The spring of 1936, Junior and Dale Wilson played marbles with several others during dinner break at school. Dale, a freshman at Dexter High School, had won about forty of them by the end of March.
Even Superintendent Clampitt played once in a while, “but he just gets beat,” Dale reported to his older brothers who’d been in the Navy more than two years. (He also told them that two more Dexter boys were joining the navy, making fifteen from a town of fewer than 800 souls.)
As a boy, Wesley Clampitt had gone to Frog Pond country school in Guthrie County with Clabe Wilson.
At the end of March, sixth grader Junior wrote his brothers that he and Dale had collected 170 marbles all together, playing the game at school. Dale reported that about 70 of them are ones he won. “The kids sure do play a lot of marbles, at morning and noon they play down in the [school] basement.”
I’ve become the keeper of some of the Wilson brothers’ marbles. I hope some of them are in this jar. They came from Grandma Leora’s house, but she also had a “marble game,” essentially a slide for them to roll down, turn a corner, roll some more, to the bottom. Little kids enjoyed the noisy thing.
The library table under the mason jar was in the entryway of her little house in Guthrie Center. There are stains and buckled areas where a plant had been overwatered. It followed her to Guthrie Center from her mother’s home in Dexter, then to Minburn and Perry. It originally came from the Goff Victorian house in Guthrie Center, where there were two of them. My mother, as a preschooler, played on the platform underneath the desk.
These days the old mission style library table holds a lamp in our front window.
Here are different ways the game of marbles is played.
While searching for how to play the game, I ran across this delightful memoir by a man who also played the game during the Depression in east Des Moines. At least for these city boys, playing marbles was a serious business, with rules and even their own language. What a gem! The Real Rules for Playing Marbles in a Bull Ring: East Des Moines, Iowa Circa 1930 by Carl Ringwall, Sr. is only available as an ebook.
There are more tales in Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression.