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Thought some of you might be interested in this (used by permission of Poor Richard's Almanac):

A Rolley Hole Revival

Our friend Ben was in the back room of the local tavern, The Eagle Arms, honing my marble-shooting skills. I had just knocked my opponent’s marble out of the ring when I heard, above the clanks of pewter tankards, shouts of “More ale!”, and curses of my opponent and his evil faction, the hearty (but always hoarse; town crying is not for the faint-hearted) voice of my old marble buddy, Paul Revere.*

“Well done, Ben!” Paul bellowed, drowning out even the most fervent pleas for hard cider, grog and the like and waking up Motley, the tavern dog, who managed to bite our friend Ben’s unfortunate opponent in the confusion before curling up and passing out. (OFB made a point of giving Motley a few scraps of bread and cheese before departing, but of course, this reflects on our friend Ben’s generous, animal-loving nature and had absolutely nothing to do with the aforementioned biting episode.)

Once the resulting hubbub and sundry threats of revenge had finally died down, Paul continued: “You’ll be heading down with me in September for the Rolley Hole marble tournament, won’t you, Ben?”

“The Rolley Hole tournament? Isn’t that held in my own native Tennessee?”

“Indeed it is,” replied Paul, draining his tankard and thumping it loudly on the table in the hope of attracting a serving wench for a refill. “It’s in Overton County, about 100 miles east of Nashville.”

Our friend Ben sighed; it would be great to revisit my native Nashville, and East Tennessee—Smokey Mountain country—is simply stunning. “I’m afraid you’re on your own, Paul,” I said, reluctantly. “September’s the start of the rainy season here, and I have a little experiment I’d like to try with a kite and key. But bring me back some flint from the Cumberland River, would you? I hear it makes really great marbles.”

“Well, I’ll leave tonight if you’re not coming with me,” Paul said, abandoning hope of a refill and heading to the front room to pay his tab. “It’ll take me a few days’ hard riding to get there, and I have some skulking—I mean, important work—to do in the weeks leading up to the tournament.”

Laughter followed Paul from the room: All the marble enthusiasts knew he was really planning to spend the pre-tournament time checking out the competition.

“Good luck, Paul!” our friend Ben shouted after him, cheerfully appropriating the foaming tankard the tavern wench had just brought for the erstwhile silversmith. “Just add it to his tab,” I added, indicating the rapidly retreating form. A faint shout from the street (surely I only thought I heard “You’ll pay for this, Ben!”) was followed by departing hoofbeats. I knew Paul was on his way, and Tennessee would never be the same.

Later that month, Paul and his exhausted steed rode into the Standing Stone Park in Hilham, Tennessee,** just in time to see the locals playing at sunset. Here is the dispatch he sent our friend Ben from the road.

From the quill of Paul Revere, written this night by the flickering candle flame in a small but jovial inn near Hilham:

All the farmers and hunters had left the fields and forests and were gathered around the rectangular playing field, where play would continue until dark. I was awed by what they were doing: This wasn’t the usual game of Ringers we were used to in New England. And boy, were they good!

I stood next to a younger man named Shawn Hughes. “What are they playing?” I asked Shawn.

“Rolley Hole,” he replied, with a grin as friendly as his voice.

“This sure isn’t the way we play marbles up in Boston,” I told him, hoping to hear more about the game.

“Well, that’s funny,” said Shawn, who, it turns out, is the park ranger. “Billy’s great-grandaddy, who was the Rolley Hole champion eight years in a row, said that his grandaddy told him this game had come here by way of the English. But Junior over there swears it came from the Cherokee.”

Shawn and I broke off our conversation as a roar came from the playing field. We edged closer for a better view. From what I could see, Rolley Hole is a team sport: two teams, two players per team. The goal is to shoot a marble into a series of three holes. No sweat, you’re thinking? Well, try this: The goal is to shoot a marble repeatedly into three holes, in a specific order, and the holes are spaced 10 feet apart on a dirt rectangle 40 feet long by 25 feet wide. And all the while, your opponents are doing their damndest to blast your marble from the field. Are you impressed now? Here’s how it works:

Shawn and I watched as one team, Corey and Austin, shot their marble into the fourth hole in succession during the first round. (Yes, I know I said there were three holes, but remember, you’re repeating your shots in a given order.) Two more rounds of sinking the marble into the middle hole, the top hole, the middle hole, and the bottom hole would see this new, untried team proclaimed the champions. Tension rumbled through the crowd.

But the other team wasn’t done yet. “Here comes George,” Shawn whispered.

“George Washington?!” I exclaimed, forgetting to whisper. I hadn’t heard that the General was a marble aficionado.

“No, no, George the local Rolley Hole whiz. And keep it down, would you, Paul? We don’t want to distract the players when they’re trying to aim.”

“Sorry, Shawn.”

“George is a member of the Tennessee Marble Collectors’ Club,” Shawn added quietly. “It was founded by Jim Storsberg and Gerald Witcher. Jim and Gerald are over in the cabin signing up new members now. You should join the club while you’re down here. But first, watch what George does now.”

The man in question, from 6 feet away, put a reverse spin on his marble and blasted Corey’s marble clear out of the field. With the extra turn he got for that move, George spanned his marble right in the hole, then shot the marble close to the other hole. If all turns out according to George’s plan, his next turn should get him right into that hole.

I looked around at the crowd. “There’s shooters and spectators here come from all over our continent,” Shawn pointed out.

Leaving the Rolley Holers (as opposed to Holy Rollers) to their work, I decided to stroll around and take in the rest of the festivities. To bring in folks from far and wide, there had to be a wide range of activities for all ages. Under a big tree, there were marble lessons for the youngsters, though I saw an older man crouched among them learning, too. There were games and hunts for the younger crowd to keep them happily occupied during the serious shoot-outs.

Live music filled the air, while two men made flint marbles like the ones used in the tournament. I smiled when I found out they were both named Paul like your humble servant. Paul Davis and Paul Moore agreed to give me the upper hand in the tournament by making me some custom-made flint marbles. (Eat your heart out, Ben. I told you to come! Maybe I’ll bring back a flint marble for you if you promise to pay for all the ale I can drink next time I stop by, to make amends for that regrettable incident with the tab. Don’t think I’ve forgotten!)

Farther down the lane, I came upon a group of men playing Tennessee Square. I stopped beside Malcolm, who was engrossed in watching the play. “My thumbs are shot,” Malcolm confided companionably. “I was a Rolley Hole player a few years back. But Tennessee Square is a lot easier on the knees. Don’t have to walk as much, and you get to talk more. Since I quit work and I quit hunting, I’ve started back to marbles. I sure love playing.”

I could hear my name being called through the woods. It was my turn up for a Rolley Hole game. As I arrived at the playing field, I confess that my courage failed for a heartbeat when I saw one of my opponents, Cathy Runyon, the renowned marble shooter from Kansas, take her place on the field. But hey, I’m not Paul Revere for nothing! I knew I was ready to take on any and all comers and no one, not even The Marble Lady herself, was going to beat me, especially with marble-maker Paul Moore himself as my partner!

“This should be interesting” was my last thought as I strode into the ring. Resting in my pocket was my secret training marble, given to me by my shooting coach, Michael Cohill of the Akron Toy Museum. I rubbed it for good luck as I knelt down in the dirt.

Please give my best regards to Silence Dogood, your good lady, and allow me to remain,

Yours etc.etc.,

Paul Revere

Drat that Paul! Wouldn’t you know he’d leave us hanging! I guess now our friend Ben will have to wait for his return or a future dispatch to see how things turned out. But win or lose, I’m sure he’ll come up with another good story!

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