A Thousand Marbles
by Jeffrey Davis, N9AVG I’m a Ham radio operator and spend some time working with radios and electronics. The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday mornings. Perhaps it’s the quiet solitude that comes with being the first to rise, or maybe it’s the unbounded joy of not having to be at work. Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday morning are most enjoyable.
A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward the basement shack with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other. What began as a typical Saturday morning, turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time. Let me tell you about it.
Walking into the shack, I flipped the switch on the Astron power supply. That fired up the dual-band mobile that is usually set on the local repeater frequency and it also brought my HF rig to life.
In a few seconds, I was tuned to 7.040 MHz, the QRP calling frequency. Early morning on 40 meters can be interesting and like fishing, you just never know what you might snag.
I turned the gain control up until the volume was comfortable, then I leaned back and scanned the local paper. Another shooting, another bombing, some terrorist group threatening retaliation, and the government debating a tax increase. Well, at least it’s reassuring to see that the world hasn’t changed since the evening news report the night before.
In the background, I heard a station calling “CQ FISTS.” Before I have time to call him a VE3 with a booming signal calls him and so begins another QSO on 40 meters. Before long, that QSO has ended and another was underway.
After a quick coffee refill, I went back to the shack, put the headphones on, and begin tuning around. There was a strong signal on 7.035 MHz calling CQ. I returned his call and made contact with a fellow in Kennebunk, Maine. We exchanged signal reports and proceeded to tell each other about our rigs, antennas, and the weather. A few minutes more and my new friend told me he must QRT because he is meeting several of the local hams for breakfast. We signed off, with “Best 73” to each other.
Then I turned the dial up into the phone portion of the band in order to listen to a Saturday morning swap net. Along the way, I came across an older sounding chap, with a tremendous signal and a golden voice.
You know the kind, he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business. He was telling whoever he was talking with something about “a thousand marbles.” I was intrigued and stopped to listen to what he had to say.
“Well Tom, it sure sounds like you’re busy with your job. I’m sure they pay you well but it’s a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much. Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet. Too bad you missed your daughter’s dance recital.”
He continued, “let me tell you something Tom, something that has helped me keep a good perspective on my own priorities.”
And that’s when he began to explain his theory of a “thousand marbles.”
“You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic. The average person lives about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years.”
“Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3900 which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime. Now stick with me Tom, I’m getting to the important part.”
By this point, I was completely hooked on this QSO. Forget the swap net, I wasn’t moving from this frequency until I heard what the old man had to say.
“It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail,” he went on, “and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays. I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy.”
“So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to round-up 1000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside of a large, clear plastic container right here in the shack next to my gear. Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away.”
“I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life. There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight.”
“Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign-off with you and take my lovely wife out for breakfast. This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container. I figure if I make it until next Saturday then I have been given a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time.”
“It was nice to meet you Tom, I hope you spend more time with your family, and I hope to meet you again here on the band. 73 Old Man, this is K9NZQ, clear and going QRT, good morning!”
You could have heard a pin drop on the band when this fellow signed off. I guess he gave us all a lot to think about. I had planned to work on the antenna that morning, and then I was going to meet up with a few hams to work on the next club newsletter.
Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss.
“C’mon honey, I’m taking you and the kids to breakfast.”
“What brought this on?” she asked with a smile.
“Oh, nothing special, it’s just been a long time since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. Hey, can we stop at a toy store while we’re out? I need to buy some marbles.”
The Author writes:
I wrote this story a few years ago for the amateur community. In a very short time it became quite popular and was picked up by various email lists, newsgroups and 10,000 other Web sites.
It has since appeared in the Philadelphia Enquirer, Chicago Sun-Times and a dozen other newspapers. I’ve had friends and co-workers email it to me with “Author Unknown” on the bottom of it. The “outside” world has sometimes modified it slightly to downplay the amateur radio in the story. You may see other variations but they all come from this one story. In September 2000 Andrews McMeel Publishing asked me if I could turn the story into a book … of a “thousand things to do on your day off” so I did. This has been an amazing adventure for me!