Mountain Marbles: An Appalachian Tale

By Tracy L. Roberts, with illustrations by Stella Reinhard
2000

Once upon a time, these mountains here weren't near as tall as they are today. In those days you never had to crane your neck backwards to see the top of the ridge, and the cows didn't grow two legs shorter so they could walk along the mountainside and eat grass. In those days there weren't no hollers, and the creek slid slow and flat to the ocean because there were no steep mountains to run down. But that was long, long time ago. Way before Rabbit and Groundhog decided to have a marble contest.

Rabbit and Groundhog were different then, too. First of all they were best friends. The reason they were best friends were they looked alike. Both of 'em had short brown ears, four little legs, and waggy tales just like a dog. They were neighbors then, too. Both livin' up in a little place between the hills in cabins sittin' side by side. Well, one mornin' Rabbit was sittin' on his porch, munchin' some old poke greens, pinto beans, and cornbread his Mama had given him when Groundhog happened to go walkin' down the path right in front of his house.

"Where ya goin'?" asks Rabbit.

"Nowares," answered Groundhog, which really meant he wasn't going nowhere, but was actually headed somewhere.

"Wanna go?"

 "Sure!" answered Rabbit, knowing going anywhere with Groundhog might mean a big ol' venture.

Well, the first place they came was Groundhog's granddaddy’s store. They went inside.

"Wanna coke?" Groundhog's Grandpa asked 'em.

"Yessir," they both answered, and Grandpa Groundhog handed 'em both their favorite cokes—an R. C., and a Moonpie, to boot.

"Thankee!" they said and both went back outsides to swing their legs over the porch edge. While they were sittin' there they decided to get up a game of marbles. It was Groundhog's idea to not play reg'lar ol' marbles, but to play with big marbles instead.

"Where we gonna get big marbles?" asked Rabbit. Groundhog didn’t know either, so they both headed out in search for somethin' they could use for big marbles.  

They follered the train tracks down a ways, Groundhog balancin' on one rail, while Rabbit balanced along the other, until they came to the big ol' pusher engine that sat and waited to push the coal trains up over the hill. Rabbit's daddy worked on the coal train, and he was there leanin' on his shovel with his railroad cap pulled down over his short little ears, and steam pushin' up all around him from the hissin' train.

"Hey Daddy," Rabbit said. "Could we have some coal lumps to play marbles with?"

"Wel-l-l," says Daddy Rabbit, "I doan care, but I don’t think coal lumps is gonna roll. They just ain’t round enough for ye." He was right, and Groundhog and Rabbit and Daddy Rabbit just stood there pondering this problem until Cousin Rabbit, who drove the big pusher engine, stuck his head out and said, "Everbody knows the creek's got round rocks. Them'll make ye good giant marbles."
      
So off ran Rabbit and Groundhog, their bellies sloshin' with R. C. and Moonpie. When they got to the creek, they stopped short. They could see the round rocks just fillin' up that creek, but neither one of 'em wanted to get their paws wet.

"What’ll we do?" says Rabbit.

"I dunno," says Groundhog. "But let's go ask Granny Rabbit."

They found Granny Rabbit out in her front yard pickin' blue chicory flowers to put on her kitchen table, and diggin' blue chicory roots to grind up in her coffee. Granny Rabbit was wearin' a calico sun bonnet, her floppy old house slippers, and an old faded apron made from a bleached out flour sack. When she stood up you could read BIG SPRING MILLS in pink faded letters all over her bunny belly. Granny Rabbit always carried her husband's old miner's tin lunch pail over her arm. Now that Granpa Rabbit didn't mine no more, she kept this pail jammed full of preacher cookies. "Never know when yer gonna run into the preacher" was her motto.  

When Rabbit and Groundhog explained to Granny Rabbit they needed somethin' to get them round marble rocks outta the creek, she tol' 'em to take the dipper outta her well bucket. "Jes doan fergit to bring it back or I’ll be sendin' you down in that well!"

Off Rabbit and Groundhog ran, with Granny Rabbit's dipper and a paw full of Granny's preacher cookies. Granny Rabbit looked after them and shook her head. "Them's kids is crazy."

When they got to Tom's Creek, Groundhog used the dipper and scooped a big ol' round rock right outta the creek, and back'ards from under that rock shot Craw Daddy. He came up outta that creek water like a mad buzz saw!

"Who's stealin' my home!" snapped Craw Daddy.

"It's us, Rabbit and Groundhog." says Rabbit.

"Whatcha doin' that for?" asked the irate old crawdad.

"We needin' to get some o' the creek rocks to play giant marbles," explained Rabbit, as he eased back a bit from the drippin' Craw Daddy.

Well, Craw Daddy knew there was two problems brewin' here. One, if Rabbit and Groundhog took all them rocks outta his creek, he would have no place to hide from the summer sun. Two, everybody that was educated like Craw Daddy knew that the creek needed these smooth slippery rocks to slide on to get to the ocean. Why, without the rocks that creek would just get snagged up and hang around and flood everbody out!

With this in mind, old Craw Daddy leaned back and said, "That's fine, kids, but everbody knows that the best marbling rocks ain't in this here creek at all. The best best marbling rocks are other places altogether." Rabbit and Groundhog couldn't believe their luck.

 "Tell us where, Mr. Craw Daddy," they both says at one time.

"Well, I dunno if I should." Craw Daddy was enjoyin' the attention.

 But after a little beggin' he said, "Everbody knows the best marbling rocks are up in the hills, and down along the paths and railroad tracks."

Well, when they heard that, Groundhog and Rabbit were outta there like a shot. Craw Daddy, who never even been up in the hills or along the paths and railroads, laughed at how clever he was. He sat there a minute and stared at the dipper layin' in the grass. "Them's kids is crazy," he thought. He plunked back in Tom's Creek.

Groundhog and Rabbit had to make a plan. They decided if they split up they could search more area, and find their marbling rocks faster. So they decided to draw straws. Groundhog won; his straw was longer than Rabbit's straw. He got to choose which area to search.

"Listen Rabbit, this is my idea. I will take all the paths and railroads; you take those hillsides. I’ll do all the diggin', and you do all the running. When either ones of us finds all our marbles, we'll yell at each other, okay?" Groundhog and Rabbit agreed to this deal. Well, as it was, this is what they did.

Rabbit begun running up and down them hills. He figured those round rocks would roll down, so he did all his searchin' low. He ran and ran. He ran all summer, all winter, and all spring. He ran until his paths wore so deep in the mountains you'd have to bend your head plumb back'ards to see the ridgetops. His paths wore so deep in the mountains that his ears even grew longer everday so's he could hear up out of there. He ran until his long tail was only a little speck. Ever once in awhile he'd stop and sit up on his big strong mountain-running back legs, listening for Groundhog's holler.

Groundhog, he stuck to diggin' along the railways and paths. Eventually the paths turned to roads, and he stuck to them, too. Ever once in a while he'd sit up, too, listening for Rabbit's holler.

While all this was going on, Granny Rabbit jes sat on her porch, drinkin' her coffee and watchin' her little Rabbit run.

Well, to this day you can still see 'em both. Rabbit with his big ol' ears, little tiny tail, and big ol' running legs, going up and down them hollers searching for marbles and sittin' up to hear if Groundhog hollers. And Groundhog, diggin' all along the railroads and paths and roads, sittin' up listening for Rabbit's holler.

So's you can be sure in the mornin's and in the evenin's, when you see that patchy fog clingin' to the side of those big old mountains, it's Granny Rabbit makin' her chicory-coffee and eatin' her preacher cookies. Waitin' for Rabbit and Groundhog to find their marbles and come on home.


Note on themes in this tale. Tracy Roberts identified these positive themes that she valued in other folktales she had heard or read: "family unity, acceptance of all types of people, humor, strong individual values and ethics, as well as a portrayal of the land and culture in illustration.... I wrote an original tale reflecting not only these themes, but dialect and culturally specific details as well.... I have introduced the extended family, the resourceful grandmother, the hard working father, the kind and sharing grandfather, and the forever and universally naive youth." Roberts first wrote this tale and Stella Reinhard illustrated it while they were studying in the Hollins College Summer Graduate Program in Children's Literature in 1998.


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