Uncle Wilbur’s Hot and Cold Hat

Wilbur Robinson was, like most Robinsons, an outdoorsman.  As a youngster he was often out fishing, hunting, or just walking around looking for adventure.  On one of these long outings he stayed out a little later than he intended.  He noticed the sun getting lower, the temperature dropping, and looked around and realized he would not be able to make it home before dark.

Wilbur did not panic; he knew how to take care of himself in the woods, even on a cold winter night like the one he was about to face.  He did feel a sense of urgency as he looked for a place to hunker down and keep warm through the night.  As he walked through the woods, he stumbled upon an old abandoned shack.  It was the perfect place to protect him from the wind for the night.

As he settled in, he heard talking outside.  It started as a murmur, but grew ever louder and clearer.  There was a group of men approaching the shack.  Just as he was about to step outside and introduce himself, he heard one of the men say something about “hiding the money.”  He paused, decided to listen to more.  He picked up a few more snippets about “the bank,” the “G-Men,” and even heard a couple of their names—Bill, George, and “Pretty Boy.”

The blood drained from Wilbur’s face as he recognized the names of “Pretty Boy” Floyd and his associates, Bill Miller and George Birdwell.  Wilbur was in his teens in the early 1930’s, the middle of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma.  Gangsters like John Dillinger, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Bonnie and Clyde were wreaking havoc across the country, robbing banks, bootlegging liquor, and killing lawmen.  “Pretty Boy” Floyd had grown up in Oklahoma, and had recently gone on a spree, robbing banks in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.  Among others, he hit Earlsboro, Meeker, Maud, Sallisaw, Bixby, and Tulsa in 1931 and 1932.  In an instant Wilbur put it all together:  he had stumbled upon a gangsters’ hideout, where “Pretty Boy” Floyd had come to lay low after robbing the bank in Pawnee.

Before Wilbur could put together a plan, the door of the shack burst open and “Pretty Boy” Floyd walked in.  He saw Wilbur and immediately knew he was going to have to get rid of him.  “He’s seen our faces, he’s heard us talking about the robbery,” he muttered to his associates.

Still, “Pretty Boy” Floyd was not fond of shooting people in cold blood, especially young poor boys like Wilbur.  He decided to simply shut Wilbur outside for the night, knowing that he had nowhere to go, and that he would not survive the cold night outside.  As Wilbur huddled against the south wall, he pulled his po’ boy hat down low over his ears, and felt it warm his whole body.  He smiled; “Pretty Boy” Floyd did not know how warm his hat was.  When the gangster opened the door in the morning, he was astonished when, instead of finding Wilbur’s frozen corpse, he found Wilbur sitting there next to the shack, with the snow melted in an 18-inch circle surrounding him.

Floyd questioned Wilbur, “How did you not freeze out here?”

Wilbur answered simply, “My hat kept me warm.”

Floyd came up with a new plan.  There was a large wood-burning stove in the shack.  He decided to dispose of Wilbur by shoving him into the oven.  “That hat won’t help you much in there, you’ll be plenty warm!”

As he sat in the stove, Wilbur pulled down his po’ boy hat and smiled once again.  “Pretty Boy” Floyd didn’t know that Wilbur’s hat could cool him off too.  A couple of hours later, the gangsters opened the stove door to reload the wood, and were amazed to find Wilbur sitting there smiling, not even breaking a sweat.  They hauled him out, quite crossly interrogating him about his hat.  He simply answered, “It keeps me warm in the cold, and it keeps me cool in the heat.”

Floyd had had enough messing around.  He found an old molasses barrel, stuck Wilbur inside, and nailed the lid tight.  “Unless that hat can feed you too, you can just sit in there ‘til you starve.”  Wilbur didn’t smile this time.  “I might have really had it this time,” he thought.

It was dark in the barrel.  There was only one hole in the barrel, the bunghole that had been drilled to empty the molasses.  As he peered through the hole, wondering what to do, something poked him in the eye.  He jerked his head away from the hole, and watched as a bushy tail poked in through the hole.  It swished around a little, then withdrew.  He looked through the hole again and saw a coyote.  Then the tail came back, swished around the inside of the barrel, and withdrew.  When he looked through the hole this time, he saw the coyote licking his tail.  He realized it was licking the sweet molasses that it had fished out of the barrel.

Then Wilbur had an idea.  He got himself ready, and when the tail stuck back in the bunghole, Wilbur grabbed hold of it and hung on with everything he had.  The coyote panicked and took off running at full speed.  On and on the coyote ran, pulling the barrel and Wilbur along behind him.  The barrel bounced and tumbled over the rough ground, slowly but surely breaking apart.  As the coyote dragged it across a group of rocks, the barrel burst open, releasing Wilbur from his prison, and relieving the coyote of his burden.

Wilbur lay on the ground, catching his breath and trying to orient himself.  He had been in the barrel for several hours.  Worse, the barrel had been sitting for several years, and the molasses had fermented, and now smelled more like rum.  Wilbur had never been a drinker, so the few hours he had spent in the barrel had been sufficient for him to get quite drunk on rum fumes.

My sister Sarah (middle) and I (right) sit on the couch at Grandpa Jack's house as we listen to Uncle Wilbur tell us about his run-in with "Pretty Boy" Floyd.

My sister Sarah (middle) and I (right) sit on the couch at Grandpa Jack’s house as we listen to Uncle Wilbur tell us about his run-in with “Pretty Boy” Floyd.

Wilbur staggered home, and had quite a lot of explaining to do to his mother, Iva Della, when, after having been gone for two days, he stumbled into the house, reeking of rum, holding his po’ boy hat in one hand and a coyote tail in the other.

1 Comment

Filed under Robinson Stories

One response to “Uncle Wilbur’s Hot and Cold Hat

  1. Jackie D.

    What a great story!!! Started my Friday off with a big smile. I miss Uncle Wilbur.

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