Blog 2431 – 06.21.2022
For All The Marbles
The second public school that I attended as a boy was called Hemlock Elementary. Due to the poison of segregation it was an all-white school in a black inner city neighborhood in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In those dark days of the late nineteen-fifties and early nineteen-sixties there were still signs on restrooms and water fountains announcing “whites only” and “coloreds only” as a separate and very unequal strict society was maintained in the South. I was in high school before the public schools in Chattanooga were integrated. Shame on us for taking so long and for still holding onto ideas of racial superiority and continuing to rig the game in whitey’s favor.
Hemlock Elementary was a very old school and when my dad went there in the nineteen thirties the surrounding neighborhood was all white. We lived on a one block dead end street off a main thoroughfare called Rossville Boulevard. Myrtle Street when we moved there had about ten house on one side and a paper mill called O.B. Andrews on the other. The side with houses had an alley behind it and on the other side of the alley were houses that faced the next street over, another thoroughfare called Central Avenue. Two blocks south off Rossville Boulevard and a couple of blocks east was Hemlock Elementary, surrounded on all four sides by homes where black folks resided and there was a small meat processing plant nearby. They actually slaughtered and butchered cows there.
There was no fence around the block square school grounds and to keep the black children from playing on the school’s playground equipment it had all been taken down. On recesses the white children who attended the school played mostly running games, or throwing and kicking ball games. Jumping rope, spinning tops, and playing marbles were also activities that filled up our recess periods.
I attended Hemlock Elementary for the the third and fourth grades, September 1959 through June of 1960. Nineteen sixty was the last year white children attended there. My little brother and I rode a city bus several miles south on Rossville Boulevard to a different elementary school called Clifton Hills Elementary beginning in September of 1960 and our family moved from Myrtle Street to Second Avenue on Halloween of that year. The neighborhood was called East Lake.
I was a very poor marble shooter and so I quickly lost all my marbles to the other boys at Hemlock Elementary. When I explained the lost to my dad he said he would show me how to get all my marbles back, all of their marbles too, and at the same time teach myself to be an expert marble shooter. Back then the drug stores sold cigar singly right out of the box so if you asked the counter clerk nicely and smiled they would give you an empty cigar box. They were handy for storing your treasures in as Scout did in the book and movie To Kill A Mockingbird.
My Dad’s win all the marbles plan required a cigar box. First he cut off the lid and then on the open edge of one of the long sides he cut a little “mouse hole” just big enough for a standard marble to pass through when all the open edges were set downward. Then he said to me, “here’s the deal son. Take the box to school and at recess take it outside with you and place it the flat on the dirt, draw a straight line in the dirt about two feet from the mouse hole and tell the boys for every marble that they shoot in from the line you will give them back five marbles. But every marble that misses they must forfeit to you.”
I came home that first day with a long sock full of marbles. The second part of dad’s win all the marbles plan was as follows. With the small bag of marbles we bought at the drugstore when we got the free cigar box he had me sit in the floor shooting marbles at the tiny little hole. It was not long before the teachers caught on to my scheme and told me to take my cigar box home and not bring it back to school. By that time some of the other boys were bringing their own cigar boxes to school and I was winning all their marbles by shooting mine through that hole almost every time.
If a deal sounds to good to be true it usually is. I taught my son to shoot marbles just like my dad taught me. It was also a lesson in fair play. Dad used to say never bet unless it is a sure thing and to remember it seldom if ever is, just a good way to lose your marbles.
Your friend and fellow traveler,
Days In The Sun