I had pals who inspired mischief, and I wanted to get away with the same or better than they did. I know this particular mischief wasn’t really clever, and it didn’t turn destructive, or I’d never ’fess up to it in a family newspaper. Much of the time it started in garages when our parents would be otherwise occupied.

A 1937 Plymouth like the one that Lee Van Dyke’s father owned, with the front bumper that had a fateful run-in with the family’s garage one Sunday evening. Photo courtesy of Lee Van Dyke

Mischief began by stealing keys and led naturally to stealing family cars. That was our joy ride. My most daring pal would get me to help him push his dad’s sports car, on Sunday afternoons when he knew his dad would be either sleeping or caught up watching football.

We’d roll it down the driveway, so his dad wouldn’t hear its throaty roar as it started and, when just far enough away, we’d fire it up and speed to the curviest road we could find to “test steering responses at speed.” (I am sure he was the gutsy one, but not the smart one – he ended getting busted because his dad occasionally checked gas levels.)

Another nonclever pal backed his dad’s car out of the drive next to their house when Dad was gone on business. He held the driver’s-side door open to guide the tires in reverse along the cement tracks. Turns out he caught his door smack on the part of the brick chimney that stuck out from the house. Tore the door right off.

He drove around town without a driver’s-side door, luckily found a replacement at a local junkyard, bought it and had it painted to match the car color before his dad’s trip was over. Whew! But the lack of his cleverness became forever apparent when a family friend recognized him tooling around town driving without a door and asked his dad about it.

Turns out the distance between mischief and mayhem really is short, as was the bumper from the frame of my car of choice. Just looking at the car now still speaks to me.

My parents attended evening church services. I always knew where they’d be. My dad’s “second car” was a 1937 Plymouth, the bumper of which sticks out a bit from the frame. In stealth mode, appropriating the car on a quiet Sunday evening, I cranked the wheel, hooking the facade of the garage with the front bumper, pulled the piece of garage cleanly away from the structure, leaving door sans hardware track.

Full speed, immediately I went into hammering-into-place mode. On a quiet early Sunday evening, garage repair is one of the loudest things my neighborhood has heard to this day. But no one was around to hear what caused the cacophony. I smacked the garage back together just before my folks got back from church in the “good” car.

Mischief, stupidity, heart in my throat – and because of pure luck, I didn’t get caught. That I didn’t actually harm myself or my dad’s 1937 Plymouth, there’s the wonder. When mischief gets as loud as this repair was, I can still almost hear it echo.

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