My big brother Sonny was the best shooter in town. I mean marble shooter. Kids used to come over from other neighborhoods to challenge him and always left with empty pockets. He cleaned me out regularly, but I would insist later that it was a practice game and we’d been playing “for lends”, a term we sore losers used to get our lost marbles back. You’d get a sharp punch in the arm instead of marbles if the winner wasn’t your big brother and your mom wasn’t your court of appeals.
He was only ten years old then. We called him “Sonny” until he was 18 and wrote us from France not to use that nickname in writing but use his real name, Jim, since his buddies would razz him if they found one of our letters he’d left in a foxhole. What a thing to worry about when angry Germans were aiming machine guns and cannons at him. Jim was shooting in Normandy then, but not marbles.
Ten-year old Sonny kept his marbles in a tin cigar box and every night he counted his winnings and his total inventory. (Click, ping, ping, click, click, ping!). I got used to it watching from my side of the bed. We were learning numbers in the first grade then so I always checked my silent count against his.
One night the tally was very high and it was getting late. We’d already had two warnings from Mom that it was past lights-out and all the clicks and pings were driving her crazy in the next room. Sonny increased his pace but he wasn’t fast enough for Mom. She came in with a stern look on her face, grabbed the loaded cigar box and flung it out the open window. The box and marbles landed silently on the lawn two stories below, but were pretty well scattered. Sonny looked out into the darkness and began to sniffle. I could tell Mom already regretted what she’d done. “Well, that will teach you a lesson,” she said softly. “Tomorrow you can pick them up before you go to school.”
“There won’t be enough time,” Sonny sighed. “There’re 259 marbles spread all over.” (Actually it was 258. I’d snatched a bright green cat’s eye beauty when he wasn’t looking.) “A lot of them will be lost or stolen,” he said.
Fifteen minutes later, Sonny and I in our pajamas and bathrobes and Mom with a flashlight, were down on the lawn running our fingers through the grass. Sonny insisted on keeping count, but we ended when he reached 200. Unbeknownst to him it was really 203. I had three neato purees in my bathrobe pocket. That was my finder’s fee.