Golden fingers of sunshine reached out across the rippling stalks of wheat, passing the wooden posts and barbed wire fences to approach the vacant farmyard. In minutes, the morning sun rose above the prairie horizon and illuminated the modest Lafler Farm. Stucco buildings cast elongated shadows on the grove and trees west of the house. Meadowlarks began to serenade their joyful songs through the trees and brightened pasture.
Before the world awoke, Grandpa and Grandma had already risen early. Sitting at the kitchen table with his usual steaming cup of coffee, Grandpa contemplated the day’s work ahead. With his snow-white hair and beard, Grandpa had a grizzled appearance. Canny, diligent, and steady, he lived through the trying times of the Depression and had seen many years come and go into the next. He could remember the uncomplicated days of his childhood. That was such a simple time, he thought, filled with family, friends, and hours of farm labor. Despite their hardscrabble lives, people were thankful for their blessings and the company of each other. As a young lad, he was expected to do his chores and attend school, but there was plenty of time to run around the Lafler Farm, which had always been his home. He had watched his four daughters grow up on the farm also, and now they had children of their own. Grandpa was old, but he had a sharp mind, sometimes remembering occurrences by the year they happened. There were events that he had forgotten, but occasionally something would trigger a recollection of earlier times.
"Do you need to go to town today?" Grandma asked.
"After I tie up a few loose ends outside," Grandpa remarked before he took another ample sip from his oversized cup.
Grandma was an organized and loving woman. With her jet-black hair and round, burgundy glasses, she reminded one of any gracious, good-hearted grandmother, who found great joy in her family. She especially delighted in their return back to the farm. When her children and grandchildren sat down at the meal with smiles on their faces, she could not be more content. She kept them well fed, encouraging them to eat seconds and thirds. She would never admit that her food was exquisite, though, for she was the most humble person. On the other hand, the humorous man that she had married was quite ornery. He caused Grandma to become stern, but it was not long before a warm, radiant smile would return to her wrinkled face.
After eating a hearty breakfast, Grandpa rose to take a look outside. Standing in front of the kitchen sink, he peered across the yard into the pasture and fields of crops growing in almost perfect lines. He knew every hill, curve and dip of the land. He knew when to work the fields, when to plant, and when storms were was approaching. For many years, Grandpa had worked in the oil industry too. He was familiar with treasure buried under the earth. Unbeknownst to him, he had more treasures in store.
Not long after Grandpa walked back to his place at the kitchen table, a boisterous, strongly-accented voice called from the front porch of the farmhouse.
"Morning!" declared the voice with a hint of excitement.
“Hugo?” Grandma answered, "come on in!" The wooden door promptly swung open as his trusted hired hand entered with greasy work clothes
“I struck something with my shovel, and I think it might belong to you, Don.” Hugo had been outside digging holes to plant locust trees that Grandpa was putting in the pasture. Hugo was a considerate, moral man. Appreciative of the Laflers’ generosity, he was always quick to help Grandma with anything she needed. He was long-legged, lean, and had a dark complexion that came from his Mexican heritage. In his smudged hands, Hugo held a rusty, bent box. Dirt-caked and stripped of paint, Grandma didn't recognize it as anything more than another old hunk of metal. But the moment Grandpa spied it, realization rushed through him like the western Nebraska winds blow through the barren prairie.
“Don?” Grandma questioned as she realized how unusually quiet he was.
Hugo, also noticing this, remarked in a teasing way, "I think you may have lost something, Don."
“Where did you find it, Hugo?”
“North, in the pasture,” Hugo replied. Suddenly, Grandpa laughed wholeheartedly, filling the whole room with a deep, pleasant sound.
“Well, I’ll be darned! It's my old marble collection from when I was a kid. I believe my cousin and I buried it. I thought it was long gone.”
Grandpa reached for the once brightly painted Walt Disney container. It felt so small in his hands now. Over seventy years ago it had seemed large, certainly substantial enough to store his treasured marbles. Instead of the smooth finish that he remembered, the box felt coarse and smelled of the earth. He opened the rusty lid with a creak. For the first time since he was eight years old, he gazed upon his beloved marbles. Sparklers, oxbloods, and popeyes, he recalled the names of a few. Most of them were regular-sized, but there was one giant marble called the shooter. Consisting of a variety of colors and patterns, this assortment had made Grandpa proud. They were not vibrant now, for they were covered in fine, velvety prairie dirt. Nonetheless, Grandpa knew what they were. He knew the second he laid eyes on them. It was a piece of his childhood that he had lost and forgotten. The sight of them was a gateway into his past.
Staring upon his familiar toy, Grandpa was taken back to the memory of the day when kids had few playthings. Children created their own fun, running across the prairie, "farming" in the dirt, or playing cowboys and Indians. Grandpa found great joy in his marbles, for they were one of his favorite pastimes. Participating in friendly competitions with kids from school, he traded them and shot them into rough circles drawn in the dirt. His mind drifted to the day he spent with his cousin, Gale. It was the year 1939; he could remember clearly now. Gale was visiting with his family, and the two were playing outdoors. Growing tired of hide-and-seek, they decided to invent a game. Each boy buried a personal toy. If one found the other’s buried treasure, they got to keep it. That day, Grandpa, took the marbles in his Walt Disney tin box and hid them in a clever spot, north of the house. Gale paced back and forth across the pasture looking for them. After a while of searching with no luck, the boys were called for dinner, leaving the marbles unfound. Gale left with his family after the meal, and Grandpa spent the rest of the afternoon playing with his new English shepherd puppies.The recollection of the marbles left his distracted mind. There in its hiding spot, they laid, disregarded.
Trampled upon by numerous deer, pheasants, and coyotes. Frozen solid through many frigid winters. Baked in a tin box through many scorching western Nebraska summers. Maybe even walked upon multiple times by his very self, unaware that an erased memory lay just beneath his well-worn boots. Who knows what would have become of those long forgotten marbles if not found? They may have been carried away by a curious animal to its home miles away, or after years and years, buried too deep to be found. Maybe Hugo, not being the honest worker that he was, could have carelessly thrown away the warped metal box like any other piece of junk metal. But nothing of the sort happened. The lost marbles had been found. The memory was excavated. But had that memory really been forgotten? Grandpa had lived that moment years ago when he was a young boy. Surely, somewhere in his brain, the thought of them was there, buried by years of work, marriage, and children. All of those fond moments of friends, family, holidays and more were locked inside his brain. All it took was something as simple as a smell, feeling, or object from years before to make it a memory once again.
"Don?" Hugo’s voice seemed far away and muffled. It took Grandpa a second or two for his mind to come back to the present.
“ Oh, umm, yes Hugo?” he replied.
Hugo chuckled, “You were faraway, Don, I felt like we'd lost you."
"Did you think I had lost my marbles again?" Grandpa chuckled. Grandma and Hugo couldn't help but join in laughter at his ridiculous joke.
In a blink of an eye, Grandpa remembered his marbles, or possibly he remembered as quickly as a flick of a thumb that shoots a marble into the circle of one’s life. Spinning towards the smudged and faded edge of childhood and landing to fill in the space. Something as simple as a marble. Grandpa never lost his marbles; they just had to be found.