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Sunday, September 4, 2016

“Have you LOST your marbles?”

The statement listed above did not mean we were incapable of clear thinking.  It did not mean that we were stupid, so to speak, or that somehow we had obtained a special level of idiocy.  I will explain by example.

The first clearest memory I have of this saying being applied to my behavior, was when I decided that I could ride the neighbor’s bull.  No bull about it, I really thought that he was just a big cow and that large creatures were meant to be ridden.  So I led him up to the corral fence, swung my leg over him, and the rest is all a jumble of flailing arms and the distinct taste of cow manure in my mouth.  When I was rescued by my dad, the first thing out of his mouth was, “Have you lost your marbles?”  And the first thing I remember thinking was, “Well, no, actually they are in a sack in the house.”

The second memory I have of this, was when my brother John and I, as was our custom, decided that flood waters were a great place to swim.  There was a “gully” that ran through the middle of our property and the water ran swiftest there.  We hightailed ourselves up to the road, and without a thought, jumped into the water on the far side of the road.  The biggest problem with that was that there was a culvert that ran UNDER the road and the gully washed right through it in such a rush that it spewed 10 feet up in the air on the other side.  Think of it as a great water park, only deadly. Yes, we got sucked through the culvert, yes we flew 10 feet in the air, sputtering and coughing and laughing, and yes (obviously because I am still here) we survived to pull ourselves out on the bank of the gully.  But when I looked down, there on my leg was a centipede, at least an inch across, firmly attached to my leg from my hip down to my knee. I screamed like a girl (oh wait, I was a girl.)  And then I ran. As if that was going to dislodge him.  My brother caught up to me and said, “Hold still and I will get him off.” And just like that he grabbed the bugger and unzipped him from my leg, leaving a hundred holes that burned like fire.   We retreated to the parent’s home, and there they examined my wounds.  And then the expected, “Have you lost your marbles?” 

There are so many incidents of this type that I won’t bore you with any of the details.  My parents used the usual Marbles statement, but my grandad always asked “What were you thinking?” 
As in the time when John and I attempted launching off of the two story barn roof down into the hay stack, thinking we could fly.  And when we went into the flooding Fountain River and nearly drowned.  And when we found some quicksand and tested it to see if you really could float in it.  Each time he rescued us, he would say, “What were you thinking?” 

But to the parents, it was quite clear we were bonkers.  They kept asking if we had lost our marbles, and we kept telling them, “No, they are in a sack in my room.”   In the meantime, while we were grounded in between death defying feats, we actually played with our marbles. There were cat’s eyes and solid ones, all different colors, “Biggies” and one we called a “Steely” which was actually a ball bearing from the wheel of one of our tractors.  In this game, we would make a circle, place our marbles inside the circle, and get our best “shooter”.  The intention of the game was to see how many of your opponent’s marbles you could knock out of the circle, and then it became yours.  My brother maintained ownership of the “Steely” which would actually not only knock them out, but in some cases, because he had a thumb that was like an automatic rifle, would actually crack them in half. 

Needless to say, we did survive well past our stupid years, although I cannot with honesty say we did not do more really stupid things, which I later would nix as forbidden to my own children.  I never used the lost marbles statement on them, because it never worked on me, mostly because I did not understand how someone could compare a human brain to a bag of marbles.  But it did finally occur to me during one of my children’s attempts at self-annihilation that it had nothing to do with “thinking” and everything to do with “reasoning.”  

My parents feeble attempt at making us think, only made us think of marbles, but my grandad's patient questioning came into play when I became a parent, and I began to understand the “thinking” part, and the “marbles” part. 

Here is the difference.  “Thinking” requires logic and a careful thought as to the consequence of your actions.  “Marbles” applies to judgement, which, without logic applied, is just a bag of stones rolling around in your head, and when you lose them, you lose your ability to make good decisions or “Think”. 

Sometime in our much later years, my brother and I “grew up”, although I objected to that, and still do.  I started to maintain the thought that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, oh and stupid actions.  I had to make a lot of those stupid actions before my thinking allowed my marbles to kick in. 

About 20 years ago, I made a trip home and was visiting John.  He said he had a surprise for me, and asked me to close my eyes.  When I opened them, there was the sack of marbles laying in my lap, along with the famed “Steely”.  I laughed and then I cried.  All those marbles I had lost, I had now regained. When I got back to Arizona from Colorado, I carefully tucked them away.  So carefully that over three moves, I was unable to find them.  But today in going through stacks of old letters, old pictures, and just taking a walk down memory lane, there they were at the bottom of the bin! 

My brother went to his great reward in December of 2013.  But he left me his marbles, and mine, and as I take a trip back down the memories of my life, I hold them and cherish each one.  I think about how over the years we discussed our childish ways, and just how much fun they were, and about how we began to see that actions have consequences.  It may have taken many long years, Brother, but I have finally “Found my marbles.”   

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