Marbles: An Appalachian Tale
By Tracy L. Roberts, with illustrations by Stella Reinhard
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.
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.
"Sure!" answered Rabbit, knowing going anywhere
with Groundhog might mean a big ol' venture.
Well, the first place they came was Groundhog's granddaddys store.
They went inside.
"Wanna coke?" Groundhog's Grandpa asked 'em.
"Yessir," they both answered, and Grandpa Groundhog handed
'em both their favorite cokesan 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
didnt 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 dont
think coal lumps is gonna roll. They just aint 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.
"Whatll 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 Ill 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
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
"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
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. Ill 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
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
College Summer Graduate Program in Children's Literature in 1998.
created: 11/26/2001 | Site Index | Top of Page | Last update: 4/10/04
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