The Hub Cap Caper

The Hub Cap Caper

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Kids nowadays are robbed of the education and experience of building their own toys.  In our desire as parents to give them better than what we had, we actually strip away some of the privileges of learning to do for themselves.

As kids in Arkansas, we had little.  Many times we were short on food, and life consisted of beans and bread 3 times a day for weeks.  But we were content and happy.

So, there was little money to be spared for toys.  What we had, we made.  But there were benefits that were derived from the building out of the creative genius within us.

For example, have you ever had the fun of pulling the "Hub Cap Caper?" I have!

One Sunday the younger cousins were left behind by the older cousins.  They had gotten permission to drive Johnny (the old John Deere tractor which popped as it run, so, was often referred to as a "Popping Johnny," or just "Johnny" for short), to the store to get us all some sodi-pop (that's sodi, not soda . . .).

There was only so many places for kids to hang on to and especially when you were trying to hang onto your sodi-pop and giggle bar, (Snickers candy bar).

So, we got the idea that we would play hubcap jerk.  That game was played by putting a hub-cap out by the road with a string attached to it.  When a car came by, saw it and stopped to pick it up, then you would jerk the cap away from the road and hide it.

Sometimes the person would look for several minutes before getting into their car and driving off, usually after laying out a few choice words when he realized what had just been played on him.

The hardest part about doing "the caper" was keeping quiet.  It was very hard to keep from laughing out loud when someone was trying to find the prized selection he had just seen lying on the side of the road just waiting to be picked up!

It seemed like an eternity that you had to hold in the laughter.  There that dude was, just a looking all over the place for that hub cap, but it was gone!  And you're sitting in the bushes with a bunch of your cousins trying not to laugh.

And, you wanted so desperately to laugh at how stupid this guy was to fall for such an old trick.

Now, onward with my story.  We looked all over the place for a suitable hub cap.  It had to be something that people would want.

They wouldn't stop for just any hub old cap.  Finally, we saw it.  One of the cars parked up by the house was a '55 Chevy Belair.  It had spoked wire covers with the "knockoffs" style centers.   Very nice!  Very popular, and quite expensive.

We snuck around and got the lug wrench out of the barn, and removed the hub cap.  One of the cousins returned with the string and we beat it out the front toward the road.

Now these roads were gravel, and quite loud when a vehicle was coming down it.  It was really noisy when someone slammed on their brakes and slid to a stop.  So, we had ample warning when a vehicle had taken our bait and was stopping to get the prize.

The place we had chosen had a large drainage ditch beside it called a tail ditch.  There were bushes galore on the bank in which to hide.

But, there was water about knee-deep in the ditch, so we had to throw the hub-cap out on the road, and after several tries, finally got it to land right side up.  We sure wasn't doing that expensive wire spoked hub-cap any good!

Directly, a car came by and just ignored the cap.  After about 30 or 40 minutes, no one had taken our bait, so we got to goofing off.  Someone threw something, someone else did this and that, and pretty soon we had forgotten all about the hub cap on the road.

Then the unthinkable happened!  During all this scuffling and playing, we had gotten quite a ways from the string, and all of a sudden, we heard this car slam on his brakes.  "Oh no!!"

No one was able to get to the string in time to pull it.  About that time the sound of the car door opening told us the hub cap was about to disappear.

Then we heard the car door slam, and the car took off.  We all ran down to the bank and sure enough, the hub-cap was gone!!

Oh no!!  What are we going to do now?  We had used the hub-cap without permission, and now, it was gone.  And all of us together didn't have enough money to buy even one hub-cap, much less a whole set (you couldn't buy just one, you had to buy the whole set).

Talk about sick.  We didn't know what we were going to do.  How were we going to tell Uncle Claybourne what we had done?  What was his reaction going to be?  What was he going to do about it?

Would Mom and Dad have to pay for it?  Several someones was a fixing to get a double quadruple dose of Cotton Stalk Tea!!

With much dread and anxiety, we headed back to the house.  Speculation as to what was going to happen made us begin to think up a wild story.  So, we had it all figured out!  We had all decided to say that the hubcap was not on the car when he got here.

But, we had forgotten to consider whether or not the men had all been out kicking tires, checking each others cars out, and doing the man-thing of bragging about their cars.

What we didn't know is that they saw us when we removed the hub-cap.  They also knew exactly what we were going to do with it.  One of the Uncles had cut across the field out the back to the neighbors house, and told him what were doing, and had him stop by and pick the hub-cap up after we got to playing.

So, he had watched, and sure enough, caught us off-guard, stopped and picked up the hub cap.  He then circled around the house out of sight of us, and handed the hub-cap back to Uncle Claybourne.

Uncle Claybourne snapped the cap back into place, and walked back up on the porch with all the men.  What a setup!

So, here comes the troupe of trouble makers.  We all strolled up to the side of the house, and waited for the spokesman for the group of kids to introduce the story.

Finally, the conversation was wound around to hub-caps, and the kid said, "Uncle Claybourne, what happened to your hub-cap?"

"I don't know son.  What are you talking about?  Is it gone or something?" "Well, we noticed it was gone while ago and thought we'd tell you so you'd know it's missing."

"Well, thank you!"  He sure had a twinkle in his eye, and a couple of the men on the porch kind of chuckled.  We should have known something was wrong right then.

"Do you have any idea what happened to it?"  "Naw, we just saw it off and figured we'd tell you about it."

Boy, he was slick!  I never was able to fib like that.  I was always nervous, and shaky, and scared half to death, then I couldn't remember what I'd said so I could re-tell it.

"OK then, you kids run along an play.  Thanks for helping me out."

Well, we didn't want to seem too anxious, so we just kind of ambled off and in the general direction of the car.  As we came around the corner, there was the car with all the hub-caps on it.  All the kids ran into the leader who had stopped and was looking at the car quizically with scrunched up eyebrows.  He then ventured a glance back up to the porch where all the men were sitting, and saw that they were all looking at him, and laughing their heads off.

Uncle Claybourne was laughing the hardest. "Sorry we had to play that little trick on you kids, but, it was just a little lesson.  Next time, ask, and of course, be careful about fibbing.  Always own up to your mistakes and wrong doings, and you'll get along a lot better in life.

Man, talk about embarrassing!  And worst of all, we were getting the horselaugh because our joke had been turned around on us!

The Hub Cap Caper was just never the same after that . . .

George Cavaness

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