Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hobo Nickels

...which is not a name so far as I know, but in fact a form of art.

So a little background is in order:

When I was a kid, around nine or ten years old I was involved in nothing short of underground child combat as was practiced by our grandfathers and likely theirs before them. Probably as far back as there were round smooth rocks to be had near the local river bank. Our weapons of choice: the Dauber, the Rolly, the Smasher, the Nik and several an impressionable ten year-old perhaps I shouldn't have even understood the terminology: names like the Tittie Slapper or the Beaver-Cleaver.

We had our own language and terminology, our tender little cherubic faces screwed down to that of grizzled old steely eyed generals and blood hardened gladiators, squinty-eyed and lips drawn into diminutive snarls of nearly unbridled prepubescent aggression. Many hours were spent honing craft and skill, attack after attack drilled until the sheer precision, the Zen like simplicity and utter destructive fury of each brought gasps from onlookers and sisters alike.

I was a boy warrior.

I played with marbles.

(What're YOU laughing at Bub!!?? This was serious business 'round the school yard and in dim garages)

My granddad was a crusty old cowboy turned merchant marine and back to cowboy, he smelled of cigarettes and beer and leather and sun and horses. He wasn't the 'hand out cookies to Xmas carolers on the front porch' type of grandpa. He didn't wear cardigans and fur lined slippers. He wore Hickory pull on work shirts with the sleeves cut off and acme ranch boots that had more horse shit ground into them than any five rodeo stars on any circuit anywhere. He taught me to shoot the 'ought-six' (Remington 30.06 caliber rifle) when I was 6 and how to hit my target soon thereafter. He taught me to land a punch so the other guy didn't want to fight anymore....even if he was bigger, meaner and had buddies. He taught me how to hunt the big elk that ghosted thru the high forest on the ranch and how to clean the kill, though he did the dragging and hanging. I liked that old guy. When I was really small and got night terrors he'd sit on a stool in front of the old stone and brick fireplace, hand me a glass of milk and play funny old cowboy songs on his harmonica and sing until I felt better. Grams wouldn't let him play the old sailor songs....

How does this tie into marbles you ask? What the hell does this have to do with Hobo Nickels? Well, it's all down to an old man's gift to a little kid.

One day the old guy tosses me a nickel, not like it was unusual for him to do. He'd fling me a nickel or two bits to hump my Huffy bmx up to the corner store for gum or a candybar that he'd sample to make sure they were safe. This time however it was different. This coin whizzed just a little as it tumbled thru the air to my outstretched hand and landed in my little palm with a notably different feel. Examination told me that here indeed was a true gift handed down from on high, for in my hand rested the coolest damned nickel I'd ever seen. One side had all the appropriate letters and numerals one expects to find on a piece of US currency. However rather than some dumb old building....there was an intricately carved graveyard scene. On the other side along with all the prerequisite markings was what looked like George Washington's grinning skeleton coiffed with his still fetching and timely powdered wig. That 'killer nickle' as it came to be known was the tipping point in many a battle. When you whipped out your tossing coin to determine who threw first, mine always caused a stir. Any kid across the ring from me who saw that either thought it was cool and wanted it or got a little freaked out by it. Often that was all it took. I won a lot. I had a lot of marbles.

Then I lost my marbles....well....interest in them anyway. I soon thereafter discovered that girls really WERE interesting and that my older cousin Keith wasn't so weird for always wraslin' with Nancy. I learned that there were "different kinds of hugs ways to hug a lady" from my learned cousin, but a different story for another time.

Oh yeah....Hobo Nickles. Cool huh?
The Hobo Nickel Society

I have no idea what this one is sitting on, could be some kind of setting or perhaps a belt buckle?

My favorite of all the one's shown here. I imagine this coin is thinned down quite a lot, notice the box around the year marking.

The same piece in what appears to be a specialized carving fixture. neato! Apparently there's a quiet following and even a society for nickel carvers.....  

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