THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
From My Window
Issue Date: April 3, 2022
The Marble Run
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
My maternal grandparents lived a four hour drive from our home, so when I was a child we only visited them a couple of times per year. It was always special going to their little house, and one of the most anticipated things was playing in the "toy box" kept for the grandchildren. There were several toys that all their grandchildren loved.
One of them was a "James Bond movie camera gun." This was a big hunk of black plastic, shaped like an old-fashioned movie camera with a handle you would crank to advance the "film" in the camera. But when you cranked it, the lens portion of the "camera" popped out and became the barrel of a gun. We never tired of cranking away on it, as the "gun" popped out on an unpredictable schedule sort of like the hand-cranked jack in the boxes.
But the star of the toys was a marble rack or run. This was a wooden structure, painted bright red, about three feet tall. Two side supports held up marble tracks, each slightly angled downward and stacked one above the other. At the end of each "ramp" the marble would drop down through a hole to the next track, which angled downward the opposite direction. So roll, clunk the marble would fall to the next rack, roll, clunk, over and over. At the bottom was a metal box to catch the marble which you returned to the top of the rack.
Couldn't have been a simpler toy. Powered by gravity, and a kid. But we were googly-eyed over it; watching the marble roll was mesmerizing, and the sound? Utterly fascinating to us, but after about two hours of this toy and its repetitive noise, any adult in the house would firmly suggest we play something else for a while. When my grandparents passed on, the rack was retained, and remains a part of Schmid family history. I don't recall much fuss about the fact that marbles are a choking hazard for small children, although I do remember being coached not to let my little sister put marbles in her mouth. (Yes, kids do the strangest things!)
The fact this toy was special in our hearts is why my sister gifted our son with one when he was little; it was a guaranteed unisex child-pleaser.
You can find these toys on the internet; most are made of plastic now, and the child can snap pieces together after the manner of Legos to make tracks of their own design. But traditional wooden ones, built by hand, are also available ?? the one I saw on Amazon was $99, shipping not included.
Last weekend, I pet sat for my canine and feline nieces in Madison for a few days and there in their dining room was a gift from my brother, who has been known to do a little "curb cruising" in Madison. There is a charming custom in his neighborhood of putting no longer wanted but still useable items at the curb for someone else to take. While driving one day he spotted a brightly painted red wooden marble run, in perfect condition.
He thought maybe my grandchildren would enjoy it. I felt the same old thrill when I saw it. I sent a group e-mail to my Schmid cousins with pictures of Al's find, and got lots of replies with the same kind of nostalgic memories it evokes in me. So I have decided to make it a "raffle" item at the family reunion at my house this summer, a zero cost drawing for those who wish to have a piece of our shared "memory bank" for their own children or grandchildren. (Or, maybe, to play with themselves!)
Childhood memories are part of the glue that holds an extended family of cousins together; despite the fact that the eleven of us are scattered around now, we stay in touch and seek each other out when we can. It is rooted in things like Grandma's toy box, the all-cousin Easter Egg hunt, and the traditional walk on the railroad tracks to tiny Clarno with the dads so the moms could have an hour's peace and quiet. Anyone with similar memories of their grandparents and their cousins is blessed indeed, whether it involves a toy, a meal, or a traditional card game.
WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH: March was women's history month and I saw a fascinating feature in AOPA magazine (aircraft owner and pilot's association) about the first woman who managed an airport in the United States. This pioneer's name was Lauretta Schimmoler, of Ohio, who became a pilot after a ride in an open biplane in 1929 inspired her to learn to fly. What fascinated me the most, though, was that an airplane ride over an area devastated by a tornado caused her to have the inspiration for airplane-carried medical service providers; and she formed the Aerial Nurse Corp. of America to implement her idea of using planes to speed medical professionals to remote areas hit by natural disasters. Not until the outbreak of World War II did the U.S. Army see the wisdom of her ideas, and created a nurse unit dedicated to medical air evacuations. She had a vision which led to the later creation of peacetime life flights and air ambulances, which have saved countless lives. The myriad contributions of women were much less likely to be recorded and celebrated than those of men; I love reading bits of history like this one.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.