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‘Knuckling down’

December 18, 2013
By Ted Rowe , Marshall Independent

Ohio is the heart of the midwest. At least I was led to believe that when I was growing up. Even though deep in my heart and with my reasoning skills, I knew that there were other great places in these United States. It took me a while to find Minnesota. I still had a vague feeling that we buckeyes were the best! Anyone out there remember Woody Hayes and his Ohio State football teams - or his five national championships and 13 conference championships in the Big 10?

I did go away to college, but it was still in the Great State of Ohio - Woody and I were fellow alumni of Denison University. Even before being graduated from college I had traveled both on my own from New York to California, and with my family, had been in almost all of the lower 48 states, but when I was in my early 20s I had been accepted in a graduate program at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. I had that little nagging feeling that we Ohioans were better so my time at Ball State would be a snap. It wasn't, but I did survive.


Now before you begin to think I am a great sports or a great football fan, let me say I am not. Once a week I have participated in a brief trivia event usually with five to 10 questions being asked and about half of those questions are usually on sports. Seldom, if ever have I answered any of those correctly, but this past week, I did get one correct. The question was, "In what sport was the phrase, 'knuckle down,' first used?" There were about 20 people to whom the question was posed and as far as I could tell, I was the only one who knew. I suppose that my knowing represented a bit of my depraved childhood because the sport as practiced many years ago was a gambling sport albeit often held in the schoolyard. The answer: Marbles.

For those of you whose childhoods were not depraved (deprived?) by having played marbles or to remind those who did play marbles, I present a brief synopsis of the game as I played it:

A circle about 10 feet in diameter on a flat surface was called the ring. Into the center area of the circle, each player placed five or six of his own marbles - each marble about a half-inch in diameter. Each player then had a shooter, usually a larger marble about an inch in diameter. With the shooter, the player aimed from the outer ring at the marbles in the center with "knuckle down" and flicking with the thumb at the shooter marble. The object was to knock the smaller marbles out of the ring. Each one knocked out became the player's winnings, the knocked out marble became a keepsie, thereby a player's marble collection could be diminished or enhanced, thus the gambling aspect. If a marble were knocked out, the player could continue to try to get more marbles out of the ring, otherwise the next player had a turn. Some games allowed the shooter marble to stay in the ring if no marble was knocked out which then gave the other player the opportunity to try to knock out the opponent's shooter marble. That was real disaster if you lost your shooter as you would then have to use a smaller marble to try to continue the game.

There are many variations to marbles, but the above is representative of most such games. The "shooter" marble is also called by a myriad of names: boulder, bonker, masher, popper. Generally the players also had to have marbles that were distinguishable from an opponent's marbles so you would know whose marble was being knocked out of the ring.

A more obvious gambling game I remember playing in the fourth grade was considered even more wicked: tossing pennies. The wall of the school on a side away from the spying eyes of the enemy (teachers) we tossed a penny to see how close we could come to the wall. If there were more than two players, the one closest to the wall would get to claim all the pennies tossed. If caught, there was definite punishment for playing this game, often it was banishment to the cloak room (yes, my school had cloak rooms) for a given period of time, but the greatest threat for me was that my playing might be reported to my parents.


In November I wrote a column about my having broken one of the two handles on a favorite dish of my mother when I was about five. The one-handled dish continued in use by my mother. Then 20 years later I found that exact same patterned dish at an auction and was able to replace the one I broke. The dish was used to hold a favorite cranberry salad with orange zest added for flavor and looks.

Within a couple of days of publication of that column, I received a plastic container of that cranberry salad from a friend. But the column also alerted some folks at the Avera Thrift Shop and I received a serving bowl from some of them - not a match, but it did have two handles on it.

I no longer needed such a serving bowl so I decided I would offer it to one of my two granddaughters, both of whom had recently set up housekeeping. So I took it to the Thanksgiving dinner at the granddaughters' parents' home. On opening the box in the presence of the two granddaughters and their mother, the mother said, "That matches my fine China." The serving dish was then washed and filled with the cooked squash that we had taken to the dinner. So the granddaughters did not get the dish, but it is in good hands hopefully no handle on it will get broken.

As Paul Harvey often said, "And now you know the rest of the story."


Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!



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