By Dan Schuette
I was in fifth grade at Midvale elementary school on Madison’s west side when the annual school marbles championship was announced. They didn’t have such a thing on the east side where I had gone to school before we moved. I was a pretty good marbles player so I decided to enter the contest. I remember there were two kinds of marbles games that we played. The first was called pot, where you hollowed out a hole in the ground or an indentation about the size of a dinner plate. All the players would put a marble in the pot, step back 30-40 feet, and then try to throw a marble that would land in the pot. If yours was the only one to stay in the pot you got all the marbles. If several people landed in the pot those players would keep throwing until there was only one player left. The final player would get all the marbles. I don’t know what the other game was called, but a big circle was drawn on the ground, marbles were put into it and two players took turns trying to knock the marbles out of the circle. The person who knocked the most out won the game. This circle game was the one that was used for the championship.
Almost all of the other players were sixth graders. I think I was the only fifth grader entered. I won my first match, then the second, and pretty soon I was in the finals. I lost track of time being totally focused on the matches. Lo and behold, I won. I received a much too large tee-shirt as my prize. I remember the printed letters on the shirt that read Midvale Marbles Champion, 1954. I proudly ran home to show my prize to my parents.
My Mom had recently remarried to a guy named Gordy. I think that’s what prompted our move to the west side. He was a former Merchant Marine, in great shape, always doing sit-ups and pushups. We did quite a few things together as I remember going water skiing with Mom and Gordy on most weekends. But he was pretty strict with me. I sometimes thought he still believed he was in the military.
When I arrived home, I fully expected Mom and Gordy to be proud of me and my new title of Midvale Marbles Champion. However, I had violated one of Gordy’s rules of being on time. It was 10 minutes after 6 o’clock and we always ate dinner right at 6:00.
Plus, I hadn’t called or even let them know I would be playing marbles after school. So Gordy marched me upstairs to my bedroom, had me turn around, bend over, and hit me 4-5 times on my butt with a belt. I was humiliated. Some welcome home.
Mom divorced Gordy a few years later. Maybe a couple of these incidents made her decision easier. He lives in Florida now and I really don’t bear any resentment toward him (well, maybe a little). I’m not sure why that is. I guess it’s in my nature to remember the good times and to forget the bad ones.
I seem to seek approval more than the average person and want to be recognized for my accomplishments. It seems I need a few more strokes or pats on the back than I probably should. Maybe the incident with Gordy has something to do with it. He was using me as a scapegoat for some anger he had about something. I knew what Gordy did to me was wrong and I vowed not to ever become that sort of person or to tolerate that behavior in someone else. I could continue to be a scapegoat or I could use the incident to become a better person. I chose the latter.
I write goals every year, review them every couple of months, and usually accomplish the majority of them. I also have a mission statement for my life. It is to have an open, honest, caring relationship with each member of my family that leads to our overall growth and success as a family unit.
You can learn how to conduct your life from the examples of others. You can also learn what not to do. That’s what I learned from being Gordy’s scapegoat.
Dan Schuette during his during military service, Fall 1968 near Pleiku, Viet Nam
Dan wrote “Marbles and Such” in response to a one-word writing prompt: “Scapegoat.” Read another of Dan’s essays here…
Dan, your story made me smile and realize we share something in common. I too was an elementary school marble champion. I broke a gender barrier when I became the first girl in my hometown in the 1950s to beat the boys at their game (yes, we played “pot” too). There was always a lot of teasing and taunting when I stepped up to take my turn, but as often is the case, in the end the skills of the winning competitor are respected (especially after two or three challenges to prove that I wasn’t “just lucky”). Your memoir is well-written and conveys a message to which many of us can relate. Keep writing and remembering.