The Marble Champion

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Every kid in the school yard at California Street Elementary in 1955, was watching the marble match.

A third-grader named Billy, was challenging a fifth-grader, named Jack, in a game of marbles. It wasn’t just another game. It was for the annual unofficial marble championship. Both put up all of their boulders, common cats eyes, aggies, and steelys. It was winner take all. Both contestants had captured hundreds of marbles during the semester.

The winner was the first to capture fifty marbles in a three-round contest. Each round featured 30 marbles – fifteen from each contestant. They used their prized aggies, confident that their special marbles would give them a winning edge.

A coin was tossed to see who went first. Jack won. He knelt down and bent over the circle in the sand. Then he calmly lined up his aggie using his thumb and forefinger, and let it go with a force that scattered the marbles in the center of the circle. Two rolled out of the circle. He picked them up and put them in the coffee can next to him. An excited chatter came from the spectators. The game was on.

Jack lined his aggie up again, and sent it careening into a small cluster of marbles near the line. Three were knocked out of the circle. He got to fifteen before he missed his first shot. Billy took up his position and drove his first marble out of the circle while staying inside with his sticker. He finished off the first round with 15 marbles. They were tied, but Billy got to start round two. He lined up his bumblebee sticker, and fired it into the center mass. Three marbles excited the circle so hard they flew into the crowd! A roar of approval went up. Jack looked on nervously as Billy ran the entire circle! As one of the judges drew a new circle for the last round, Billy’s classmates were patting him on the back in admiration. The shy kid in the classroom had finally earned the respect of his fellow students. And at the expense of the school bully!

Before they could play the last round, the bell rang signaling recess was over. According to their rules the game would be played the next day at recess. Billy went back to class feeling better than he had all semester. He was accepted. One of the guys now. His young heart sang with happiness. He spent the rest of the school day thinking how his life was really turning around.

When the last bell rang, Billy and two new-found friends walked home together. They went about a block when Jack stepped out from behind an oak tree accompanied by two of his friends. He towered over Billy, and outweighed him. In a menacing voice he warned Billy that he better lose tomorrow or he’d beat him up! The smaller boy looked up at him, his heart beating like a jack hammer, and said, “I’m not afraid of you. I’m going to do my best to win tomorrow.”

“What did you say pipsqueak? You’re not afraid of me? Bring it on punk!”

“I don’t want to fight.”

“Of course you don’t, mommy’s boy! You just want to go home and put a dress on!”

Jacks friends laughed so hard they were patting each other on the back in glee. They knew what was going to happen next. Jack pushed Billy hard. He stumbled for a moment and then did the unexpected, he lunged at Jack and hit him in the face! Gasps went up from the onlookers. Jack gave ground and held a hand up to his face. His nose was bleeding. Infuriated he waded into Billy and slugged him repeatedly, knocking the smaller boy to the ground. Then he repeatedly kicked him. Billy stayed in a fetal position but didn’t cry out. Finally Jack’s buddies pulled him away from the barely conscious boy. Billy was bleeding from cuts to his face and his right hand – his marble shooting hand. It was swollen because Jack had stomped on it. The fingers were already twice their normal size.

“See you tomorrow loser!” Jack told him before walking away. Billy’s two friends helped him to his feet and walked the rest of the way home with him. His mother was horrified when she saw Jack. Both of his eyes were swollen shut and he had bruises all over his thin body.

“What happened?” she asked him and his friends. Jack was silent. One of the boys told her a bully, a fifth grader, beat him up because he was winning a marble contest.

“Is this true, Billy?”

He mumbled something in answer, and went past her and into the house and his room. When his father got home he went into Billy’s room and sat down on the single bed next to him.

“Tough day?”

“Yea…”

“Your mom told me what happened. You were brave to stand up to the bully.”

“How do you know that?” he wondered.

“Apparently your friends told her everything that happened. What are you going to do tomorrow son? Should I contact the principal?

“No! Don’t do that! I’m no snitch. I’m going to school and I’m going to win the marble contest!”

“Okay, son. Take it easy. Have you iced that hand yet?”

“A few hours ago.”

“Do it again before you go to bed, okay?”

“Sure, Dad.”

“One more thing…I’m proud of you son.”

The next at school.

The word was out. Every kid at California Street School squirmed in their seats that morning waiting for the lunch recess. The big marble game came with an additional element this year. Nearly everyone knew Jack beat Billy up yesterday. The tension created by a possible fight went through the classrooms like electricity. When the lunch bell rang there was a general charge out to the farthest corner of the playground where the marble contest would resume.

Jack confidently made his way through the crowd and stood next to the circle and the two judges. Billy slowly (and painfully if you really paid attention) walked to the circle. With his left hand he took out his prized Bumblebee and knelt down next to the circle. A murmur of surprise rippled through the crowd when he prepared to shoot…with his left hand! Not his normal shooting hand. He only had to capture five marbles and he’d be the champ. One of many things his peers didn’t know about him was he was ambidextrous.

When he shot the marble and it slammed into the center mass, there was a cheer as two marbles exited the circle. He made the next three look easy. The crowd broke out into happy pandemonium as they cheered Billy’s victory. No one noticed Jack, who slung away with no friends in tow.

As It Stands, this tale is a bit of nostalgia sprinkled with marbles and bullies.