In spring a young man's fancy turns to love but for a young boy in school it always turned to alleys or marbles.
With the school yard not having dried sufficiently to begin softball games or a game we called "Knight & Rider", we would be after our parents to give us enough money to go uptown and buy some alleys. Of course we would look them over very carefully and choose the most colorful ones available and select one in particular that we referred to as our "keeper".
Our "keeper" was also known as our "shooter" and it was understood that it could be replaced by another alley after making our shot.
I best remember three variations of games we played. One was to draw a circle, then getting down on our knees, place an alley in the hook of our first finger and, after taking careful aim, use our thumb to propel our alley into the circle. The opposing player(s) would do likewise, each taking his turn until one player's alley would strike another that meant he was winner and would take all the alleys in the circle.
Another variation of the game was to pace off a given distance from the school's brick wall and, facing the wall, dig our heel into the soft ground making a fair sized indentation. Each player would then toss an alley against the wall in an attempt to have the alley land in the hole. First player to accomplish this feat was declared winner and would pick up his winnings.
The third, and possibly the most popular alternative, was to play "spanners".
This was simple enough to play but a "sucker's" game if you didn't stay within your age and size group for, in theory at least, the older the player the greater his "span". In this style of game you bounced an alley off the wall with your opponent taking his turn doing the same. The player, who could "span", usually using his thumb and little finger, from your alley to his was the winner and pocketed your alley.
It was a ritual each spring to have Mother make up a cloth bag, complete with a drawstring, in which we carried our treasure and would try to outdo everyone else in the school to see who could accumulate the most alleys over the spring season.
There was always one great danger lurking on the sidelines though, and that was having no bag in which to store your collection. Usually the result would take place in the classroom when, crossing your legs while sitting at your desk, out would tumble a number of alleys and roll across the classroom floor. Much to the chagrin of the teacher this racket meant but one thing; the culprit whose cache rolled onto the floor had to get down on his hands and knees and go around gathering up each one of them. You then marched to the front of the room and, with your face as red as a beet from embarrassment, hand them over to the teacher who would tell you that you had seen the last of them. I'm sure most of us would rather have had the strap than losing the collection!
June's final day of school would hold a great surprise for us though for it was on this day that our teacher, not wanting us to leave holding any grudge against her, would say "I have, in my desk, a number of alleys belonging to the following boys" whom she would name. "You may come forward and claim them and do be careful in the future; your next teacher may not be so understanding and keep them."