Have You Lost Your Marbles?

Nestled quietly amid the several headlines for the Presidential Inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington last week, the Associated Press (AP) reported an incident of marble madness near Indianapolis: “… a truck carrying 38,000 pounds of marbles lost its trailer… the marbles were on the shoulder and in the median… there were no injuries, but a lane of traffic in that area was affected by the cleanup during much of the day.”

I was lucky to catch the marbles story on my news feed.  It rolled in and rolled out (ha) in the space of about twenty minutes, making way for the more important headlines of the day.  A spill of 38,000 pounds of marbles!  That’s a whole lot of little glass orbs, people. Your average marble weighs 0.16 ounce (proving once again you can find anything on the Web), so with sixteen ounces to the pound you have a nice “round” estimate of 3,800,000 marbles commanding chaos on that Indiana highway.

79-convex-1As short as the AP article was (you’re reading just about all of it in the quotes above), I love the handful of details. One, the marbles were “on the shoulder and in the median”. In other words, they cleaned up themselves by rolling both directions off the convex surface of the asphalt. Two, “there were no injuries”. My first thought was the image of windmilling arms and dancing feet caused by a pail of marbles thrown in front of someone (I guess cars don’t react the same way). Finally, we have “… the cleanup during much of the day.” How the heck do you clean up 3.8 million marbles? My first choice would be a gigantic ride-on monster vac, preferably something designed by Dr. Seuss.

79-convex-2This story resonates with me because I had a childhood obsession with marbles – and marble games.  In the 1960’s the toy company Ideal came out with “Mousetrap”, one of the first mass-produced three-dimensional games.  Mousetrap was a fascinating contraption which – when completed – moved marbles and other game pieces in a start-to-finish process attempting to trap another player’s mouse.  When I first saw Mousetrap in action I became an instant marble enthusiast.

Mousetrap surely inspired the Matchbox game “Cascade” (which I was lucky enough to own).  Cascade consisted of three small trampolines arranged in a row between a tower and a scoring tray.  The tower included a clever “marble elevator” – a corkscrew raising the marbles to the top – only to dump them down a chute where they would bounce one-two-three on the trampolines and land in the scoring tray.  I’m not sure where in this endless loop you have a “game” but Cascade was sure fun to watch (see video here).  A more advanced version of Cascade came out the same year in Ideal’s “Bing-Bang-Boing”.

79-convex-3Countless marble contraptions have been designed since the games of my youth (the Web is full of fun videos), and let’s not forget Nintendo’s famous video game “Marble Madness”.  But as an adult I prefer the more elegant applications like Chinese checkers and marble solitaire (above photo), and the wooden box mazes I write about in Back in the Sandbox.

79-convex-2In the spirit of storm-chasers, I’d love to race down the highway to watch the next truck to lose its marbles somewhere in this country.  But maybe I’ll just stick to the marbles I own myself.  After all, what’s the saying?  A marble in the hand is worth 3.8 million on the road?  Or something like that.

The Best Branch on the Tree

Gracie lay quietly – perfectly still for what seemed like forever. Her snow hat tickled her auburn hair. Her dress – with the oversized snowflake front and center – felt worn and wrinkled, though she couldn’t be sure with her surroundings so dark. Something sharp was poking her in the back.  Above her, below her, to the right and to the left, Gracie sensed the color and glitter and shine of nearby objects.  She could not move to see them but Gracie knew they were there. After all, when you’re a Christmas tree ornament you know what it’s like to spend almost a year in a cardboard box.

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Without warning a door opened.  Gracie held her breath, as this basement closet was home to more than just Christmas things.  But then she heard happy voices and boxes being shuffled about.  There was a quick trill of sleigh bells followed by the friendly clack-clack of Christmas light bundles.  Then there was a jolt – a bit of an earthquake really! – and the sensation of being lifted and moved.  Yet it wasn’t until Gracie sensed she was going up the stairs that she knew for sure.  Yes, yes – it was time!  December was here again!  Gracie smiled (though she always smiled no matter how she felt).  In all her excitement she tried to push back the qualms; those uneasy feelings that entered her mind every year at this moment.  Would she make it to the best branch on the Christmas tree?  Would she make it to the tree at all?

Other ornaments came to life slowly around her, yawning and stretching (those that could move, closer to the top of the box).  There was the excited chatter of anticipation.  Who would be chosen first?  Who would face the fireplace with its brightly decorated garlands and stockings?  Who would hang from the lowest branches, where you could almost reach out and touch the presents?  And which lucky ones would journey to the highest branches, standing guard just below the Christmas angel?  “Oh, hurry, please hurry,” thought Gracie. “Let us out into the light!”

Suddenly all of the movement stopped and the box top was removed.  Bright light filtered all the way down to the bottom where Gracie lay impatiently.  As the ornaments above her were removed, Gracie’s thoughts still tormented her.  Was the tree big enough?  Did it have good, solid branches?  Did they still love her enough to include her?

At long last Gracie saw hands reaching down and removing the ornaments closest to her.  Away went the Star of David.  Away went the little wooden rocking horse.  Away went the gingerbread man with his one eye missing.  Finally the whole box was upended, and Gracie and the remaining ornaments came tumbling out into a messy pile on the table.  “This is awkward,” she giggled, sprawling almost upside down.  It would take some untangling if she hoped to get noticed.

To the sound of Christmas carols and laughter, Gracie watched from the table as one after another of the ornaments were carried to the tree and placed carefully on the branches.  She had only just arrived, yet the tree was already looking complete!

“Oh no”, she worried, “I’m a little girl but I’m pretty big for an ornament.  Will there be any branches left to hold me?”

Then Gracie heard the words she dreaded most. “Okay children,” someone said, “I think that’s enough for this year.  Let’s stand back and have a look.”  And sure enough, the children danced in front of the tree, so happy and clapping.  The tree was complete and with the best of the ornaments.  Gracie felt a tear form on her cheek.  She spied Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Dorothy hanging together halfway up the tree; the perfect view of Christmas everything.  Her Wizard of Oz friends made it to the best branch on the tree this year.

Gracie felt so sad.  She wished she’d never even seen the tree.  Why hadn’t they noticed her this year?  Christmas could be so cruel!  She watched helplessly as leftover ornaments were placed one by one back into the box.  But just as she was scooped up along with a tangle of older ornaments, a wee voice cried out from somewhere below the table, “No, Momma, no!  Snow Angel needs a place on the tree, doesn’t she?”

Gracie held her breath.  Was she really a Snow Angel?

There was a long pause; nothing but silence really.  Momma looked down at the ornaments in her hands, thinking.  And then she smiled.  With a little bit of untangling Gracie was lifted from the pile.  She was placed carefully in a little girl’s hands, who promptly marched to the tree and searched in vain for an open branch.  Seeing none, she slid around to the back of the tree, facing the windows and the snow-covered fields outside.  “Here is where she belongs, Momma,” the little girl said proudly.  “Snow Angel will be the first ornament to know when Christmas comes!”

And so, there would be a Christmas for Gracie after all.  She smiled as she glanced at the branch above her and kept watch through the windows (though Gracie always smiled no matter how she felt).  Thanks to the little girl, Gracie made it to the tree this year.  Come to think of it, she also made it to the best branch of all.