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Southern Raisin': It wasn’t hard to spot the dirty-mouthed loser

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If you ever stop and think about some of the games we played as youngsters, and the different ways we entertained ourselves, it is unbelievable how money never entered the picture.  Why?  Very, very simple: No one had any money.  The only time any of us got anything “new” was usually a birthday or when Santy Claus flew over with Rudy pulling a loaded-down, beat-up cotton wagon. 

Does anyone remember when they played mumble-peg?  Of course, the required equipment was a two-bladed knife and some used, discarded match sticks.  Usually our knives were rusty, dull, chipped and really not much whittling value left in them.  No way could we use brand new Diamond penny box matches.  Naww suhhh!  Wait until the philosophers had chunked them out in the gravel after lighting their pipes and John Ruskins.   Just break off the burnt end and you had a good, clean matchstick.  Sanitized, pasteurized, homogenized and all.

   Don’t worry; there was always plenty of dirt to drive a matchstick.  Our special spot for the International World Championship mumble-peg contests was held in downtown Rosemark.  No doubt, under the biggest tree in the world, a short distance from Mr. Ben’s store was the famous location of mechanic work, such as repairing roller skates, sharpening lawn mower blades and stringing baseball gloves.  Many tubes with Monkey patching had been glued, and if the tire was cut, well a nice sized boot would do the job.     

For the championship game of mumble-peg, the ground had to be smoother than a new born baby’s foot.  For our landscaping, the easiest way was taking the side of your hand and making several swipes like a bull smoother blade.  This would clean off a number three washtub overflowing with dust.  Here again the bent, rusted R.C. and Nehi bottle caps, along with broken glass needed to be relocated.  Limbs, rocks and gravel must not be a deterrent, so the blade wouldn’t touch a rock and cancel the flip!

For some youngsters that have never heard of mumble-peg, this was an interesting game.  Additionally, the community yard rules varied.  The knife had only two blades. The big, or longer, one opened all the way.  The shorter one was opened half way.  Balancing the knife of the short blade you gave the knife a flip and usually the windmill effect would count with either blade or blades sticking in the well-swept area.

The game points for us back then were five, if the knife landed on and stuck with the big blade.  Three points if the knife landed and stuck on the shorter blade. One point if the knife ended with both blades imbedded.  Each rug rat took turns going around the circle.  The first flipper to twenty-one points won, but the gully jumper with the lowest number of points was declared the loser.  

The fun begins.  The loser wants to run and hide in the hayloft.  No way, as we have the loser firmly entrenched!  The match was held up straight by the designated winner (he gets first hammer) to be driven into the dirt.  With the long blade used as a handle, each participant got one lick with the framework of the knife to drive the matchstick into the dirt.  Don’t break the matchstick or we start pounding all over.  The more butterbean pickers playing, calculated more licks to drive the stick in the ground.  

After the entire crew had their licks, the stick was deeply imbedded.  Now the loser had to get down, not use their hands, and dig the matchstick out of the dirt with his teeth.  It would pay to have buck teeth for this endeavor, or possibly eating an ear of corn through a picket fence.  But, it was hard not to get a mouthful of loam trying to extract the matchsticks with yo’ teeth.  That was called - an incentive to win!

Friends, looking back, I guess it would was entertaining to see four or more little boys congregated under a big shade tree in the breathtaking heat.  

Wearing only cutoff shorts and barefooted, it never got too hot for a good mumble-peg classic.  Imagine us fighting over “my spot” around the circle.  “That’s mine.”  “Nope, you ‘wuz’ there last time.”  “Play fair, my time now.”  Of course, the philosophers sat on the front store porch and enjoyed the ploy, while we unknowingly entertained them.  

Beloved, did you ever wonder how many kids now a days have ever heard of mumble-peg?  I’ll bet their mommas and daddies ain’t either.  All I remember is, we had a good old time and it didn’t cost a thing.

Just flip, win….or dig….down deep….GLORY!!!

Otis Griffin is the author of the book “Southern Raisin”. He was born in  Charleston, Tenn., and attended Rosemark Grammar School and Bolton High School.

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