When I was ten years old around 1915, our family sold our farm on the Indiana-Ohio state line and moved a short distance to the small town of Butler, Indiana. Dad opened a grocery store, and bought our family a big home just up the street.
Our house was a happy place that seemed to attract children. Having our friends hanging around was fine with my folks; in particular, my Dad adored kids and was happiest when surrounded by a bunch of them. We gave a lot of parties over the years, but one party was particularly memorable.
When I was a senior in high school, Mom and Dad decided to throw a costume gala for my friends and I, and scheduled it for the Saturday night before Halloween.
My date for the party was my boyfriend Horace. I met him while visiting family in nearby Edgerton, Ohio in August of 1923. He was the same age as I, and a musician with the band that was playing for a dance at my cousin Vera’s school. (Historical note: the same night Horace and I met, it was announced that President Warren Harding died.)
Horace was considered quite a catch. He lived in Montpelier OH, where his father was a doctor. Horace was a good-looking boy, with blonde hair, sparkling green eyes, and a great sense of humor. But the thing that made Horace most appealing to me was his car. Or rather his father’s car.
Due to the considerable distance between our two homes, it was necessary to have reliable transportation, and Horace’s father definitely had that base covered. The Doctor didn’t drive just any old car either. He owned a beautiful Hunter green 1921 Cadillac, which he’d christened with the name ‘Wilbur.’ Because Horace was allowed to court me in Wilbur, it wasn’t long before I was the envy of every female in Butler under the age of 25. I felt like a queen as Horace and I sailed around town, listening to the engine purr, all the while pitying “the little people” who weren’t lucky enough to have a luxurious car to drive.
Oh how I loved Wilbur!
The night of the party, Horace was worried that someone would try and play pranks on Wilbur. Dad told Horace to lock everything up and park alongside the house, assuring him that between the two of them, Wilbur would be well guarded.
The hours ticked by as the party cranked into high gear. About 9 o’clock, Horace left me beside the punch bowl with Cousin Vera, while he went outside to check on the car.
A few moments later, we heard an ear splitting howl of anguish from alongside the house.
Vera was so startled, that she spewed a large mouthful of red punch, narrowly missing the fluffy carnation pink skirt of my Little Bo Peep costume. Dad and I ran out through the pantry door to see what happened, followed by an armada of spooks, witches, fairytale characters, a mailbox, a knight in shining armor, and assorted woodland animals.
Horace was hunched over, clutching his chest, and gasping for air.
“Young man, what is the meaning of such a racket???!!!!” Dad bellowed.
“Breathe Horace, breathe!!!” I shouted. “Tell us what’s wrong!!!!!!!!!!”
“Somebody has taken Wilbur!” Horace managed to pant.
“Who on earth is Wilbur?” inquired the Fairy Godmother.
“Isn’t Wilbur the new kid at school?” asked the Knight. “For heaven sakes why would anyone want to take him?”
“Maybe Wilbur is another one of Helen’s cousins,” offered the Rabbit.
“Certainly not!” retorted an insulted Cousin Vera, who was masquerading as Red Riding Hood.
“Oh no” I moaned, realizing that Wilbur’s disappearance was a very bad thing indeed.
After everyone was briefed as to Wilbur’s true identity, Dad and my older brother Lloyd organized a search party. Our curious band of would-be trick or treaters split up into small groups to find the missing Cadillac. I tagged along with Dad, Lloyd, and Horace.
“If anyone has laid one scratch on Wilbur, they’ll be sorry!!” Horace fumed as he stomped along.
“I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head and continue looking for the blasted car!” Dad snapped, still miffed by the disruption to our carefully planned evening.
We finally found Wilbur a few blocks away behind an old barn, camouflaged by a mound of hay. Horace was so relieved that he seemed ready to cry. But his relief turned into disgust, as he began to remove the mess from the car.
“Who would want to do such a thing to you Wilbur?” he lamented.
“Probably someone that didn’t like you and my daughter sashaying around in that fancy rig when they were forced to walk!” chuckled Dad, his good humor restored.
“I’m not taking any more chances. I’m going home!” Horace declared.
He was true to his word. When my boyfriend drove out of sight that evening, it was the last time that I ever saw him. I guess he thought that one minor brush with the mysterious car vandal was enough to convince him that he needed to find a girlfriend closer to home.
However it was with sadness that I realized that when Horace left, the much beloved Wilbur left with him. My life of luxury was over.
I’m sure it was for the best. If Horace had proposed marriage in the future, I would have eventually questioned whom I was marrying; Horace or his car!
Michelle Close Mills ©