My mother surprised me with a new bag of marbles when my grades improved and I made the school honor roll—for the first time in my life. She even included two beautiful aggies, which are heavier marbles made of agate. Aggies make great shooters. They give you more backspin and help you stay in the ring after hitting the other guy’s marbles out.
I didn’t put any of my new aggies at risk in a game of “keeps,” however, until after Agnes taught me a better way to “knuckle down.” Instead of using the index knuckle, she taught me how to press the middle knuckle firmly in the dirt as a stronger base for shooting.
I practiced her technique and it helped.
One day after school, Fred Hage challenged me to a game “for keeps.” It was a tough one. Back and forth, the marbles flew. But I was on a roll that day and eventually, I cleared the ring. I won almost all of Fred’s marbles, including one of his favorite aggie shooters.
I was never considered one of the really hot players. However, from that day on, I did hold my own.
I wonder, do kids anywhere play marbles nowadays? Probably not. Nevertheless, a few colorful expressions from the game still linger in American slang.
“He plays for keeps.”
“Have you lost all your marbles?”
Some kids at Buckman collected baseball trading cards. Some collected stamps. Some collected coins.
In our hard-scrabble neighborhood, the popular fad was collecting and trading match book covers. I don’t mean any old used matchbook cover you might find tossed in the gutter. I mean pristine new, unsoiled matchbooks from famous places, exotic locations, or maybe even a local beer joint with a clever name.
I had one of the best collections of the bunch. Otto and Eddie helped me see to that. They brought me a handful of new, out-of-town matchbooks every time they came into port. And they usually included a few extras which I then used to negotiate trades. My mother and Agnes fattened the collection, too, as they played around. They made a game out of it—looking for likely, offbeat additions.