The Star-News


No need for video games when you had all your marbles

Sat, Mar 26 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Susan Walter

One thing I love to ask when interviewing people about their South Bay memories is what children did for amusement during their spare time. Bill McClendon's eyes sparkled as he told this story:

When I was a little kid, we always played marbles at school. My granddad, he paid 50 cents - this was the early 1930s - for an agate ... a good marble. And I never put that up - when you played marbles, if you won the game, you kept the marbles from the other guys. Well, I'd go to school with 10 marbles in my pocket and return with two pockets full of marbles... We found out the watch factory was going to be torn down, so I got up one Saturday morning - my folks both worked, so I got Jim up, my younger brother. I said, 'Let's go by the watch factory. I want you to throw these marbles at me and I'm going to hit them with my baseball bat into the windows, knock them out.' And I knocked them out, and I learned how to hit a marble better than I could hit a baseball with my baseball bat.

This story is especially unique when you understand that McClendon was born with only one arm.

Other activities? Jump rope, hopscotch and tag were popular.

Name tag was usually the ticket, with favored categories of types of cars, brands of cigarettes, comic book and cartoon characters, and actors' or actresses' names.

Kids played in various formal or ad hoc teams, especially baseball in various formats. These teams - with or without real balls or bats - played with gusto on dirt lots.

Roller skates and bicycles were coveted items, often shared between siblings and neighbors. Those skates fastened to the shoes with clamps, and generally the skater kept his skate key on a string hanging around his neck while out and about, in case the clamps loosened or there was a need to take them off.

Etta Bell Rose, raised on a farm, said:

My folks gave me roller skates for Christmas one year. Well, we had no sidewalks in Otay. So I'd get out and roller skate on the street. And pretty soon I was roller skating up to K Street in Chula Vista on Third Avenue. If I'd hear a car coming, I'd step off and then I'd get back on. In those days, very few cars were going on Third Avenue. When I got to K Street, I had sidewalks and I thought I was in hog heaven.

The unpaved roads where he lived were hard on bikes, and Miguel Garcia told me he used to root around, looking for spare parts for his bike from the local garbage dump.

Modern children still play with marbles, skates and bikes, though the styles have changed. But some pastimes the "now grown ups" recalled were different than today's activities.

Annie I over was a popular game that Sidnie Macias played.

One child would yell "Annie I over" and throw a ball over the house. On the other side, the opponent would attempt to catch it. This continued until the ball was missed.

In 2010, during the Chula Vista High School reunion, respondents remembered building tipis and forts in the valley of Bonita. Trees became houses with acorns used for drinking vessels. Barbara Coombs Main and June Holmes Close also explored caves there, and I heard that plans were afoot to go see if those caves still existed.

And Neil Wagenaar's face lit up as he described the fun he had when he was a youngster when his uncle Reinstra got the celery trimmings from Chula Vista's packing house to feed to his dairy cows. Neil, his brother and playmates would climb on top of the teetering mass. When the celery was dumped, the kids rode down with it. Then, he confessed, ensued the joy of throwing rotten celery at passing motorists.


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