My inferior ability as a marbles player was embarrassing. I hate to admit it to this day, but I shot like a girl. I couldn't seem to put any zing into my shootin' tall. I watched Bud intently, trying to figure out his secret. But no matter what technique I tried, my marble would roll lazily across the dirt ring, being bumped farther off course by every bit of gravel and twig it encountered. If by chance my shootin' tall hit the target marble, the marble usually stayed in the ring.
Doogie shooting was one of those things a kid wanted to do well in Arkansas. It was right up there with hauling hay, riding a bronco and cussing as a sign of incipient manhood. For a sixth-grade boy whose father was the high school football coach and former doogie-shooting champion of Milltown, Ark., it was downright shameful not to be able to really pop it. That's why I finally resorted to secret weapons—aggies and tater nobs.
I didn't play keeps until I discovered aggies and tater nobs. Before that, I told everyone that Mom, being as religious as she was, didn't allow me to play in games of chance, though the truth was I didn't play keeps because I wouldn't get to keep any. Then I came across an aggie, a big, heavy, agate-type marble about the size of a small golf ball. You could roll it like a bowling ball and knock marbles all over the place. Tater nobs were little mounds of dirt upon which you mounted the target marble. You couldn't miss. With the big aggie and tater nobs I started to wipe out the sixth grade. I learned to yell, "Aggies and tater nobs!" before my opponent could yell, "No aggies and no tater nobs!"
In this manner I talked Elmer Mac-Donald into playing a game of keeps and won a pocketful of marbles during the 10 o'clock recess. Then at noon I said to Kenny Bryan, a high-quality doogie player and a close friend, "Hey, let's play some keeps." Kenny was so shocked at my wanting to play keeps that he Said O.K. without outlawing aggies and tater nobs. I calmly said, "Ten up, and aggies and tater nobs allowed."
"Oh, come on!" he said disgustedly.
"I yelled first," I insisted. I rolled the old aggie like a bowling ball and proceeded to pocket about 25 new cat's-eyes.
That afternoon I walked home with the glorious sound of marbles clacking together in my pockets. They made a huge bulge in my jeans and caused them to sag. I kept pulling up my jeans and stroking those marbles.
"Son," said Mama when she saw the bulge in my pockets, "where did you get all those marbles? You haven't been playing keeps, have you?"
I had to admit that I had. "I won them fair and square," I said.
After a severe tongue-lashing, I was allowed to keep my stash. But about a week later my dad—with much encouragement from my mother, I imagine—organized the official sixth-grade tournament and brought out a genuine marbles' rule book. Just before the big game I was informed by my father that these rules didn't allow for tater nobs, rainbows, elbows and other tactics that were regarded as abominations by marbles purists. But the real killer for me was that no oversized shootin' tails were allowed. That meant the end of my aggie.