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Marbles for Keeps and Other Pastimes

Some things to do in and around Furnace Village in days past.

The clay marbles were not much valued. Ten of that variety might be worth one of the glass agates. We played for keeps. This came as close to gambling as we got. Of course, it was ultimately a game of skill and I recall myself as only able to about break even. One thing I knew was that you did not play against Teeny Freitas. He was the school yard’s best marble player. My friend, Richard L Anderson and I were matched pretty evenly and played often.

We did not play standard rules of making a circle and trying to knock your opponent’s marbles out of that ring.  Our objective was to toss and place your agate into the small hole in the ground. Those that did not make it on the original throw were then pushed in by one’s curled index finger. The player with all his marbles in the hole first was the winner and got to keep the losers agates, if they were playing “keepsies”. A variety of the rules had us use a “popper”, an oversized pretty glass marble that was tossed first and then play was centered on the popper instead of the hole in the ground.

After doing my chores – feed the chickens, tend the ponies, slop the hogs, feed and milk the goat, etc, I’d get on my bike and do . It would still only be 5 o’clock or so. Some days I’d go visit my chum Emery Dill, whose father was a caretaker at Russ Murray’s place on Howard Street. The Dills lived over the garage across the street from the main house. The estate, owned by Russ Murray, who also owned the Raynham Dog Track, was a fascinating place with lots to do, but the big event was the “hi, kids” we’d get from Rocky Marciano, if he were in training at the Murray place. Rocky would spar, jump rope, hit the punching bag and do road work with a jog up Howard Street. We would tag along behind and just glow to be in his presence. Many years later as a stock broker, Rocky had an account with me. He was quite conservative in his investments, favoring tax free municipal bonds.

The annual event was in the fall – the great Brockton fair. There was even a day for students when admission was free and school systems gave the day off to attend the fair. My dad always told us that such falderal was a waste of money and we were to carefully budget the amount we spent at the fair. Mom would pack us a lunch to save the fifteen cents that a hot dog cost. We ate under the big tree near the Massachusetts Agricultural Building. The treat after this repast was to buy a Frozen Custard. I have never tasted one that was so good since.

It was a huge machine that produce the ambrosia and likely a predecessor of today’s Dairy Queen. Later we might watch the Lucky Teeter Show. He was a daredevil auto driver who took his vehicle over ramps, through fires and into bodies of water to the delight of the thousands present. Motorcycles raced around a barrel-like building (called the “Wall of Death”, I think) fully perpendicular to the walls, defying gravity. It was free admission to the big stage show which was followed by fireworks. We loved that fair!

On hot summer days we youngsters went  to the “Old Swimmin’ Hole” on South Street. It was simply a wide spot on the stream that went next to the Phillips farmstead. We jumped from the muddy banks into three to five feet of muddy water with the depth depending on the recent rainfalls. The common enemy was the blood suckers that shared the dirty liquid with us. We took turns picking them off one another. Up a path across the street was Keith’s Pond where male early teenagers would swim ‘au natural” or “skinny dip”. The young lasses would shriek in mock surprise to see us fellows in the buff, but they knew what they would probably see before they headed up that wooded path.

In the “Furnace” no one had a television set except the Meunier family on Foundry Street near South Street. The wood furniture in which it was encased dwarfed the small round screen. All were invited to watch. On my paper route I might arrive at the house about 3:30 p.m. There was not 24 hour a day programming, so all we might see would be the test pattern on the screen. We didn’t care. We sat and watched the pattern in wonderment until a real show came on. Red Sox games were shot from one camera over the pitcher’s shoulder. Instant replay was decades away.

Boy Scouts were a good group. We camped out in the woods off Poquanticut Avenue near the Basse homestead. The Nordbeck boys, Jack Schleicher, Steve Hanscom, brother Bud were among the regulars. We camped on our own quite a bit. Dick Brady, brother Bud, Steve Hanscom and I would tow a lightweight trailer behind our bikes to what is now Borderland State Park and we would fish and forage for veggies from the Ames fields. We caught the very bony pickerel, sweet catfish (we called them horned pout) and perch. Using our Boy Scout cook kits we fried the fish in oil after breading them with flour. A can of baked beans was not considered cheating. Spam was a common addition to breakfast. During the day we might go spy on the Ames young folk as they drove around in the old Ford flivver that had been converted to a run-a-bout. They never saw us – at least I don’t think they did.

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