Where you live spring might be heralded by the smell of spring flowers or blossoms. But here in eastern Canada where the ground has been covered by a thick layer of snow for many months, it’s a whole other story. Spring smells like mud. Seriously. And what a glorious and most welcome smell it is.
Of course we still have lots of snow, but now that the temperatures are nudging above zero most days, and the sun is lovely and warm, there are patches of melting right down to the ground. And along our back path next to the house, it’s even a little muddy. When Hubby and I got out of the car the other day, I took a deep breath and sighed. “Smells like spring,” I said. “And spring means marble season.”
Marble season was the biggest harbinger of spring when I was a kid in the sixties. Once the ground was bare and soft enough to be able to make a pot in the earth with the heel of our boots, every kid on the playground lugged a bag of marbles to school for recess entertainment. I wish I had a shot of us playing marbles outside the big, old, brick school we attended. I don’t have any playground images from when I was a kid, as a matter of fact. Who does, I wonder?
We played a game whereby we used the heel of our boot to make a small pothole in the ground near the brick wall of the school. Then we each bounced our marbles off the wall, and the person whose marble came closest to the pot was first up. You used your finger to nudge each marble into the pot. One nudge, if the marble went in, you kept going, if not it was the next closest person’s turn. I seem to recall that the person who flicked the last marble in the pot won them all. Of course we might not have been playing for keepsies. But we probably were. Playing just for fun did not awaken our competitive spirit like playing for keeps.
I loved marble season. We were ruthless in our drive to acquire larger and larger bags of winnings. Of course one never, ever cleaned an opponent out entirely; we always gave them back a few to be able to stay in the game. We had a myriad of self-imposed rules like that. In my memory every kid was consumed with playing marbles at every spare moment. At school and at home. That is until the rest of the school yard dried out enough to allow for skipping. Then we were consumed with that.
Do kids anywhere still skip in the school yard? I remember the play ground as a maze of whirling pink and blue plastic ropes. When I was little, we skipped single rope, and chanted skipping songs. I’m sure that most of you did as well.
I even remember some of the rhymes we chanted. And I’m telling you, people, some of them were a little dark. “Had a little brother. His name was Tim. Put him in the bathtub to see if he could swim. He drank all the water and he ate all the soap and he died next morning with a bubble in his throat.” I’ve seen other versions of this song that aren’t quite as blood-thirsty as ours. How ironic that those sing-song-y lines were chanted by pig-tailed, little angels in ruffled dresses and white socks.
We were ruthless in more ways than one: dedicated gamblers with our marbles, and killers of annoying little brothers when we skipped.
When we were a bit older, and probably a little more coordinated we left the skipping rhymes behind and concentrated on skipping “double Dutch.” Jumping two whirling ropes at once, and counting. I think you were allowed to stay “in” until you messed up, missed a rope and got tangled, and then it was someone else’s turn. I remember a girl named Sharon who was so good the rope turners could not get her out. She jumped all of recess, and then fainted. That was the most excitement we had all skipping season.
Of course our spring activities were not confined to marbles and skipping. I remember making mud pies when I was little. And then one year when I was older, age nine or ten, we had a mud war. We divided the neighbourhood children up into two sides, and generally risked life and limb every evening after supper. At least until it began to get dark and our mums yelled for us to come in. Then we declared a truce until the next night. And when the hostilities ceased to provide diversion, we called a détente. And, instead, we began to build dams in the ditch that ran down the hill, along the road in front of our house. The spring run-off ensured that the ditches were torrents.
As kids we didn’t know, or care, that playing outside was good for us. But according to all the experts I’ve read, unstructured play like we engaged in, especially if it’s outdoors, is a necessary part of a healthy childhood. I know I’m running the risk of sounding like a broken record, since I have written about this topic before. But free play time helps kids learn to be more creative and helps to develop what the psychologists call “executive function.” Executive function refers to the skills “that help us to plan, prioritize, negotiate” and generally be able to solve problems. And if that unstructured play time is outdoors, well, better and better. If you’re interested, have a look at this short article on the Harvard Medical School website.
Now where were we? Oh yes. I was talking about how wonderful spring was as a kid. Even if it did turn me and my friends into gamblers, bloodthirsty skippers, and warmongers. Ha.
You know, the sound of water trickling in the ditches under the snow, the feel of the softening ground where the snow has melted, and the glorious smell of spring mud still make me feel like a kid again. I long to buy myself a bag of marbles and challenge Hubby to a game. Maybe he’d rather skip, though.
What do you think?