Marbles and Rubber Guns, Sandlot and Strand

This is a tale from long ago – before television, before video games, but shortly after the dinosaurs.

Ah, the memories of my youth. Every day held a new adventure, and for the most part they were happy, lazy, carefree days under the sun.  Of course, I was one of the fortunate ones who rested secure in the bosom of a loving family.  Not every child had that advantage.

It seems to me that seventy-five years ago, in the spring of every year, young boys’ thoughts turned to marbles.  They would get their bags of marbles out and head for a vacant lot or field.  There they would draw a circle on a bare spot of ground, place marbles in the middle of the circle (an equal number contributed by each player), and then begin to shoot.   The idea was to propel a marble (the shooter) from outside the circle so as to knock one or more of the marbles inside the circle out, with the shooter itself remaining in the circle.  If successful, the player could continue to shoot from inside the circle until he failed to knock a marble out or his shooter left the circle.   All marbles knocked out of the circle became the property of the player who knocked them out.  The games could be played for fun (the marbles were returned to their original owners) or for keeps (the winner kept his spoils).  It was a great game, and many boys became skilled players.

I do not remember any girls playing the game, but I’m sure there may have been a tomboy here or there who played marbles with the boys.  Of course, there were a few sharks around — highly skilled players who delighted in playing games for keeps against less competent opponents.  Other marble games were also popular.  My favorite one involved digging a series of nine holes and shooting the marbles from one hole to the next as in a game of golf.

Marble games have been around for hundreds of years, but it has been a very long time since I have seen children playing marbles.  Perhaps children still play the game in some parts of the country, but I’m not certain about that.   Is it possible that TV killed the game of marbles?

Another popular game of my childhood was rubber guns.  At certain times of the year boys large and small would get out their old weapons or go to the work bench to make new ones.  The weapons were a varied assortment of short and long pistols, rifles, and machine guns made of wood, with rubber bands being the ammunition.  These weren’t ordinary rubber bands.  Instead the bands were cut from automobile tire inner tubes (tubeless tires were a few years in the future).  The bands were about 3/4 inch wide and were stretched from the front to the rear of the gun.  A reinforced clothes pin was fastened in place at the rear of the weapon and used to secure one end of the rubber band.  When a player squeezed the clothes pin the band was released and traveled toward its target with some velocity.  The range of these weapons depended on the tension of the band and the length of the gun.  As a player, I soon found that the more exotic weapons such as machine guns (which I will not describe here) were not reliable, so I settled on two long pistols plus a short pistol for close-in fighting.

What wonderful times we had with those rubber guns.  Boys would form into small armies and battle all over the neighborhood.  When you were hit, you knew it, but I cannot recall anything more serious than a few welts and black eyes.  One thing I remember well.  When I got the drop on another player at short range they surrendered quickly.  No one liked to feel a projectile from one of my long pistols.

Technology doomed rubber guns.  First it was synthetic rubber (which didn’t work so well), and then it was the tubeless tire.   Today the game would probably be banned as too dangerous anyway.

Farewell rubber guns.  Hail paintball.

As my friends and I moved into our teen years, marbles and rubber guns were replaced by the games of baseball and football.  Baseball was actually my first love.  Every little boy in my old home town of Pleasant Garden played the game, and I learned to swing a bat almost as soon as I learned to walk.  Now, as a teen at Carolina Beach, it became an almost daily activity in the spring of the year.  The games were entirely player controlled with no adult involvement whatsoever.  There were no regular ball fields.  Almost any open field would do.  Teams were not fixed and players were chosen at the time of play.  Organized teams such as Little League didn’t exist at the time, nor were there any local school teams except at the high school level.  With gas rationing as it was and our own high school some 15 miles away, the high school team may as well have been on the moon. Nevertheless, we got by with what we had, and there were many great games.  What grand times we enjoyed on those long-ago days.

In the fall of the year football supplanted baseball as my main sports interest.   Again, it was entirely player controlled.  The games were played either on an open field or on the ocean strand.  The strand was preferred because the sand was a bit more forgiving when you went down.  We played tackle, and we had no equipment except the football.  Amazingly, there were few injuries, and I can remember none of a truly serious nature.  Some of our players were quite good, but, as with baseball, they were unable to join the high school team because of the distance and the wartime gasoline restrictions.  To prove my point about the excellence of some of our participants, one of our players later played fullback at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Some may find it hard to believe that none of us played basketball.  It was more of a city game, and I cannot remember basketball hoops being available around Carolina Beach.  Interest in the game was not nearly at the level we see today.  Indeed, I saw my very first basketball game as a senior in high school.  Basketball caught fire in North Carolina after World War II and the advent of some great college teams at N, C. State, UNC, and Duke.

As Bob Hope signed off on his old radio and television shows,

“Thanks for the memories.”


One thought on “Marbles and Rubber Guns, Sandlot and Strand

  1. Boys played marbles, girls played jacks. Two or more girls sitting on a concrete driveway or sidewalk (or one could entertain oneself sharpening her jacks proficiency by herself). Or it could be played indoors on a wood or linoleum floor.

    How to play: The first girl tosses a small rubber ball into the air from,say, the right hand, then, with the same right hand, quickly scoops a jack into the cupped left hand. She must catch the ball with the right hand before it bounces a second time, this whole sequence taking one to two seconds. The action is repeated without stopping–toss ball, scoop jack into left hand, catch ball, toss ball, scoop jack, catch ball, and so on until the jack or the ball is fumbled. Then it becomes the next girl’s turn. Usually at least 10-20 jacks were in play. The objective was to successfully collect as many jacks as possible in the left hand during one’s turn. Our jacks were metal, and sometimes a set came with red jacks and blue jacks. As skill levels improved, the game might progress to “twosies”, in which the player would scoop two jacks during the ball bounce. Then possibly “threesies” and so on. Or, the player would alternate the red jack, then the blue, then the red, and so on. There could be as many variations as the creativity of the participants. There was always lots of giggling and even cheering. There was TV in the house but we preferred outdoors play. Thankfully we didn’t have the brain-numbing video games of today. Jacks and jump rope were the girls games of the day!


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