Penny & Alba

SOAP BOXES

Well…as Penny and Alba were

rummaging around in the garage,

they came across an old soap box

racer buried beneath some sheets at the

back. It was called a soap box racer because

the body of the cart was made from a

wooden crate that was used to transport

soap to stores. Today most boxes are made

from cardboard but people still call that type of

racer the same name. One of the wheels was

missing and the paint was peeling off. But there

was still magic in this broken down wooden

crate. It was painted a bright red with orange

flames streaking down the side and it looked

radical. But it was the steering wheel that made

it fascinating to the girls. Penny and Alba got to

ride things with handle bars, but a steering

wheel-now that had a powerful attraction!

Uncle Harold walked into the garage at that

moment and said that Penny and Alba’s

father had been pretty proud of that soap

box.

“It wasn’t nearly as fast as mine but it still

could fly down the hill” he boasted. “It’s too

bad that it doesn’t work any longer because

there’s the annual Soap Box Derby in

Centreville Park in two weeks and the grand prize is sodas

for the entire family at Gramps’ Restaurant. That race was

like magic to me when I was kid” Uncle Harold reported

wistfully.

The girls took a look at each other and they were

hooked.

“Can you imagine anything cooler than riding in the big

race?” exclaimed Penny.

“And winning sodas at Gramps’?” added Alba.

Before the afternoon was finished, one entry form was

purchased for the big race and the girls were busy

planning the race car of the century.

The girls worked feverishly trying to put an old doll

carriage wheel on the box cart but it kept falling off,

causing the racer to veer to the right and crash into the

old tree on the side of the driveway. Mr. McCutcheon was

sitting in the kitchen and heard the girls’ whoops of

laughter. Since he couldn’t get Uncle Harold to tell him

anything about what was going on, he walked out to the

driveway to see for himself what all the excitement was

about. Uncle Harold followed behind with a mischievous

twinkle in his eye.

“I didn’t want you to feel badly about me whupping you

when we were kids so I didn’t tell you what the girls

were up to” said Uncle Harold.

“You whupped me?” replied Mr. McCutcheon

incredulously. “I guess your age hasn’t helped your

memory at all.”

The girls had no idea what they were talking about and

kept on with the mechanical task of trying to get the

wheel to stay on. An hour later, however, tired and

disheveled, the two girls came into the living room

defeated. They had tried everything but couldn’t solve the

problem of keeping the wheel on and stopping the cart

from veering to the right. This was the moment that Uncle

Harold had been waiting for and he asked if he could be of

any service. All along he had wanted the girls to invite him

to join in the soap box derby entry. But before the girls

could answer, Mr. McCutcheon interrupted,

“That’s OK, Harold. The girls and I won’t need your help.

I can get this thing to fly just like it did when we were kids.”

“Oh yeah!! ” shot back Uncle Harold. “As I recall yours

didn’t even finish the race.”

“Well at least I didn’t cheat” snarled Mr. McCutcheon.

“Cheat! Well it wasn’t me who cheated!”

The girls looked at each other in disbelief. What had

started this fight? Before they could ask Mrs.

McCutcheon and Aunt Helen, Uncle Harold had

challenged Mr. McCutcheon to create the fastest

soapbox in town and the winner would not only get to

race in the soap box derby but would also get the

McCutcheon trophy for the fastest person in the family.

Aunt Helen groaned as she overheard the last part of

the argument, for she knew that this race might open up

some old wounds caused by another race twenty years

earlier. Uncle Harold and Mr. McCutcheon had raced in

the same competition. They both had lost and each of

them blamed the other for their misfortune. Like spoiled

children, they had kept up a grudge for almost five

years. As adults, the two men had become the best of

friends and Aunt Helen and Mrs. McCutcheon were

worried that the race might lead to a new war. They

told the girls that a young man named “Pudge” Stevens

had won the race in a cart built by the mechanics at his

dad’s car dealership. It didn’t seem fair that Pudge won the

prize when he didn’t even make the car himself.

Regardless, neither Uncle Harold nor Mr. McCutcheon

even got to the finish line before their carts fell apart, so it

was hardly right for them to feel bitter about losing to a

professional entry.

Days went by as Uncle Harold and Mr. McCutcheon

worked feverishly in their separate garages collecting

old parts from wagons and bikes and carefully designing

the most aerodynamic body for their racer. Penny and

Alba volunteered to help and at first were able to

contribute a little to the construction. After a while,

however, the contest became so competitive that the

girls were only allowed to watch. Even with the

scolding of Aunt Helen and Mrs. McCutcheon, the men

fiercely built their racers and became more and more

secretive and obsessed with winning.

In their single-minded pursuit of creating the best cart,

neither of the men had remembered to get an entry form

and the only one available was the one that Penny and

Alba had gotten for themselves.

“Well you won’t be able to call me a spoiled brat,” Mr.

McCutcheon taunted Uncle Harold as they realized they

didn’t have two entry forms. “We’ll face off the day

before the race and the winner gets the entry form.”

“You’ll be eating my dust” sputtered Uncle Harold.

Penny and Alba looked on in shock.

“I thought it was our entry form” Alba told Penny.

“Well I’m certainly not to going to jump into this mess right

now” replied Penny. “These guys may be acting like spoiled

brats but they are our father and uncle. I don’t think we can

win here.”

And Alba knew that Penny was right. Without going to

Mrs. McCutcheon and Aunt Helen, their only option was

to sit and wait.

On the day before the big race, the two men carefully,

separately and secretively loaded their racing carts into

the back of the McCutcheon station wagon and Uncle

Harold’s truck and drove to Daredevil Hill where the

race would take place. With Penny and Alba now

relegated to bystander and unenthusiastic starter

positions, the two men got into their racers and sped off

down the hill, round the first bend, neck and neck. Past

the fountain and over the footbridge the two racers flew,

gaining speed down the gravel path to the finish line.

One more turn and glory along with bragging rights

would await the fastest racer. And were it not for one

pot hole in the race course and one protruding root from

an ancient oak tree, the two oversized racers might have

made it uneventfully to the finish line. As Penny and

Alba ran down the steep embankment of the hill,

however, they saw Uncle Harold lose control of his cart

and start careening towards a baby carriage that was

sitting peacefully beside the park’s set of swings. Then a

wheel from Mr. McCutcheon’s cart went flying into the

air, causing him to lose control of his steering wheel and

head straight for Uncle Harold’s cart.

Penny dove at the baby carriage and pushed the baby to

safety just as what was left of the two race carts and

their drivers went tearing through the playground,

barely missing the swings and the children with their

mothers and fathers . Coming up the slope to Gardner’s

Pond, the carts went shooting across the walking path,

narrowly missing joggers and elderly people enjoying a

quiet stroll through the gardens. With a final triumphant

leap, the two racers went flying through the air and

came down with a tremendous splash in the lily pads at

the shallow, muddy end of the pond. Dozens of residents

crowded over to the edge of the water to see if the two

men were all right but also to see who could have been so

irresponsible as to jeopardize the safety of so many

townspeople.

Penny and Alba were able to ensure that the baby was OK

and explained to the baby’s mother that their father and

uncle usually weren’t this insensitive. They both thought that

the mother was far more understanding than either Mrs.

McCutcheon or Aunt Helen were likely to be.

Uncle Harold had landed in a heap on Mr. McCutcheon

and they slowly untangled themselves from each other

and from the debris they left behind. Mr. McCutcheon

pulled a lily pad out of his shirt and then rubbed the

mud and water from his face and clothes. With scrapes

and bruises, the two embarrassed men slowly lifted their

broken racers out of the water into Uncle Harold’s

truck and cleaned up the mess they had left by the pond.

Sheepishly they apologized to the people whom they

had upset and headed off for home feeling very foolish.

The McCutcheon household was rather quiet that night

after a large number of “I told you so’s” from both

Aunt Helen and Mrs. McCutcheon. It was going to be a

long time before either man would dare mention this event

again.

Out in the garage, though, Penny and Alba had a better

idea. They were busy putting together one racer from

the left over parts of the two. Though they hadn’t been

allowed to touch either of the first racers, they took full

control of the broken remains and were able to figure out

how the parts went together. Here was a chance for them

to pool the resources of the two families and to have some

fun instead of taking the competition deadly seriously.

The next morning, Penny and Alba announced to their

parents that they were going to enter the race as they

proudly pulled an old paint sheet off their own racing cart.

Aunt Helen and Mrs. McCutcheon were delighted and they

made sure that both Uncle Harold and Mr. McCutcheon

helped the girls with the finishing touches without getting in

their way. With great pride, the two girls lifted the cart into

the station wagon and the entire family headed off once

again to Daredevil Hill and the All-Centreville Soapbox

Derby.

The girls climbed into the cart together, strapped on

their helmets and threw their thumbs up in the air to

show that they were ready. When the starter shot her

pistol, they pushed off down the hill with the fifteen

other contestants. Shrieks of delight and screams of fear

filled the air that afternoon and the girls couldn’t stop

laughing as their cart ground to a halt just past the finish

line and just before the edge of Gardner’s Pond. They

weren’t the first and they weren’t the last when they

finished but they probably had the most fun of all the

racers and they did it together, a great sister team.

The winner, Pudge Stevens Jr. got his picture taken for

the local paper beside a souped up racer that his dad

had obviously made. Mr. McCutcheon and Uncle

Harold grumbled that it wasn’t fair that an adult had

made his cart and Mrs. McCutcheon glanced at Aunt

Helen with a look that said “Will these guys ever grow

up?”

As the family headed off towards the car, Aunt Helen

looked at the two girls and said “You certainly have

shown some people who the real champions in this

family are.”

Uncle Harold and Mr. McCutcheon lowered their

heads, trying to be as invisible as possible.

Mrs. McCutcheon turned the car into the parking lot of

Gramps’ Restaurant and announced that Uncle Harold and

Mr. McCutcheon would be delighted to order the whole

family Gramps’ famous Mountain o’ Stuff with 6 spoons. If

your sundae had twelve scoops of ice cream, jujubes, jelly

beans, marshmallows, whipped cream, cherries, sprinkles

with chocolate, strawberry and caramel sauce over two

bananas, you’d call it Mountain o’ Stuff as well. Yum!!!!

It was a week later that the two girls got home from

school and found the biggest, shiniest trophy they had

ever seen.

It read, “Penny and Alba. You are not only champions of

the family, but you taught us all a lesson about sharing.”

Engraved at the bottom of the plaque it said “With love

from Mom and Aunt Helen.”

Penny and Alba loved the trophy almost as much as the

Mountain o’ Stuff, but they knew that this would not be

the last time that Mr. McCutcheon and Uncle Harold

would compete to be the fastest and the best. They just

hoped that each time they tried, the competition would

be a little friendlier and that Penny and Alba would get

to go to Gramps’ for sundaes.