The sky walks into late afternoon with its shadows and threats. School has just disgorged its boy children onto the pale Henry Street. Most of boys, carrying their briefcases, hustle off into the trails leading to their homes. They are not interested in the small cluster of boys sitting on the curb waiting to begin their games and their gambling.

There are not boys above 6th grade. That was the way it worked at Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva. When 5:30 came the rapid movement of small humanity intensified as it hit the streets. The small group waiting for the last of the students look up to find no one else there.

The group is made up of the haves and the have nots. The haves had accumulated bags of marbles, while the have nots were ready to gamble for those high stakes. The game was simple. A white chalk line was drawn about 5 feet from the curve. Those who were the gamblers rolled their marbles toward the curb and attempted to hit a marble placed there by the have nots. This was not a one for one trade. If you hit the marble, you then got five or even ten marbles, depending on what the have nots called out. The difficulty of the shot\ was determined by the cracks in the street. The more cracks leading up to the stationary marble the more it was worth.

The greatest of the curb sitters had a special item that attracted the more serious gamblers. For those who have never seen a cheesebox, go onto ebay and look it up. There they are for bid and sale. They are approximately 9 inches by 2.75 inches. Since youngsters at that time did not have access to power tools, they carved three holes in the wooden face of the box with a serrated knife, or pocket knife.

The holes were of three different sizes. For each size there was a suitable reward. The prizes were 10, 15 and 25 marbles if you could roll it in. It was rare for anyone to get it in any of the holes. I did see a few kids roll it in and win, but not very many. However, the lure of the cheesebox brought out kid’s character. There was either winning or losing. You could tell at that point who the compulsive gamblers would be in the future.

The games lasted only till dark in the winter. Although there were those intrepid players who used the streetlamps to guide their marbles. I cannot remember how long, in terms of years, the marble crowd was around. However, I do know that they were replaced by the card flippers.

3 thoughts on “THE CHEESEBOX

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