(NOTE: Although Breckenridge, Colorado is being used as the location for the ski vacation, the purists among you will no doubt notice inconsistencies from the actual city and its amenities. One example is that the airport that the clan flew into is non-existent. There will be others as the vacation unfolds, some intentional, some not.)
"Good morning, Hildy," I said into the phone. "I'm sorry that I didn't get to call you last evening, but by the time I remembered, it was too late."
"We were a little worried when you didn't call," she said. "Ricky's been asking where everybody is. He's so used to the boys fussing over him before they go to school. How are the boys adjusting to the cold?"
"So far so good, they played outside last night for almost an hour before they got cold enough to come in. They didn't have their ski suits on. I'm sure that when they get bundled up today, they won't have any problems staying warm," I said. We talked for several more minutes before I told her, "Well, I had better go start getting them up. We all have ski lessons at ten o'clock and they haven't had breakfast yet. I'll call you again in a couple of days."
"Give the boys my love. I hope that they have a great time learning to ski. Goodbye, Crane."
I hung up the phone and went to wake up my sons. Eric and I passed each other in the hall. He gave me a one armed hug as he went to wake JR and Bran. Joel was still sleeping as I entered the bedroom. TJ was awake and staring at the ceiling. It was obvious that he had just woken up.
"Good morning, TJ."
"Hi dad, I couldn't figure out where I was," he said.
"You ready for breakfast?"
"Yeah!" he said, hopping out of bed and giving me a hug.
"Wake Joel and then go wash your hands. I'll go wake your brothers."
Chris and the twins were in their usual tangle of arms and legs when I shook the pile. As they woke up, they began to untangle. I got a sleepy hug from each of them as they stumbled out of bed. I pointed them toward the bathroom and instructed them to wash up before coming to the table.
"How come I feel like I'm out of breath?" Joel asked as he sat down to the breakfast table.
"It's the altitude. At home, we are only about 1,000 feet above sea level. Here we're over 9,000 feet. That means that the air is thinner here and you will get tired faster. It should be better in a few days. Your body will adapt fairly rapidly. But that means we need to not overdo it the first couple of days," I said. "Today you'll learn the basics of how to ski and we'll make a couple of easy runs. Tomorrow you'll have more lessons and do some more slopes."
After breakfast, I didn't think that the boys were ever going to get into the long underwear they were giggling so hard. They had never worn any before and I doubt that they had even seen any except maybe on TV. I finally had to scold them to hurry and get dressed or we would miss the shuttle bus to the slopes.
Eric and I made sure that everyone had all of their equipment including gloves, hat and ski mask. We looked like a family of abominable snowmen as we waited for the shuttle. We had to wait less than five minutes before it arrived. The driver helped us fasten our skis and poles on the rack before we took off to pick up other skiers. As it happened, the only other passengers we picked up were the Sheridans. My opinion of Cal Sheridan did not change as we rode to our lessons. His attitude toward his family was bad enough. His attitude toward the nine of us had all the appearances of being contempt.
I thought to myself, "I could probably 'buy and sell' that man several times over and he acts as if we're white trash."
"What's funny?" Eric asked me.
"Oh, nothing," I said, not realizing that I had been snickering. "Maybe I'll tell you later."
The first shuttle stop was at the training location for the younger boys' lessons. Eric and I helped Chris, Larry, Lenny, TJ and JR get their skis and poles from the rack and started to give them hugs when TJ asked, "Aren't you gonna stay with us?"
I started to say that I was going to go to my own lessons, but the look of almost fear in his eyes changed my mind. "Of course I'm going to stay here and watch you," I said turning to retrieve my own skis. "Eric, you go with Bran and Joel, I'll stay here with the other boys."
"Okay, see you after while," he said and got back on the shuttle.
This was one of the few times that I had seen any insecurity in TJ. Maybe it was being separated from Joel in a new situation that brought it on. Joel had always been his security that he could depend on in situations like this. His face brightened and he gave me a big smile when I put one arm around him and hugged him to my hip.
"Come on, let's go learn how to ski," I said and led the pack toward their lessons.
There were ten other students that were either there all ready or arrived shortly after we did. A few minutes after everyone had arrived, a young man, who looked to be about 18, and a young woman, about the same age, came out of a small shack.
"My name is Karl Petersen and this is Sherrie Burstyn," he said pointing to the girl. "We will be your instructors. I recognize some of you from yesterday. Those of you who have had your first lesson will go with Sherrie. The rest of you will stay with me."
Eight of the students followed Sherrie to a spot some distance away. That left our five and two others in our group. The other two were both girls. One appeared to be about 8 or 9 and the other appeared to be about 11. I backed off and sat down on a bench that allowed me to watch the boys' lessons and where TJ could see me.
"Okay, is everybody ready to learn how to ski?" Karl asked enthusiastically.
There were a few "Yeahs" from the seven and a lot of heads nodding.
"Very well, the first thing you need to learn is how to put your skis on properly. If you don't, they could come off while you are skiing and you could be seriously hurt. But first, I want you to find a place to put your poles. You won't need them for a while."
Naturally I was the recipient of five pairs of ski poles. I watched in fascination as Karl went through the boys' first lesson. In a way it was funny. I think TJ spent as much time on the seat of his pants as he did on his skis. Each time he fell, he would laugh and scramble awkwardly to his skis. Sometimes one of his brothers would help him up if he were laughing so hard he couldn't do it by himself.
About halfway through the lesson, Karl called a halt and instructed everyone to get something to drink. He told them that dehydration was one of the things that they needed to be aware of while they were skiing. It was easy in the cold, dry and thin air to lose a lot of the body's fluids. For those who had not brought bottles of water with them, there was a cooler available where they could get a drink.
During the last part of the lesson, Karl led his seven charges as they skied down a long gentle slope for their first real ski run. I could tell from the laughs and other sounds of joy just how much they were enjoying themselves. That is until Karl showed them how to walk back up the hill by side stepping. That was not nearly as much fun as going down the hill.
I noticed that during the lesson the younger girl had attached herself to JR and was constantly by his side. I was surprised that he didn't object. Boys of his age usually have an aversion to the young female of the species. She was kind of cute, what you could see of her all bundled up in her ski suit. Her large eyes were highlighted by long dark lashes and she had a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her slightly turned up nose.
"Who's the girl?" I asked JR when they had finished their lesson.
"Oh, that's Beatrice. She lives in Boston. She talks funny," he answered.
It was all I could do to keep from laughing when he said that. Although JR's Texas accent was not pronounced, it was still noticeable to the non-Texan.
I rounded the boys up and headed over to the nearby lodge. I figured that they could do with some hot chocolate before we tried a couple of runs on the 'bunny slopes'. TJ was all excited about his ski lesson and proceeded to tell me all about it even though I had been there and watched the whole thing. I was glad that he enjoyed it despite the number of times he ended up on the seat of his pants.
We settled into our table to order our hot chocolate. The exercise of the ski lesson had surfaced their hunger, so we had to order some sweet rolls to go along with the hot chocolate. Our waitress left with our order when Eric arrived with Joel and Bran. Joel and Bran were talking to each other in an animated manner, I assumed about their lesson based on the hand movements they were making, and didn't see us at first until Eric pointed us out.
"How was your lesson?" I asked Joel.
"It was great! I only fell down twice... well maybe three times," he said, looking at Bran who just smiled knowingly.
"He really did very well," Eric volunteered. "He was probably the best student in the whole class. We're going to make a couple of runs after we have a snack. What are you guys going to do?"
"We're going to do the same. Did you take a refresher lesson?" I asked Eric.
"No, I decided to watch Bran and Joel," he said, before taking a seat beside me. In a quieter voice he continued, "That Cal character was there with his two girls and something about him made me want to stick around. I'm glad I did. I overheard the jerk making derogatory remarks to his wife and daughters about blacks as they were getting ready for the lessons."
"Did anything happen?" I asked.
"No, at least I didn't hear any more comments from him. He did keep a close eye on Bran, especially when Bran got anywhere close to either of his daughters. I made sure that I paid as much attention to Cal Sheridan as I did to the boys."
"I hope that we don't have any run-ins with him while we're here. I want this to be a pleasant experience for all the boys," I said.
While we were talking our waitress had arrived with our hot chocolate and sweet rolls. She took the rest of the orders and left to fill them. Joel and Bran looked longingly at the platter of sweet rolls. After the five younger boys had each taken one from the platter, I nodded to them that it was all right for them to have one. It didn't take long for them to grab one and begin eating it as if they were starving.
"Is everyone ready to do some skiing?" I asked after all the hot chocolate was gone. Getting unanimous agreement I continued. "Get your lift tickets out of your pockets and hang them around your neck. You have to show these each time you want to ride the lift. Now, when we get to the lift, they will explain to you how to get on and get off the lift chairs. I want you to listen carefully to what the man says. If you don't do it right you could get hurt and we wouldn't want that. Okay, let's do it."
After listening carefully to the instructions on the proper way to get on and get off the lift chairs, we decided to split up into three groups of three with Eric, Bran and me each heading up a group. I got in the first group with TJ and Chris. Bran was in the second group with Joel and Larry. Eric brought up the rear with JR and Lenny.
It was a fairly short ride to the slope we were going to ski, only about two minutes. The three of us exited the chair more gracefully than I had anticipated. I ushered TJ and Chris to one side and waited for Bran's group to arrive. They too made a graceful exit from their chair. Unfortunately Eric's exit was not as graceful when their chair arrived. He caught the tip of one of his skis and went head over heels much to the amusement of JR and the rest of the boys. I tried not to laugh, but I wasn't too successful. I helped him up as best as I could and then we all headed over to the slope.
There were only a couple of people waiting to start down the course when we got there. They quickly skied off leaving us to begin our runs. We decided that we would go down the slope in the groups of three that we had used in the ski lift. Since the slope was gentle and quite wide, the threesomes wouldn't have any problem getting in each other's way.
"Remember how Karl taught you to slow down if you start going too fast. We're not racing. We're just trying to practice what you learned this morning. Okay, let's go," I said, as I gently pushed off with TJ right beside me.
The boys' first ski run went rather well. TJ took one fall when he went over a little rise and got too far back on his skis. He came up with a face full of snow, laughing so hard, it took him a while to get back on his skis. He made it the rest of the way without falling.
At the bottom of the run we waited for the rest of our group. I had thought that we would head for the townhouse after everyone arrived, but the boys were having none of that. They insisted they wanted to do it again. Like any parent who spoils their children, I agreed. By the time we had finished the next run, it was approaching one o'clock. When I suggested that we might want to go eat lunch, I could see the mental battle going on in their heads between another ski run and food. Food won.
There was no shuttle waiting when we arrived at the shuttle stop. The schedule posted on the pole indicated that there should be one along in a few minutes. By the time everyone had removed their skis, I saw the shuttle coming up the hill.
The ride back to the townhouse was a noisy one. It seemed like all seven of the boys were talking at once. Each one of them were extolling their prowess on skis. All Eric and I could do was to shake our heads and smile.
It took a while for the boys to get their ski gear off. While they did, I went into the kitchen area to see what the housekeeper/cook had fixed for our lunch. I found a note indicated that the two large simmering pots on the stove were beef stew. The note was signed by Kathy. It also said that there were loaves of French bread in the pantry that could be warmed in the oven if we wanted. I didn't think that the boys' hunger could be put off long enough to heat up the bread so I simply turned up the heat under the stew.
I sent the boys off to wash up while I retrieved bowls, glasses and flatware. Eric sliced the bread and I tended the stew. By the time Eric had glasses of milk poured and the flatware distributed, everyone had returned and taken places at the table. As I dipped bowls of stew from the bubbling pots, Eric took them and placed them in front of the hungry boys, making sure that he got away with his fingers intact.
I hated to admit it, but Kathy's beef stew was better than Hildy's, although I would never tell Hildy that. The boys seemed to like it also, because all of the stew was gone by the time we left the table.
The sated skiers were sprawled on the floor and couches in the family room watching some inane program on TV when Eric and I finished up in the kitchen. I was going to suggest that we take part in one of the many activities offered by the area this afternoon, but decided that it might be better if we didn't overdo it on our first day. If the boys did revive from their full stomachs and wanted to do something, Eric and I decided to suggest that they try out the hot tub.
As it turned out, the hot tub was an excellent choice. It did hold all seven of the boys, but didn't contain their exuberance. They all were beginning to look like prunes by the time they tired of the hot tub. It was nearly five o'clock when we sent them to get dried off and put on some clothes. I tried to clean up some of the water that the boys had slopped or dripped on the floor while Eric went to get ready. We had decided to go to one of the local restaurants for an early supper.
While I was getting ready in our bedroom, I heard a commotion out in the family room. It sounded as if two or more people were yelling at each other. I found this highly unusual for our group since I had never heard any one of them say a harsh word against another. I quickly slipped on a pair of trousers and started out of the bedroom, pulling on a shirt as I opened the door.
I was surprised to see Cal Sheridan standing inside our front door yelling at Eric. Bran was standing behind Eric looking down at his shoes. I could tell that Eric was mad by the redness of the back of his neck. Sheridan was waving his arms in the air and shouting obscenities at both Eric and Bran.
"What the devil is going on here? What are you doing here?" I asked of Sheridan.
"Keep that God damned nigger away from my daughters. I don't want him anywhere near them. Is that clear?" he ranted.
"Mr. Sheridan," Eric started, "you will not use that language in my house and in front of our children, especially my son. I have asked you to leave several times nicely. Now, either leave this house or I will throw you out. Is that clear?"
"I'd like to see you try," Sheridan said and then drew back his arm and started to throw a punch at Eric. That was a serious error on his part. Eric sidestepped the wild swing and grabbed the arm as it went by using Sheridan's momentum to force him to the floor. All in one motion, Eric was on top of Sheridan and had his arm pinned behind the swearing man's back.
"Call 911," Eric said to Bran. "I think this bigot should spend a little time in jail for assault."
"Let me up, you bastard. I'll sue you. Let me go, you're hurting my arm. God damn it, I'll kill you. You don't know who you're messing with. I've got friends," Sheridan's rant turned into a whimper.
It finally dawned on me to check on the other boys. I had been mesmerized by what was going on between Eric and Sheridan and had all but forgotten the others. When I turned around, I saw JR in a huddle with the twins and Chris. TJ was hiding behind Joel, who was standing off to the side where he had a perfect view of everything that had gone on. It was all I could do to keep from rushing over to hug him when I saw he had the video camera in his hands and had taped, as I found out later, the whole incident.
About five minutes later a police car drove up in front of the townhouse and two officers rushed up to the door. I opened it as they climbed the three steps to the landing. Their hands were resting on the butts of their holstered weapons.
"What's going on? What's the problem?" the first officer asked as he stepped through the front door. He stopped when he saw Eric on top of Cal Sheridan with the man's arm twisted behind his back.
Eric began to explain to the officers what had happened from the time that Bran had opened the door until the time Eric had taken the man down. The loud voices that I had heard had been those of Bran and Sheridan. Sheridan had begun hurling insults at Bran as soon as the door was opened and Bran responded with a few choice words of his own.
"That's all a lie!" Cal Sheridan yelled. "I came down here to ask them to go skiing with us tomorrow and they began beating up on me and then they slammed me onto the ground. I'm gonna sue the bastards. Arrest them!"
Eric continued to tell his version of the event after which the officers took down everyone's name and jotted down some notes on their notepads.
"Officer, I think you might want to watch this," Joel said, as he loaded the tape into the VCR hooked up to the TV. He rewound the tape and then started it. The first part of the tape was a view of the inside of the townhouse and the sunroom and hot tub.
"Fast forward past that, son, I don't think the officer is interested in that," I said.
He advanced the tape to the point where the sound of the doorbell was heard. Then the sound of loud voices could be heard. The camera panned rapidly to a view of Cal Sheridan yelling at Bran and poking him in the chest forcing Bran back into the room before Eric stepped in between them. The rest of the tape was just as Eric had described the confrontation.
When I turned to look at Sheridan, he was standing next to the second officer with a defeated look on his face.
"Cal Sheridan, I'm arresting you for assault and battery on Bran LaBeau and with the assault on Eric Levin," the second officer said. He went on to read him his Miranda rights, handcuffed him and led him out the door to the waiting police car.
The other officer, whose nametag read "Sgt. Brown," told us that we would have to go to the police station in the morning and make a formal statement. He took the video tape that I offered him.
"What's going to happen to him?" I asked.
"Oh, he'll spend the night in jail until he can see the judge in the morning, when she will probably set his bail. Sorry about all of this. I hope you don't think this happens to everyone who comes to our fair city. Enjoy the rest of your stay in Breckenridge." He turned and left the house.
"Bran, how are you doing?" I asked, putting my arm around his shoulder.
"Okay, but I was mad as hell when he was poking me in the chest and yelling those things at me. It's not like I'm interested in his skanky daughters," he said with a slight grin.
"Just don't let what that stupid bigot said, get to you. We all know that you're a fine young man with a lot of potential. Remember that and forget what he said," I said and at the same time gave him a hug.
"Thanks," Bran responded.
"Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm hungry. Let me finish getting dressed and then we can go find a restaurant," I said. "I saw a nice looking one as we came into town yesterday."
The restaurant was indeed a nice one. "Emily's" served the food family style. We ordered the fried chicken dinner for nine people. When our dinner arrived, the waiters placed two large serving dishes of everything on the table; chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans cooked with bacon, cole slaw, and hot fresh rolls. For dessert, they brought out a hot cherry cobbler. One waiter dipped generous helpings into bowls while the other one topped each bowl with a scoop of vanilla ice cream before passing them to us.
We were all stuffed by the time we left the restaurant. On the way to our van TJ grabbed hold of my gloved hand. "That was good, daddy. Can we come back tomorrow?"
"We can," I said, "but there are other restaurants that we might want to try."
"But," he stopped me and looked me in the eyes, "that was like Hildy's food."
I swallowed hard, smiled and hugged my youngest son all the way to the van.
I was surprise that the events of earlier in the evening had not even been a topic of conversation throughout our meal. Between bites of food, almost all conversations centered on skiing and what they wanted to do tomorrow on the slopes. There was even talk of trying the expert slopes. Eric and I just looked at each other and shook our heads. I think that would have to wait for many more lessons and a lot more time on the intermediate slopes before they would be ready for that.
By the time we got back to the townhouse it was getting to be bedtime. It might have been a little early, but there were no complaints when we sent them to brush their teeth and get ready for bed.
We started our morning at 8:00 AM at the police station where Eric, Bran, Joel and I gave our statements of what happened last evening concerning Cal Sheridan. Because of their ages, they didn't take statements from the younger boys. I didn't know what we could add to the video tape that they had, but we gave them our statements and signed them before we left.
While we were giving our statements, our other five boys were being entertained in the lobby by one of the officers. Evidently he was on drug enforcement duty. He had his drug sniffing dog with him, which was a big hit with the boys. It looked like the dog was a German Shepard mix. He was much bigger than any of our dogs were at home. He seemed to enjoy being surrounded and petted by five fans.
It was all Eric and I could do to tear the boys away from their new found friend, but the lure of the slopes finally won out. We drove the van back to the townhouse with only a few minutes to spare before the shuttle was due to arrive.
We grabbed our skiing equipment and made it to the curb in front of the house just as the shuttle bus turned onto our street. I looked down the block and saw Betty Sheridan and her two girls also waiting on the shuttle. I thought that it might be an unpleasant ride to the slopes if they decided to get on the shuttle with us.