Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Bear and Freddie's Boots


It’s 102 in the shade and there ain’t no shade.









I'm trudging along behind a red International Farmall tractor in the middle of a tobacco field. The tractor grumbles rhythmically. The engine's stutter punctuated by a clanking rain cap over the exhaust as it crawls along the rows.


Plants, tall as a man surround us on all sides. Thick leaves attached to central stalks. Blooms, or “suckers” as we call them, crown a portion of the crop. The air is tainted with half-burned fuel, tobacco tar and cigarette smoke. My nose wrinkles and the noon sun narrows my eyes to slits. I look like the crankiest 12 year old to ever work a field. My face all squished up like I just took a bite from a fresh lemon. My expression, however, does not accurately represent my feelings of excitement. I've never worked on a farm before today. 
























































I broil slowly. The heat is oppressive, but I want the resulting red neck. 


I need it.


If I am to become bona fide in my old, yet new again, hometown the red neck is a prerequisite. You see, I’m known as a “city boy.” Despite a birthplace only 20 miles away, I’m not of this place. My family left the Flatlands when I was a toddler. My father was in the service during my formative years. Now, after more than a decade away, it is time I become acclimated to the ways of my southern kin. Cropping tobacco seems as fine a place as any to start my training.


My uncle Freddie owns the farm and acts as foreman to the harvesting crew. He isn’t around anymore, but I can’t walk under a pale moon without thinking of him. When I hear the heat song of locusts or catch a whiff of a tobacco pipe, which resembles the aroma of an old curing barn, it takes me right back to a cool southern night and I can hear his heavy boots on the pavement as we walk side by side. We'll get to more on that in due time, but for now you should know Freddie taught me how to work through pain, how much I could accomplish even outside my element, and more than a little about being a man. Face your fears, live up to your responsibilities, laugh when you can, apologize when you are wrong and sometimes when you are right, forgive. I am thankful for the rain and the slick Georgia clay that led to an unexpected adventure over twenty-five years ago. I wish I could tell him just how much one long walk meant to me so long ago. I can't do that, so I'll tell you instead. 



Uncle Freddie is a monumental man.


To my boyish eyes, he looks as if he just stepped out of an old western or perhaps a Marlboro billboard. He is the oldest, and at 6 feet, the tallest by far of five siblings. A tattered trucker hat tops his thick, black hair with silver linings above the ears. Freddie’s eyes smile constantly and his mouth obliges frequently. His hands, large and rough. His handshake, a five pound hammer. Skin beaten by the sun. Well past a farmer's tan, more of a leathery hide.  His uniform, an old worn-thin plaid shirt, sagging blue jeans and boots. A cigarette dangles from his lips, an afterthought. Its ember flipping around precariously as he talks and laughs.



In the field next to the old farmhouse, we’re trundling along one of the longest rows.


It is nearly half a mile through the field from a dirt road on the north to highway 168 bordering on the south. At our current pace, I wonder if I'll make it through the day, or if spontaneous combustion will end my shift early. When we reach the highway, half an hour from now, we'll look longingly at the inviting shade of the dense pines across the roadway. Then the driver will turn around slowly in the fine gray soil and start back toward the dirt road again. Up and down a dozen times and this field won't even be half done. The day will eventually give way to evening and the barn will be full before that happens. At least, I hope so, and George assures me.

I imagine my headstone inscription as I attempt, with little success, to shield my entire body from the sun with my small ball cap as I walk. The epitaph will read, "Here lies Eric. Bear caught on a dog day. Shoulda known better, city slicker."



Since it's my first day on the job, Freddie can’t trust me to do anything important. I walk behind the crew picking up dropped tobacco or pulling any missed ripe leaves I might spot along the way. I'm not even wearing shoes. I can't recall why that is, but in retrospect it seems ill-advised. 


Taking a turn on the tractor is out of the question since I didn’t grow up driving one. Behind the wheel, I might run over some of the crop or wind up "bear caught,” endangering the whole crew. It will be a few more days before I start real work and learn more about the bear. Freddie and others warn me. Bullshit to scare the new guy, I figure.


I am wrong.


For those, like me, who don't know: "bear caught" is the close relative of heat stroke. When the sun's rays beat down with constant force I can only describe in terms of pressure and the only shade is cast by circling buzzards, you just might find yourself drowning on dry land with the world spinning out of control beneath your bare feet.


(Where the Hell are my shoes?!)

If you notice a shortness of breath and a feeling of overwhelming dread while cropping it is time to get off your feet as the next step is usually passing out, vomiting or both. AKA: Bear Caught.



Behind the caravan is the safest place to walk for a greenhorn. If I faint, at least I will not be run over back here. Atop the tractor, Bobby is in the captain’s seat. 
He’s a grumpy, red-faced, round man in his sixties who is often late and occasionally falls asleep at the wheel. He's been known to miss the turn at the end of a row from time to time and can’t be relied on to react quickly to foolish city boys who might fall down where they shouldn’t oughta have no business doing so.



Progress is slow.


The tractor is pulling a stick harvester and the trailer brings up the rear of this 3-car rolling assembly line. Sticks of tobacco will be piled neatly on the trailer as they are completed and the “stackers” will leap from trailer to harvester and back again fetching completed racks as we move across a dry sea of green and yellow. The body of the harvester has two stations in the center and two more hanging off each side; suspended like gull wings by a metal sliding arm which creates a veritable finger guillotine between the sleds and the main body of the contraption. 


This dangerous meeting of metal on metal enables the sleds to be folded in for travel or adjusted for different size rows. I don't put my hands up there because I've been warned and it’s always covered with grease to facilitate the scissor action. Another relative once showed me the scars where he lost four fingers and had them sewn back on after resting his hand casually on such a bar at the wrong moment some 25 years previous. Amazingly, his digits still function, but his piano playing days came to an end that summer. 



Each of the four stations have a low, forward-facing seat where a “cropper” can encircle the bottom ring of leaves from a stalk with two hands, gather them in a bunch and hand them up to the rear-facing stringer who is perched on a chair above and in front of the cropper. The stringer wraps each handful with twine, attaching them to a stick which hangs overhead. The end result is a stick just over 4 feet long with large tobacco leaves hanging from its length, save 6 to 8 inches on either end enabling the sticks to rest atop rafters in the curing barn. 


Later the sticks of tobacco will be manually hoisted by my older, and braver, cousins into the dizzying heights of an ancient tobacco barn so rickety looking I don't really want to stand in it, much less climb to the top with a 30 pound stick of fresh tobacco. During the hanging process, my Uncle Freddie barks orders and jokingly chastises anyone who hesitates by asking if they “need to go change their dress.” He also makes us smile with his infectious laugh as he regales the crew with stories and one-liners. Despite his jovial nature in the shady barn, I take notice of some well-hidden concern shadowing his face. Limber boys, fearless as any trapeze performer, jump from rafter to rafter and seem to swing effortlessly from one to another overhead while hoisting sticks into the furthest reaches of the towering structure. The downturned corners of my uncle’s mouth and the darting way his eyes glance at the “hangers,” most of whom are his nephews, betray the fact he has probably witnessed someone fall from the upper rafters somewhere along the line. 



He’s probably seen a lot of things, I imagine.


“Hold up! Gotta change a spool!” someone yells at the driver.  After another series of curses and calls to stop, the request finally makes it past the engine noise and the 6 pack of Busch the driver has quietly downed in an attempt to beat the heat and boredom of his job. 



The hard sun remains my main concern.



As the caravan comes to a halt, croppers and stringers catch their breath and take long pulls on their sweaty water bottles. Many of them douse themselves with cool water, the sensation followed by involuntary gasps and then exhalations of relief. I find myself envious of my cousin George with his spot under the shady tarp and a rusty iron seat. He’s already a seasoned cropper. 



“If George can do it, so can I… right?” I think to myself.


It is only my ignorance of the job which leads to the thought. A few weeks from now I'll remember my leisurely strolls behind the harvest train fondly and wonder why in heck anyone would want to be a cropper. 



George is my senior by less than a year, but has lived here his whole life. He’s just as much a part of this county as the old barn on the edge of the field. A tight crew cut, a quick laugh, square glasses and an aura of experience are his stand out features at this age. He’s been working on the farm for years already and seems to have been vaccinated against the bear during his tenure. He has a gun. His own gun! We go fishing together when we have the opportunity. We roam the considerable wilderness around his home or play Duck Hunt for hours on his Nintendo before a sleepover.


In spite my city ways, George and I are like peas and carrots except when we are more like oil and vinegar. We can usually resolve disagreements with a scuffle and a hug. Fisticuffs be damned. Blood is the tie that binds and we never hold a grudge that lasts half as long as one of our black eyes. 



As I look on, George is in the low seat of a center station on the harvester. In front of him, a gorgeous teenage girl with curly brunette hair, an easy smile, a maroon top and tight blue jeans that might have been purchased from his Daddy's corner shop in town a few years back though they probably didn’t fit like this back then.  His vantage point seems better than the rear of the trailer and uninterrupted horizon dominating my scenery as the forgotten caboose. I look away quickly, hoping neither the girl nor her brother notice the slack-jawed admirer.


George plucks and passes clusters of leaves so hard and fast throughout the day his fingers hurt and tar presses into every nook and cranny. Sweat drips from the rim of his glasses to his turquoise t-shirt. George is wearing knee-length shorts, we call them jams, and high-top sneakers. This will be his style of work clothes for the season unless those pesky hairs on his legs start to thicken before harvest is over. They will become bristly magnets for the sticky tobacco tar as George’s voice begins to crack. The trained eye can tell by the way he looks at the stringer this change will come sooner rather than later. Judging by my jealousy, I’m not far behind.


“Owww! What the Hell?!” I shout, enjoying the newfound freedom of cursing in the field. I dance around barefoot in the silty soil after stepping on a discarded butt from the harvest train’s conductor. The crew laughs at me and Freddie glances back quickly, sees that I’ve suffered no major injury, and shouts an unconcerned "All clear! Go ahead!" in the direction of the driver. 



We sluggishly make the rounds and inch our way toward a distant mirage. I’m beginning to believe the oasis is not an illusion and my hope for an end to the workday is gaining definition along with the buildings around the big house which are coming into focus through the undulating heat waves.



Weeks pass. At this point I’m a respectable cropper and have only been “bear caught” a few times. I spend most weekdays in the field and nights between with my uncle at his mother-in-law’s home. Ms. Olive is a kind woman with the same lovely eyes as her daughter, my aunt, whom Freddie is married to. Uncle Freddie doesn’t have children and his wife is at their own home in town as she has a job at a local dealership. Ms. Olive is elderly and busy with meals and other household chores, so in the evenings I find myself with much more freedom than I'm used to.



After work and before supper, I roam the farm like a lost boy.


I discover plows and trucks as old as the creek bed, other farm implements of unknown origin and purpose, and hand tools wielded by farmers long dead. I find abandoned barns with corrugated rusty-steel roofs and walls more air than lumber after the slow wrecking ball of time has done its thankless job. The barns rest unnoticed among the pines only a stone's throw from the northern tip of the longest row in the main field. There is a flat-pond behind the house, basically a low-lying area that holds water in the rainy season. It is dry this summer but surrounded with clear boundaries of briars laden with blackberries.


There are the two weary and beaten grain silos dominating the eastern border of the property, the sad fraternal twins cast long shadows in the evening. One cylinder is faded gray with sections outlined in oxidation red while the other appears to be its negative exposure. Both are capped with rusty tin roofs. When I open a door to the red silo I catch the musky odor of old soybeans and possum leavings. Dust sifts down from above, highlighting the bolts of sunlight piercing the rusty pock holes here and there.


In the woods, behind the main barn, there are squirrels and rabbits to track and a drainage pond which stretches to the highway. Along the edge of the pond I battle hordes of mosquitos; my only allies, an army of dragonflies who feast on the plentiful parasites. Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of a skink whose colors and reptilian head combine to give them an uncanny resemblance to a water moccasin, at least to the inexperienced eye of a city boy. The pond is a sea of minnows, frogs, lily pads and cattails. I drop a line in that big puddle a few times throughout the summer, but never catch anything more than a small box turtle. 


I find wild muscadine grapes dotting the wooded area of the property. They are the size of a small marble and dull black when ripe. Their flavor pales in comparison to the scuppernongs I enjoy from another tended vine in the yard. The scuppernongs are three times the size of a wild muscadine and grow in sweet bronze clusters. The trick is finding them before the birds and the neighbors. I squeeze a thick-skinned grape between my thumb and forefinger and spit the seeds onto the ground before swallowing the slimy, yet satisfying, glob that remains. Afterwards, I put the grape skins on the tips of my fingers and imagine I'm a green frog leaping from tree to tree.


There is an upturned oak with dirt-bombs clinging to the horizontal disc of its roots which provide ample ammunition for waging war on an imaginary enemy or the wayward squirrel tracking my progress. Despite its resting place parallel to the ground, the huge tree holds onto life not unlike its roots used to grip the earth. I wonder what to call a “live oak” after it dies.

I don't know where I find the energy for these explorations, but it is a daily ritual and I don't return to the big house until the dinner bell rings. Ms. Olive lays out spreads worthy of a king but meant for a growing farmhand and his giant uncle. I’m thinner despite consuming copious amounts of sweet tea, peach cobbler, biscuits, fried okra, stewed tomatoes, ford hooks, and fried chicken of the like that has probably passed from this world forever.


While I am scrubbing the day’s tar from my hands with pumice-laced GOJO in preparation for supper, I look up into the mirror matching gazes with an unfamiliar dark face smeared with dirt and with eyes I like to believe are starting to sparkle with some of that backwoods experience I've been so desperately pursuing. I inquire aloud if GOJO is flammable. No one answers. It sure smells like it and my eyes water from the acrid fumes.


I wonder to myself if I’ll ever be as tough as my uncle, but I already know the answer.


This evening, Uncle Freddie asks me to tag along as he checks on the barns scattered about our corner of the smallest county in southern Georgia. We load up in his 4x4 two-tone Ford pickup and hit the road. A strong breeze swirls within the cab as we careen down the highway. We’re probably within the speed limit, but after a day in the field it feels like we’re riding a cruise missile. 




On the radio, Hank Williams is chasing rabbits, pulling out his hair and howling at the moon. 
Freddie’s Boston Terrier, “B.A.,” as in Baracus (or was it Bad Ass?), smiles an impossible grin with his head hanging out the window, his tongue flapping wildly in the wind and a jaw seemingly unhinged like a rattler’s as he gulps in the last drops of the day.


We stop and check on several barns; Uncle Freddie confirming propane levels, inspecting the burners and examining some hanging leaves by rubbing them between his calloused fingers. The barns are made of logs and mortar predating my grandparents and they all smell of propane, musty wood and sweet tobacco. I love that smell.



As we exit the last barn, the curtain of night has fallen completely and the moon is on the rise. The twilight is long gone and it’s nearly bedtime with another day of harvesting ahead. The constant buzz of cicadas is now eclipsed by the chirping of crickets and a cacophony of frogs in the roadside ditches. The small frogs croak with a near machine-like consistency, but every 15 to 20 seconds the unmistakable bellow of a bullfrog rises above the noise as he asserts his dominance over the night and all who hear him.


“Load up, kid. It’s time to go,” my mother’s big brother says, in his deep barreled voice.


He lets fly a sharp whistle in B.A.’s direction. The small dog is investigating a nearby thicket, but is still the first one in the cab. He seems somewhat reluctant to allow me into his usual spot as co-chief. As Freddie turns the ignition, Johnny Cash is crooning about "The Wide Open Road." My uncle throws the column shifter into low gear and hits the gas. 




The engine revs and we go nowhere. 



He tries reverse, we hear the wheels spin and we can feel the truck sink just a bit. He glances over, tells me to stay put while he hops out to engage the four wheel drive hubs on the old pickup truck. Back in the cab, he tries again; and again our only movement is downward. Now he’s out and his hat is in his hand while he scratches his head aggravatedly, surveys the area and mumbles under his breath.


I hop out of the cab with B.A. close behind to assess the situation. After I've exhausted all manner of pointless questions and offered nothing in the way of solutions, Freddie tells me to gather some sticks. We work together to put some debris under the tires in the hopes of creating some traction. This goes on for a spell and we make no progress. I take a turn at the wheel while Freddie pushes and I press the gas too hard spraying him with mud and causing him to trip and fall. My throttle enthusiasm also clears the items we had managed to jam under the wheels.


“Dammit, Eric! Shit fire!!” Freddie shouts at me as he takes to his feet throwing his hat down and kicking in the general direction of B.A., who had taken the spill as an opportunity to lick some mud off his master's face. The little black and white dog retreats quickly, though he was in no real danger. I have a strong urge to follow him into the brush lest I catch a boot to my own rear end, but I held my footing, sheepishly looking down and kicking at some loose gravel with my hands stuck deep into my pockets.


Freddie is not usually an angry man, but I’m apprehensive as he is the first adult to curse at me. I’ve heard the words, but they have never been meant for me. I stutter and stammer attempting an apology. I’m fighting back the urge to cry. Before I lose that battle, he calls me closer. He reminds me, and possibly himself, that he chose the parking spot and spun the wheels to begin with. It’s not my fault and he’s sorry for cursing and yelling.



I can breathe again. 



All is well with the world again, other than the fact we are stranded in the middle of nowhere. This barn is at least 10 miles from home and nearly half that to the nearest neighbor. A neighbor who happens to be a hand in our crew, but who also happens to own the world’s largest bull mastiff. This hulking beast seems a closer relative to a great grizzly than the toy-sized bulldog we have as a walking companion. Every time we pick up the boy for work, the mastiff peers intimidatingly at the pickup from the porch. The workers in the bed of the truck sit quietly and nervous. Each silently hoping they are not the slowest runner in the crowd as they keep at least one eye on the behemoth until we’re back on the blacktop.


Dreading the walk, we spend some time in the cab and I listen intently as Freddie tries to hail someone on his CB radio. He speaks an unfamiliar language which captivates me and reminds me of Smoky and The Bandit. After 10 minutes with no answer it becomes apparent we are going to have to hoof it. We gather a few things, roll up the windows and begin the journey.


We’re walking down the centerline of a lonely Georgia highway. Light from the near full moon makes vision the least of our worries on the open road. I munch on a Snickers bar salvaged from the truck and we share a half bottle of Mountain Dew during the stroll.


I stay close to the big man, like a shadow.


I notice B.A. doesn’t wander too far either. His pattering feet are quick as he keeps pace with us, sniffing the asphalt and occasionally exploring the shoulder as we walk. A few cars speed by here and there, but it was past midnight when we gave up calling for help and struck out on foot so it comes as no surprise to either of us when none stop to offer a ride.


The days are still warm, but this evening is unseasonably cool. Between the southern humidity and our light clothing, we are chilled beyond comfort. After an hour or so, we come to another of the barns so we step inside to allow the propane heaters a chance to thaw our bones. Warm blooded again, we fill our soda bottle with water and strike out once more.


Sometime after 2am we approach the home of the stacker with the gigantic bear-dog. A quick discussion results in a unanimous decision. We do not want to knock on the door and we need to make it past the house without awakening the huge canine if we are to arrive home with no extra holes in us. Uncle Freddie carries B.A. and we walk quick and silent until we are clear of the monster’s territory.


Even well beyond the dog's hearing I am terrified, like only a city boy could be, by the imaginary dangers I perceive to be lurking just beyond the shadows. Trees line the sides of the road providing cover for all manner of unspeakable evils. 



Freddie is the rock on which I anchor myself. He seems indestructible and shows no sign of concern as we continue our march. 



We walk. We rest. We stop in another barn to warm up and we walk some more. I tell Freddie of the latest video games, a cute girl at school, a truck I hope to buy in a few years and how I’m not sure I fit in around these parts. I listen as he reminisces on growing up with my mother, her sister and his two younger brothers. It turns out, as big brothers, we have a few things in common and 35 years doesn’t really amount to much in the grand scheme of things. He tries to convince me I don’t need to prove myself and that the most interesting people don’t fit in anywhere really. He tells me that I’m alright, for a city boy, and that he’s glad to have me on the crew.


I swell with pride. Or perhaps, it's the unseen monsters in the shadows who shrink. 



As we near our destination, my legs are tired, my mouth is dry. I’m blissfully unaware of how time will steal, so completely, many memories from this summer and this night in particular or why I should hold onto them so dearly. I wish I could go back and tell myself to write down some of those stories instead of passing out on the bed when we arrive home. I’m thankful that I’m able to remember what I do, but there was so much more. I had no idea his time was short.


We veer off the highway and take the last mile on a dirt road. As we approach the big house, the pregnant horizon is ready to give birth to the morning sun. 



The sky has been brightening steadily for the last hour. I am exhausted and even B.A. isn’t smiling any longer as we reach the front door. From within, I can already smell coffee, bacon grease and fresh biscuits. Ms. Olive greets us with a smile and hugs inquiring about where we have been and what we have been up to. Uncle Freddie gives me a cold glass of orange juice, a bacon sandwich then sends me to bed.


Later I realize he went to the field to get the crew moving without laying his head on a pillow. 



I don’t wake up until just before lunch and, of course, Ms. Olive worries over me. She feeds me more than a dozen boys would need in one sitting. After lunch I return to the field with the rest of the crew.  Freddie pays me the twenty dollars I would normally receive for a full day’s work and after supper we enjoy a good laugh as we begin threading hyperbole into our fish tale.


If he were here today I suppose his version would vary quite a bit from the one I have told. What I wouldn’t give to hear it. Tonight though, we agree that damn dog out on Highway 168 is as big as any black bear in Georgia. We also agree this evening we’ll stay in, sip some sweet tea and watch Wheel of Fortune. 



That winter, a few weeks before Christmas, Freddie’s boots took their last steps.


A sudden and unexpected malady took him from us on a cold Tuesday. The news punched me in the gut and the world spun beneath my feet. A feeling not unlike being caught by the bear.


Today, I remain certain I'll never be as tough as Uncle Freddie, but I learned to walk the walk and talk the talk. He seemed to think that was half the battle. He taught me to laugh at the world, enjoy at least some part of every day, and that listening is almost always better than talking. I learned to be consistent in my dealings with others and to present myself as a superhero to children who needn’t worry about things beyond their control. 


Youngins believe in the magic our mentors weave far into adulthood. Faith in their power remains even after an invincible man inevitably proves that this, his greatest illusion, was nothing more.


I've never forgotten to watch for the bear in the many forms he takes, but I will not let fear of him paralyze me.


In the end, some footprints leave no mark in the sand, but I can still hear the clicking of those boots echoing across the southern Georgia night and no one who knew Freddie can deny the impressions he left in their own life.



**Special thanks to my cousin, George, for helping me dredge up some of these memories and some of the important details from a summer of croppin' and the man we both loved.

 Also thanks to my dear friend, Brian Sorrell of 
daddingfulltime.com who helped me find the voice to tell this story that I was, until now, unable to put to paper in a way that matched its significance in my life.

Another thank you, to Bill Peebles of
I Hope I Win A Toaster for offering feedback and support on this story and many others

All of you have heavy boots and leave echoes you may not even be aware of. 



37 comments:

  1. So much style and substance here Eric. It just flows so well, so effortlessly. It's like a camera pan from a Leone film. And there's so much in it! I'll be reading it again later. And probably again after that.

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  2. Thank you, Brian. It's the first time I realized how much work goes into making something seem to flow so easily. I appreciate your insight and your assistance with the tone of the piece. You, Bill and another friend of mine, Tim, really helped me "cut to the chase" in some ways without sacrificing the detail and imagery that I wanted. I made the words work for me and I think it would have been awkward without that input from your guys. Thanks for the compliment, I'm very happy to hear you like it. The positive feedback from the few hundred who have read this one mean so much more to me than the thousands of comments on my recent open letter.

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  3. Eric, what a fabulous story that is so well-written! It took me back to my childhood many years ago as it was written with such vivid imagery. I worked with Mr. Arlie Metts and a few other fine Southern gentlemen in those hot tobacco fields where--even though it was hard work--we really did have fun! Keep up the great work!

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  4. Debbie (Frazier) MullinMarch 15, 2014 at 12:26 AM

    Eric, thank you for sharing your precious memories with us. Although I've never been in a 'backer patch,' you put me there as I read. I can feel the hot sun beating down, just as I can see you dancing around barefooted after stepping on the hot cigarette butt. I didn't know Freddie well, but he was exactly as you described. He and Reggie were both so quietly funny. They are missed. Thanks again for a wonderful story! :)

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  5. Lay off the construction crew, they had to build the roof you were sleeping under supported by those very thin walls. Blame the architect and the builder as they bask in their awards for such a show piece, and they stay in another resort with sound proof walls.

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  6. ...or everyone could get off of their high horses. Jesus, a brain surgeon and a "law degree holder" not thinking to put baby oragel into a teething baby's diaper bag? I'm on the "nasty" note-writer's side with this one.

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  7. The letter was not necessary and neither Dad on the runs aggressive reaction. The letter writer could ask for a other room or talk to the apperently totally overstrained with motherhood sister of "Dad" to tell her, her baby is the silence killer of the whole Hotel. ;) Plus , a baby in a Ski resort is truly novel but not impossible. The day the sister is first time bothered by other kids she hopefully reads the "nice" open letter from her so over-caring bro...;) Nuff said! ;)

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  8. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. If the picture I painted felt right to my south Georgian friends then I know I got the colors right. Have a good one!

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  9. So glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to tell me so!

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  10. "Then again, maybe you are just an asshole." Emphasis on YOU.

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  11. This morning I am sitting here drinking my coffee while Ryder is eating his breakfast and I seen this blog posted on Facebook... No not blog this is more than a blog, much more. I'm not really sure what name to put to it but it is an amazing work. Eric you had me captivated I didn't even get up to get another cup of coffee until after I was done reading which is amazing in itself. You have created a world in which I was lost until the end. But also one which I would love to return. A feat that is not accomplished very easily. I absolutely loved your story thank you very much for sharing it.

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  12. Thanks, Raymond! I really appreciate the comment and am glad you enjoyed the story. It was a lot of work, but I thoroughly enjoyed writing it as well.

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  13. Thanks, Janie!

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  14. [standing ovation]

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  15. I have experienced plenty of inappropriate behavior from people of all ages at every venue imaginable. Every single instance begins with selfish people who won't leave their children at home or their drunk uncle or their barking dog. Your sister needs a lesson in manners. And you need to learn to pick your battles so you don't look like such a buffoon all the time.

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  16. That was an amazing response to a nasty person. I know my brothers would have done the same thing for me. Your niece is very blessed to have an uncle like you to go to bat for her.

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  17. Oh Tom... why do you continue to come here and comment? It's been three weeks. The rest of the internet has moved on, why don't you try it? As for the music disturbance, I'm sure she wouldn't like it and would call the front desk to report a disturbance, just like the neighbor could have/should have done in this instance. You seem to be working from a place where one assumes the cries would wake anyone, the truth is the cries were a potential disturbance and without confirmation from someone (maybe a knock on the wall even) the parents had no reason to assume they were ruining anything while they dealt with an unusual and unexpected issue with a toddler.

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  18. I think that the "Dad on the run" is right, yet not necessarily for the reasons most people would think. The letter writer was justifiably upset at having their vacation intruded upon by the noise from a crying baby. I doubt, having raised several, that the crying was "just a little"...especially since DOTR said that the niece was teething. Teething babies rarely cry "a little"...after all, they HURT. And I say they were justifiably upset, because they DID plan the vacation and they WERE hoping for a little adult time. However, DOTR is correct: they should have contacted the front desk and gotten their room switched. After all, the resort wasn't billed as "adults only" and the letter writer has no sensible reason to expect the rest of the world (or at least the rest of the resort world) to rotate around them. It just doesn't happen. So out of the babies in this scenario, the biggest one is the letter writer. Teething will pass. Being a jerk rarely does.

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  19. mother of 2 grandmother of 3March 31, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    Perfect answer. This guy reminds me of a neighbor of mine who went away for two days and her dog unknowingly barked a lot while she was gone, despite us taking care of him. The only reason she knew this was someone filled her entire home phone message (tape) with human barks. Ruff Ruff, Ruff, etc, for an hour. I was her neighbor on the other side and did hear some barking, but nothing that would warrant such an infantile response. You hit the nail on the head when you spoke about us all part of this society, but more importantly that lending a hand is so much more compassionate and humane than pointing a finger. I think you reminded me of some important things I knew but could have used a refresher course. God bless the baby, her mommy, daddy and her compassionate uncle.

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  20. Great letter. No one ever knows what someone else is dealing with. It always pays to be nice.

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  21. YES. The author of the note to your sister was wrong, but you were way worse. Your post was condescending, holier-than-thou and just nasty. Most people could care less what your BIL and sister do for a living; you just had to point it out. WHY? I have 2 grown daughters BTW - and the only hotels we went to when they were young had Disney attached to the name.

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  22. If they had a problem why didn't they request another room? I think these people lack common sense and I are just plain mean. These type of people get some sort of sick pleasure out of anonymously writing hurtful letters. They are cowards!

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  23. I agree with the letter writer. Why on earth do you being a baby to a ski resort?

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  24. Well said!!! Couldn't agree more.

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  25. I hope you never reproduce...... EVER!! No child should be subjected to having you as a "parent"...........

    A GOOD parent considers the needs of their child first. And the dad thought his family needed quality time with him. That's not a bad thing They shouldn't be subjected to a bunch or critical whiny "adults". You know, like you!

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  26. cindaphukinrellaMay 3, 2014 at 12:24 PM

    This is the sort of thing that makes it so difficult for deliberately childfree people like myself to deal with parents. It's this unapologetic entitlement. You don't care how your brats ruin another's good time, be it dinner at a fancy restaurant, movies, or a much anticipated vacation. You feel entitled to demand that everyone just deal with your kids. Newsflash: you're the parent. Your kids are the problem. YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO SOLVE THAT PROBLEM when your kids inconvenience others. I would have walked right next door, banged on the door until your sister opened it, and given her a piece of my mind if I had been the neighbor.

    The only thing I agree with here is the fact that leaving a note two days later was passive aggressive and serves no purpose, except perhaps to make the letter writer feel better. Otherwise? Your sister is just another entitled parent, and you're likely an entitled parent, too, since you think it is okay that your niece's screaming ruined someone else's vacation.

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  27. You are a moron with the reading comprehension of a 3rd grader. One has to inform someone of having their "vacation ruined" in order for the entitled parents to address the issue. Do you assume your perfume is bothering someone in the next room if they don't tell you? Or do you just think that because you choose to be child free that the whole world owes you to keep any potential crying children out of your path? What about those with annoying health issues? What about pets? Yes, issues that can be resolved should be resolved by the person responsible... the first step to letting that happen is to notify someone. Hopefully, in a courteous, human manner. I wish you would show up at my door with a piece of your small mind. I don't think you would enjoy it nearly as much as you think.

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  28. cindaphukinrellaMay 7, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    Tsk Tsk. Namecalling is the hallmark of someone with a lot of anger and no argument. Anyone with any common sense at all knows that hotels have paper thin walls. She knew her brat's screaming was bothering other people. She just didn't care. That's common sense, which entitled parents seem to be perpetually short on.

    I already said that something should have been said, rather than leaving a passive aggressive note, so I don't know what you're talking about there.

    Annoying health issues? What annoying health issues do you speak of? I don't know of any health issues that cause the kind of noise a kid would make (though I am not a doctor, so it is possible that they exist). As for pets- same thing applies. Do not bring them if they are ill behaved. I am a huge animal lover and once had an adorable labrador. But, he barked. Would I take him places where his barking would annoy others? Nope, not a chance. See? That is called taking responsibility and being considerate, something you and your sister obviously know nothing about.

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  29. You know very little and I'm not sure I have the time to take you through it all. You see the internet argued this vehemently months ago, I'm sure you can read and argue with all the commenters you'd like here and elsewhere. I've had my fill. Thanks for adding your opinion, though. The name calling was simply an adjective to descrive your apparent lack of reading comprehension. You used some choice adjectives I don't care for either in your original comment, probably just thought they were accurate depictions of me and others, I feel the same. Anyway, do continue with your, oh so trying, child-free by choice life. Also, please continue to write diatribes no one will read.

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  30. So your entire argument (months ago yes, but I just now found this blog - originally I had only found this "article" on HP) is that because your brother in law is a brain surgeon, and your sister has a law degree, that it makes them more important and special than anyone else? That it means that they have the right to ruin someone else's holiday with their screaming children, and if that person didn't want their holiday ruined, they should have rented a private cabin?

    News flash: If your BIL is a surgeon, and your sister is a former lawyer, then they have money - THEY should be the ones to rent the cabin.

    I have a degree from MIT and protect, quite literally, half a billion people from identity theft each and every day (yourself included, no doubt). That's not an exaggeration - I and my designs are literally the only human being standing between a Russian ID theft cartel and your information on a very particular network. Does your brother in law "help" more people before breakfast than I do each day? I would wager no. Does this, by your logic, make ME more entitled than him? Can I simply stand outside his house at night blasting Snow's greatest hit(s) or the soundtrack from Mama Mia?

    Your level of hubris and self-absorbed entitlement is astounding, mate. Did you ever stop to consider that the people in the room next to your saint of a brother in law was a firefighter and his wife, who had saved up for 3 years to go on that holiday, only to have it ruined by screaming children? Did you ever stop to consider that the world is not designed to bend to the will of you and your family, extended or otherwise, simply because they had the good fortune to develop some success? Of course not - you're all unique little snowflakes, individual centres of the known damn universe, and the universe by god will bend to your whimsy, right? I do especially love how you talk about not being judgy, then proceed to be just that. Further reinforcement that you are completely incapable of introspection and high context societal integration.

    My only regret (aside from not finding this blog months ago to state these things) is that I don't inherently know (and lack the inclination to find out, though I'm sure I could) who you are so that I might have the option find the precious information of you and your saint of a family and throw all of your data, from personal information, SSN's, DOB's, etc. right down to to financials information, to the wolves in the deepest, darkest corners of the internet that you aren't even aware exist and would be terrified to see - to see how much respect the rest of the world gives you individual masters of the galaxy. Because I assure you, mate, you need to learn a bit of humility.

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  31. You realize that calling someone a brat is name-calling, right? :P Lolololollol. Good job.

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  32. He's right you know.

    My parents worked very hard to ensure that myself and my younger sister diddn't disturb people around us when we were out on the town. I remember when my sister had an ear infection at 18 months and couldn't stop crying. We were at a TGI Fridays or something similar, not a Michelin starred restaurant, but still a step above Taco Bell.

    My parents took turns outside pacing back and forth with my sister as I hurried to finish my dinner so we could go. I was only 6 years old but I was impressed by how considerate my parents were (and still are).

    Having kids does NOT entitle you, or anyone, to simply tell the world to 'deal with it'. I know parenting is the hardest job out there, but its your responsibility to be aware of the people around you. You might even raise conscientious kids in the process.

    Sure there will occasionally be the person who will never be happy with you no matter what you do, but be reasonable here, a crying baby at a sit down restaurant, bar, movie theatre, or hotel room? Make plans to have someone watch the baby so you can enjoy yourself too. Or do what my parents did and forego a social life for a few years.

    Slipperly slope arguments positing about 'perfume' or 'pets' dont prove anything here.

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  33. Just came across this and had a few thoughts. I wouldn't call your sisters family "selfish" but rather they forgot to think about others. Being as exorbitantly wealthy as they are, I see how they couldn't fathom staying in a -gulp- regular hotel, even on a business trip. I'm also sure it didn't even occur to them that people would go to a ski resort as an annual vacation, and not just some little side trip. Its simple miss-communication between the Wealthy and not so wealthy.( To the average Joe, Re-imagine this situation with them staying at an economy lodge rather than ritzy resort - now the letter writer just looks lie a giant butt)
    Same for the letter writer. She was so caught up in how wronged she was, that she didn't take the time to understand that your family had no clue how they were effecting others. So now the lower class looks like self-righteous little whiners, and this became a lose-lose situation. Had there been Decent and open communication rather than just hiding a note, Im sure your sisters family would have paid for all the stays they ruined (once they saw how much it meant to lower class) It also would have opened their eyes to prevent future incidents like this. Instead, its just become a world of hate between the 2 classes. This world just needs communication.

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  34. I think you're a great brother. But I also think you're wrong. She was wrong. Selfish. Bringing your child on a trip like that is ridiculous in the first place. The letter writer was 100% justified and you know it. Becoming a parent doesn't make you special but somehow you feel so entitled, and unnecessarily dropping things like lawyer and brain surgeon into your reply just shows your smugness even more. You know nothing about the letter writer other than he or she was considerate enough to not call your sister an asshole like you did to them, and kind enough to not embarrass or confront her. They even ended the note with a thank you. Think about it. Your sister should be the one writing this article, as an apology to that whole resort.

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  35. Are you paying more than $5 / pack of cigarettes? I buy my cigarettes at Duty Free Depot and this saves me over 60% on cigarettes.

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