Penny & Alba

THE REDSTONE ROCKET

Well…Penny and Alba were playing

in the garage with their race cart

when there was a knock on the

window. You wouldn’t be surprised to get a

knock on the window if the garage door was

closed but the garage door was open and the

kids knew it could only be one person – Uncle

Harold. Going into detective mode,

they crouched down below the worktable

and didn’t make a sound.

Thirty seconds went by …

A minute went by …

Two minutes went by and Uncle Harold

couldn’t stand it any longer. He sneaked into

the garage and not seeing the girls said to

himself in a rather loud voice, “I guess those

two kids don’t want to come on the

adventure of a lifetime. I guess I’ll have to

ask my other favourite nieces.”

Well, as you and I know, Uncle Harold

didn’t have any other nieces. He was pretty

sure, however, that the threat would bring

the girls out of hiding.

“I guess they’ll only hear about the raising

of my great new boat and regret for the

rest of their lives that they weren’t here

today to join the expedition of a lifetime.”

Alba couldn’t contain herself any longer.

“Whoop whoop whoop whacka whacka,”

she cried in her best rendition of the infamous Gurgle

Grouch bird from Rhubarb Rapids. This was the secret

call that only Uncle Harold and the girls knew. He

responded with the customary two snorts, a chortle and

a sneeze-meaning that the coast was clear.

In minutes, the kids and Uncle Harold were in the

McCutcheon living room with a topographical map of

Lake Windswept spread across the coffee table. The

girls were very interested in what Uncle Harold was

saying but also very conscious that this dirty map that

smelled of fish, guts, and worm slime was lying on their

mother’s favourite antique table. Once Uncle Harold

got excited about an adventure, though, there was no

slowing him down and the girls hoped that none of the

other adults would come into the room before they got

things back to normal. Leaky Louie, explained Uncle

Harold, was on his last legs. In fact Leaky Louie didn’t

have any legs at all because it was the clunker of a boat

that Uncle Harold used for his fishing expeditions. The

thing that pleased Uncle Harold about Leaky Louie the

most was that he had found it at the dump – and it was

free. With a little paint, a lot of hard work and several

bailing cans, Uncle Harold had himself a boat that

hardly ever sank.

Now even Uncle Harold realized that a new boat had to

be found. Well it wasn’t a new boat exactly. In fact the

boat that he had his eye on didn’t float at all. At present,

it was on the bottom of Lake Windswept in 50 feet of

water, right off Redstone Rock.

The family legend was that 30 years ago when Uncle

Harold was a boy, his friend’s family had come to their

cottage on Lake Windswept and a fierce autumn gale

had struck. His friend’s father was out fishing in his new

boat when the storm hit. The boat was buffeted by the

waves, took on buckets of water, struck Redstone Rock

and sank within minutes. Although the boat was lost,

everyone felt grateful that his friend’s father had escaped

with his life. For years, all the cottagers on the lake

searched for the boat but it was never found. After years

of searching, his friend had moved away and told Uncle

Harold that he could have the boat if he found it.

“Cool” said Penny,

“Way cool” said Alba. “How are you going to do it

when no one has been successful before?”

“In fact, I’m not going to do it,” said Uncle Harold,

enjoying the disappointed look on the girls’ faces. “We

are!”

The next day, equipped with lunch, life jackets, ropes,

hooks, anchors and a large supply of jujubes, the

threesome set out from the public launch to raise the

boat from the murky depths. At the marina, the worm

man asked what they were fishing for and Uncle Harold

said, “We hope to bring back a 14-footer, Josh.”

That boast raised a lot of eyebrows because no one had

ever seen a fish that big in Lake Windswept.

“That would be a whale of a fish” said Alba, and Penny

and Alba laughed until they almost tipped the boat over.

And you know that wasn’t that hard in Leaky Louie.

“Are you sure this is safe?” asked Penny.

That was exactly what Mrs. McCutcheon had asked just

before they left.

“Absolutely,” said Uncle Harold. “I personally

guarantee it.” Now with some adults that might mean

something but with Uncle Harold, everyone was a little

skeptical.

After 15 minutes of rowing they were out of sight of the

marina and heading into the wildest part of the lake.

This is where you caught the biggest fish and this is

where you hit the biggest waves and the biggest rocks

including Redstone Rock. Uncle Harold had brought a

compass to chart the way and was looking at the map

and then the compass

and then the map

and then the compass

and then he asked Penny and Alba if either of them

knew how to read a compass …

and if either of them knew where they were on the

map.

Just when the girls took the map to read, the boat made

a grinding noise and then almost capsized. Everyone

grabbed for something to hang onto.

Alba asked if there had been a big hole in the bottom of

the boat when they left the marina.

Penny asked whether either of them remembered this

much water in the boat before.

Uncle Harold shouted, ” Man overboard!! ” which

technically wasn’t right because they were all still in the

boat but it was the only thing he knew to say in an

emergency that had a nautical feel to it. I mean after all,

if he had shouted ” Fire!! ” it might have indicated that

there was an emergency, but it wouldn’t have adequately

described the situation.

“Now we’re really sunk,” said Penny, and Alba started to

laugh even though she was getting soaked.

“In a manner of speaking you’re right” said Uncle

Harold. “Is everyone OK?”

They were all OK right now and in no danger of sinking

because the rock that they hit was keeping them up.

“What bad luck” said Alba as she looked at Leaky

Louie. The old faithful boat was now far beyond just

leaking.

“What good luck” said Penny as she looked at the floating

map. “I think we found Redstone Rock. Before we were

lost, now we know exactly where we are. I don’t suppose

you’d call this totally good news, but you should always

look at the bright side.”

“Yeah,” said Alba, “we’re not lost but we’re going to

drown. The good news is they’ll find the bodies.”

“Nonsense,” said Uncle Harold.

“You mean they won’t find the bodies?” asked Alba.

“This is great news. I wasn’t sure how I was going to

let go of Leaky Louie. He was a gallant and noble boat.

Now it will be much easier to give him a burial at sea.”

Penny added, “I didn’t exactly want to be in the coffin

when he went down.”

“Relax girls, everything will be fine.” Uncle Harold started

grabbing ropes and a great big iron grappling hook. “This is

perfect. While we wait for someone to rescue us, we might

as well search for the sunken boat.”

It seemed like hours that Uncle Harold and the girls cast

out the rope with a hook on the end to try to catch hold

of part of the sunken boat. In fact, it was hours that

they worked energetically on their job. Everyone was so

busy working and singing songs that only Alba started

to notice that no one was coming to rescue them and

the sun was starting to set and the dark clouds were rolling

in and it looked like there was going to be a huge

thunderstorm.

She thought about telling Uncle Harold but she didn’t think

it would make much of a difference. After all, they were

stranded whether they were in the bright sunshine or in the

darkest, wettest night. And as she finished that thought, the

first of the rain started to fall. One drop at a time until Uncle

Harold said. “Hey, stop fooling with the water, kids.”

Then water really started to fall. Only then did he look

up at the sky and realize what a problem they had.

Everyone loved Uncle Harold but sometimes he was

more of a kid than even a kid and he didn’t always think

about safety. That made him fun to be around but got him

into all sorts of trouble. He was enough of an adult to

know that this time they were in big trouble, however.

They were out in the middle of the lake with a

thunderstorm brewing.

This wasn’t funny, this was stupid, he thought to himself.

Why hadn’t he told the people at the marina where they

were going. Easy, he thought. He wanted to be a big shot,

and not let anyone else know about his plan to raise the

sunken treasure. Why had he been so dumb as to endanger

the lives of his precious nieces.

After one look into their eyes, he knew they were

frightened. He also knew that this was no time to fool

around. Within minutes the three of them made a plan

about how they were going to protect themselves. They

knew that no one would find them tonight and that they

were going to have to spend the night in the middle of

the lake-shipwrecked on Redstone Rock.

They checked their lunch bags and took stock of what

they had left: jujubes, green and black ones only, one

and a half peanut butter sandwiches, a bruised apple and

a banana. Now, only the banana looked a little too past

its prime to be eaten and the kids devoured the rest of the

food. Uncle Harold made sure the girls ate all the food and

also handed over the surprise supply of chocolate that he

had bought for a treat. Only now it was being used as

emergency rations.

Waves bigger than they had ever seen washed over the

gunnels of Louie and rocked the boat in its fragile

position on the jutting rock. Everyone tightened their life

jackets, fearing that the boat would be washed off the

rock and they would all sink to the bottom of the lake

and join the other boat in a liquid graveyard. All night

long the thunder roared and the lightning backlit the

waves making them look like monsters dancing a

menacing, cannibalistic dance. But with each wave,

Uncle Harold held the two girls a little tighter and Penny

shouted to Alba, “Not to worry … everything’s going to be

OK. I’ve got piano lessons to go to tomorrow.

Fat chance I won’t have to go.”

Penny was trying to be brave and make her sister feel

better but she knew her joke wasn’t all that funny and

she didn’t mind going to piano lessons quite so much

right now.

The longest night of their lives slowly turned into a

foggy dawn. The waves subsided and then Uncle

Harold started casting for the boat again.

“Maybe, just maybe, we can raise the other boat and get

back to shore. Your parents will be terrified and mad as

heck at me. Come on you guys. Let’s get ourselves out

of this jam.”

“Jam, I could go for some jam and toast right now”

thought Penny but the only food they had left was the

banana and it looked really disgusting.

Slowly they started the systematic work of dragging the

bottom of the lake for the boat-occasionally hitting a rock,

occasionally thinking they found something. They played

guessing games and sang all the songs they knew until Alba

said “Wait minute, I can’t move it, I’m stuck again.”

Penny said, “Let me help” and started to pull with Alba.

This time the rope and the hook started to slowly

move. “Feels like we’ve hooked into a big tree. Let me

help” said Uncle Harold and they slowly, ever so

slowly started to pull the dead weight to the misty

surface of Windswept Lake.

“This must be a huge tree” exclaimed Alba. “It seems

like it’s a dead weight.”

“Almost like it’s waterlogged” said Penny

“Or a boat full of water” hoped Uncle Harold out loud.

“Pull, you landlubbers”, cried Uncle Harold in his best

pirate voice-hoping beyond hope that this might be the

boat and might save the girls any more anxiety.

Just as they were bringing it to the surface, the weight

of their mysterious catch proved too much for the

precarious balance of Leakie Louie on Redstone Rock.

Before they knew what was happening, Louie had split

apart and they were all floating in the lake.

“Let go of the rope” shouted Uncle Harold, “it will

drag you down!!”.

The three of them released the rope and scrambled for the

slightly submerged rock where they caught their breath.

“Hey, there’s the rope floating on the surface,” pointed out

Alba. The three of them decided to make a human chain to

reach it. Alba jumped in and grabbed it with one hand as

Penny held her other hand and Uncle Harold grabbed on

to Penny. Alba swam the rope back to the partially

submerged rock and this time they were able to pull a little

harder and gradually got their catch to the surface. Slowly,

ever so slowly an algae covered boat emerged out of the

water and created a sight as beautiful as the moon coming

up over the horizon. Only in this case it was even more

beautiful because a moon wouldn’t have gotten them off the

lake.

“Careful” shouted Uncle Harold, “don’t wreck the boat

any more than it already is.”

As the bow of the boat emerged from the murky water

it looked like a rocket in one of those old sci fi movies.

It had a rounded nose and its aluminum body glistened in

the sun. Within minutes the boat was at the surface of the

lake and the kids and Uncle Harold had scooped out all

the guck from the bottom of the boat and partially

dragged it onto Redstone Rock.

“That’s it,” Uncle Harold declared, as he looked at the

boat beside them. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve

ever seen” and then glancing at the girls he added “other

than Aunt Helen of course.” And with a wave of his

hand as if he were sprinkling magic powder over the

boat he declared, “I christen you the Redstone Rocket”.

Uncle Harold carefully checked it out and couldn’t find

any problem with it until he checked the plug at the

back.

“Aha! No wonder it sank. When it hit the rock, the jolt

must have knocked the plug out of the boat and unlike the

plug in a bathtub, this plug keeps the water out instead of

keeping it in.”

Looking around to find a replacement plug, they found

nothing that would do the trick. They were pretty sure

that the original plug was lying in the mud at the bottom

of the lake.

“Hold on” yelled Penny and she jumped into the water.

Alba and Uncle Harold looked at each other quizzically

until they cheered when they saw what Penny was

swimming towards.

“Do you think it will work?” laughed Uncle Harold

“Let’s give it a try,” shrieked Alba.

Forty minutes later, just as the search and rescue boats

were revving up their motors at the marina, a very tired and

wet group of explorers came into sight with Penny and

Alba in the boat paddling with their hands and Uncle

Harold in the water pushing. He was doing a very

exhausted dog paddle. Later he told everyone that he

started doing the dog paddle because he was so dog tired.

Within seconds the search and rescue boats had picked up

the kids and Uncle Harold and had them back on the dock

for a reunion with Aunt Helen and the girls’ relieved

parents.

After everyone cried with relief, Uncle Harold started

telling the story of how they had been shipwrecked on

Lake Windswept. He was interrupted as one of the

search and rescue workers started to laugh as he pulled

the boat out of the water.

“Hey Suzy,” he said to his partner, “Look at the plug in the

boat.”

“They don’t make ’em like that anymore,” laughed Suzy.

And everyone looked over at the boat to see a bruised,

mushy banana stuck in the hole where the plug was

supposed to go.

“Seemed like a good idea at the time” said Alba and

everybody started to laugh.

“Gee, that looks good” said a very relieved and hungry

Uncle Harold.

He grabbed the soggy banana out of the drain hole in

the boat, peeled it and bit into it with a sense of deep relief.

After all it’s not every day when a banana saves your life.