Lake Jackson is in Scioto County. It’s in Jackson County.

G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.

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