Losing Your Marbles

- jim Young

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood”. - Fred Rogers

It was nice to see Rod (Talk Turkey With Urqey) Urquhart back after a brief hiatus. I look forward to his columns and was pleased to see in the last issue of the GNA, Rod chose a topic along the same theme as “Those Were The Days, My Friend”.

When I first approached Cyndi and Jim about writing this column it was, and still is, my intent to encourage my readers to share some of their stories. So, I ask you again to submit some of your fond (or not so fond) memories and pictures of the days gone by to share with us all.

Please don’t hold back simply because you feel you’re not a writer. As Cyndi’s father Ab Culbert is always quick to point out, “somewhere, there is always a story” and I hope you will share your story with us.

If you’re not comfortable writing your story, all you have to do is tell me about it and I’ll write it for you. Contact me (see how below) and I will gladly get back to you to get the details and help you get your story written and shared in the Great North Arrow.

In the last issue of the GNA, Rod remembered the entrepreneurs who profited at an early age in the  public school he attended. Their earnings weren’t actually in the form of money, but rather a valued currency among young people known as marbles. 

Rod challenged me to share some of my recollections of my “alley and marble” times, but the truth be told I’ve lost so many of my marbles over the years that I don’t have much recollection of them. I do know that we didn’t have any of those fancy portable boards with holes in them to sink your marbles into at our school. We were “country folk” whereas it seems Rod was “city folk” and perhaps our different cultures was the reason.

I do recall playing a very primitive form of regular marbles with my classmates at recess though. While I can’t remember the details, it involved tossing your marble into a ring to hit a classmate’s marble for the win. Stolen chalk from the classroom was in abundance to draw the ring, but living in the country the coveted pavement that was so readily available to city folk was scarce. 

How we young country folk longed for access to pavement to play marbles and hopscotch on! Many of us never knew the thrill of riding our bikes on pavement, skipping rope without the danger of hitting a small stone with the rope, sending it flying into Sally’s eye or just skinning our knees when we fell, like the city folk did.

Marbles for country folk was more often played in a quickly dug hole in the ground instead of a perfect circle drawn on a smooth surface.

In fact, I actually have more memories of the marbles that covered the bottom of my Grandmother’s goldfish bowl. I would spend what seemed like hours (although given the typical attention span of a young child it was probably more likely minutes) watching Goldie swim lazily above those solid multi-coloured beautiful marbles. Then one day, when Goldie died, my Grandmother gave me one of those cherished marbles. Before you ask, “no, I had nothing to do with Goldie’s demise”.

But even as countryfolk, we too had young entrepreneurs in our public schools. Mostly they were the paperboys who delivered newspapers to the community after school..

I was always jealous of my classmate Wayne Barnard. Not only did he seem to have an endless supply of real money to spend at the General Store after school, he had a very cool, long leather wallet to keep it in. The wallet that he slipped into his back pocket was attached to a belt loop with a long, shiny chain that dangled half way down his leg and allowed him to ride his bike without fear of losing his wallet. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Wayne also had a paper punch. It wasn’t any ordinary paper punch like the teacher had though. Wayne’s paper punch punched paper in the shape of little stars so he could record which of his customers were paid up. I would have had tiny holes punched into the margins of every book I ever owned, if only I could have a paper route.

My father however, wouldn’t let me get a paper route. To begin with, we lived a distance outside of the community where yes, I really did have to walk to school, uphill both ways. Our house was at the top of a hill. The trip to school involved walking down that hill into the valley, across the creek and back up the hill on the other side.

“What if it rains?” my father asked. “Or what if you get sick? You wouldn’t be able to ride your bike to deliver the papers in the winter. And who would deliver your papers for you when we go to the cottage in the summer?”

Mostly my dad was saying “HE” didn’t want to deliver my papers when I didn’t.

So he gave me a weekend job at the IGA store he and his brother owned in Stroud instead. For 25 cents an hour, it was my job to sort returned pop bottles that were temporarily stored in shopping carts. Each brand of pop bottle had to be sorted into the empty wooden crates that they had been delivered in. The brand names of the pop companies were painted on or burned into the sides. And there were a lot of brands in those days: Coke, Pepsi, Fanta, Crush, Fresca, Canada Dry, Adanac Dry, Hires Root Beer, Tab, Schweppes, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, 7up and more. 

As a bit of an early entrepreneur myself, one day I approached my father to discuss my wages. “What if,” I suggested, “instead of paying me 25 cents an hour to sort pop bottles, you paid me 10 cents a cartload instead?” Before my father had a chance to ask why, I continued, “And then, you’re only paying me for the work I actually do.”

I suggested to my father that perhaps my older sisters or cousins who had all started out sorting pop bottles and had advanced to inside jobs might be able to do the job a little faster than I.

My father, who was always quick to take the opportunity to build our self esteem when we were young, took this as an opportunity to let me know that he had faith in me to do a good job and it was important that he pay me, and I should expect the same wages as anyone else.

“Foiled,” I thought to myself. I already knew I was doing a good job. I wasn’t looking for praise or encouragement. I have always taken pride in every job I have undertaken and I knew I had become quite adept at sorting pop bottles. The truth of the matter was, I had calculated I could earn more money sorting pop bottles at 10 cents a cart load than I could at 25 cents an hour.

Of course in hindsight, knowing my father, there’s a very real possibility he too already had this all figured out. If I had been upfront and just asked for a raise, I very likely would have gotten it.

Yes, my friends… Those were the days.

- 30 -

Do you have some pictures or memories of the proverbial “good old days” that you would like to share? If so, please send them by clicking on this link, Those Were The Days, My Friend.


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Published In The Great North Arrow, June 1, 2023: Do You Want Fries And Taxes With That?

Obituary: 173 Big Bay Point Road