The 4 things no boy could do without
There were four items that every boy who attended John Small School owned. These were not big possessions, but they were all important to the young man who owned them. They were his marbles, Duncan yo-yo, baseball cards and last, but certainly not least, was his skate key. All of these items played an important role in his day-to-day life as a young man growing up in Washington during the ’50s.
His marbles, all of which were cat-eyes, were prize possessions and could be bought at Swindell’s or Mrs. Canady’s store, across the street from John Small. Marbles were a simple game to play and could be played almost anywhere there was dirt.
Beside the school was a favorite place to play, and all we did was take a stick and draw a large circle on the dirt and everyone placed at least three marbles in the ring. If more than three were playing, the circle was larger. We then had to decide who shot first and usually that was done by playing “rock, paper and scissors.”
The first shooter had the advantage if he “stuck” in the middle, because he then got to shoot from inside the ring, knocking out his opponents marbles. He then kept the marbles as long as he stayed in the middle. Once out of the circle, the next person got to shoot. Clog knockers or ball bearings were not allowed, as they gave an advantage to the shooter because they were bigger. A bag of five marbles was only a nickel but clog knockers were more expensive, and they had to be purchased from uptown. No store sold them in our neighborhood, and they were not sold at every five and dime store either. If someone carried their marbles in a Bank of Washington bank bag, you had to watch out, because that person was a marble guru and might end up with all your marbles.
His yo-yo was the second most valuable commodity that every boy owned. They were usually Duncan and were red and blue. Early on, these were made of wood and later Woolworth’s sold Duncan’s new model yo-yo that could sleep and was made of clear plastic. Every boy who had one could make theirs go “around the world,” “sleep” and “rock the cradle.”
Many an afternoon after school was spent walking around town with my yo-yo, trying to make it do different tricks. We never carried them to school because Mr. Grist or our classroom teacher (Mrs. Swain or Hodges) would get them, and they usually disappeared. To this day, my own grandchildren wonder how I could make a yo-yo do tricks.
“Oh, if I only had my baseball card collection” is what many people my age now say, but they were either misplaced or lost. For 5 cents you could buy a Topps baseball card package, and inside were three cards and a big piece of chewing gum. Now there are many companies that make them, and they are a prize collector’s item. Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Brooks Robinson, Roger Maris, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Joe DiMaggio were some that I had multiple copies of and would put them in my bike spokes. Mrs. Jolley could see me coming and have my pack of cards ready. Every now and then, she would slip me a pack free! These cards today sell for more money than I can afford.
Our skate key was usually put in a valuable place ‘til skate season came in the fall. The best place to skate was on a smooth surface, and the key was used to tighten or loosen the skate to fit your shoe. Skate keys usually came with each set of skates that were bought and could not be replaced. These were the steel skates that had ball bearings in the wheel, and the wheel was steel as well. Our favorite place to skate was on Ninth Street, behind the old high school. Buses parked there, and the street was wider to allow them to park during school. After school we would skate up and down Ninth Street, tearing up many a pair of dungarees and scraping our hands when we fell.
These sound like simple items, but they were simple times and every young boy owned all of these. Some had a pocket knife or fly-back paddle that was valuable to them, as well. Unlike today, we played outside in our neighborhoods and were never afraid because we had many eyes watching us, and we’d better not misbehave. We knew the consequences, and they did not have to ask permission. They were our parents away from home. Thank you, to all the parents that helped raise me!
I hope in some way these columns will put a smile on your face as you read them, because we are going through some tough times. There is an old saying, that “tough times don’t last, tough people do.” We will all survive this and be stronger because of our endurance — trust me!
They were the best of times with the best of friends and in the best of places, Washington, N.C.! The Original Washington!
— Harold Jr.
Harold Robinson Jr. is a native of Washington.