Amazing Kids! Magazine

The Man of the House

By Ryan Traynor, Age 11, California

The salty sea air was foreign to Peter. Growing up on a farm, the scent of dead fish and decaying wood made his nose crinkle up. He had never seen so many people in one place before. Looking up he saw why – a dark gray ship with white trim, the length of 40 buses, was decorated with balloons, banners and streamers. People were hanging over the railings waving at the crowd.

Peter moved with baby steps along the Southhampton, England docks. The hoards of people pushing in each direction made it almost impossible to move forward. His mother and father, grasping both of his sweaty hands firmly, squeezed through the crowd to the entry ramp. At the young age of ten, Peter understood that this rear ramp was for the third-class passengers. Even though his father had sold everything to send Peter and his mother one-way to New York to have a better life with his aunt, there wasn’t anything left to even buy him the needed shoes, much-less send his father along as well.

Handing their tickets to the ship’s greeter, Peter’s father looked down at him. “Peter, you’ll need to be the man of the house now. I’ll come meet you when I can.”

Peter looked down at his small hands with dirt permanently stuck under the fingernails. How could his father think he could be the man of the house?, he thought. He looked away quickly and sniffed two short breaths to keep the tears from falling. His mother kissed his father and pulled him up the ramp. He glanced back, but his father had become one of the sea of faces below.

Their room was a group cabin with 4 sets of bunk-beds, located directly above the turbine engines. He had to sleep with his mother in the single bed, but it was better than the ground that had been his bed for the last few days. The visiting area for third class passengers was small and extremely crowded. Peter glanced around at the passengers and noticed their faces full of hope as they told stories, danced jigs and sang folk songs.

Peter just wanted to find a little piece of his own within the constant din of voices and engines. He snuck out behind the heavy doors and began exploring every room and compartment. Finally he found what he was looking for in a storage room that had life vests and blankets lining the walls on three sides. Like a cocoon, the room felt quiet, warm and remote. Peter would slip off to his “secret” room whenever he needed a break from his cramped quarters to play games with his homemade toys. It was only a six day journey, but is seemed like forever between the noise of the engines, the third class passengers playing music all night and the cramped quarters. This little 6 ft. by 6 ft. area with one porthole that let just enough light in, was his refuge.

On the fourth day he began to tire of the chilly air and the dead sea calm that made him yawn and dream of far-off places. He had envisioned an exciting journey to his new world with burley sea captains and sharks. He bounced his rock against the wall, willing the pinging to announce a change in the routine. He shivered once again, pulled his light threadbare coat ever-closer to his small frame and stood up with a quick jump. Sensing the hour was near for his bedtime, he went back to his room in time to avoid his mother’s scolding. Once nestled into bed, the deep growling snore of a nearby passenger kept him from drifting off to sleep. When the moon was high in the night sky, he slipped out of bed, careful not to awaken his mother. The night fog cast an eerie sheen on the water, as if it knew that the passengers wouldn’t want to see the reflections of the future.

Slinking to his secret room, he breathed in the now familiar smell of plastic and laundry detergent. Peter suddenly felt the engines stop, then an abrupt jolt. He jumped to the window to see a wall of ice moving along the side of the ship. He heard a loud scraping sound, like his father’s tractor coming too close to the water tank near his home. Bits and chunks of ice were falling onto the deck of the ship. Peter watched as men in uniform began running to all sides, looking over the railing and frantically relaying information back to each other. Peter knew in his heart, WE HIT AN ICEBERG!

A distress flare lit up the sky, prompting Peter to grab as many life jackets as he could muster and sprint to his room. His mother grabbed him in a large bear-hug the moment he bounded through the door, sending the life jackets scattering.

“Oh Peter, I was so worried about you! I don’t know what’s going on!” she cried.

Peter felt the power of knowledge rush through his veins as he emphatically stated, “I saw it, Ma – the iceberg. We hit an ICEBERG!”

“I’m sure we’ll be fine, Peter. After all, they told us to stay in our cabins,” his ma reassured in a shaky high-pitched voice. “Look!” she said as she grabbed his shoulders and guided him to the window. Outside people were tossing the ice pieces like footballs, back and forth. The band’s jazz music was wafting through the air. Uniformed ship-hands were trying to get guests on the lifeboats, but very few were getting aboard.

“Ma, I’ll be back. I’m going to find out what’s going on.”

Peter turned on his heel and darted into the hallway before his mother’s outstretched hands could grab him. Peter found a steward stairway and climbed closer to the deck. Finally, he found the radio station operator’s door, crouched down and listened carefully.

“Come Quick – Danger!” the radio operator was relaying along with the ship’s position. “Come at once, we have struck an iceberg.”

Peter jumped up quickly to dash back to his mother. Another distress flare lit up the sky to reveal a few lifeboats in the water, half full. He sprinted with lightening speed back to his room. Once there, the other passengers sat lazily on the edges of the bunk beds, playing cards on the floor.

With all the maturity he could muster he bellowed his orders, “This ship is sinking! Put on the lifejackets and make your way to the lifeboats. Bundle up to stay warm – but hurry, we don’t have much time! Follow me – some hallways are blocked!”

First, there was a moment of stunned silence, then a flood of activity as they did as he instructed. Peter grabbed his mother’s hand and led her out the door, starting a daisy-chain of passengers as they followed his lead. Peter led them to the steward’s staircase that rose to the upper decks. Once there, they scurried for the lifeboats and boarded the first one that was available, without hesitation. Others could not make the commitment to leave and stood white-knuckled against the railing, staring wide-eyed at the lowering boats.

Once in the water, Peter breathed a sigh of relief. He then became conscious that most of the passengers were looking at HIM to know what to do next.

“Let’s row together to get away from the ship,” he instructed.

They obeyed and he heard the unified lapping of the oars on the water almost in beat with the music streaming from on deck as they began to distance themselves from the ship. The ocean was black as ink with the scattered stars in the sky blinking a slight glow to guide the lifeboat away.

When they were 200 feet away, the ship lurched to one side, causing the tables and chairs on deck to slide in that direction. It was the slap in the face the passengers needed and they scampered to the lifeboats, realizing now that there were not enough of them.

Peter kept his lifeboat focused on moving outward and led them in song to keep their spirits high. As they finally stopped, awaiting their rescue, Peter joined together in a unified bundle with all the passengers as they tried to keep warm.

Passengers shot silent looks of admiration and gratitude to him. He looked down at his small, dirty hands, remembering what his father had asked of him. Sitting higher, he knew now he COULD be the man of the house. He had proven he was up for the task. He would take care of his mother until his father raised enough money to join them. He reached over and put his arm around his mother, just like his father had always done, and they looked off to the horizon, sure that they would eventually see their rescue boats arrive with more hope for the future.

2 comments

  1. Saduni /

    Great story

  2. Lorraine Martin /

    What an exciting adventure! The vivid language made me feel like I was right there.