A Presumption Of Guilt

It's hard to forgive a tone, even after everything turns out okay. 

Christopher and I left our hotel room at about noon to go down to the beach. I had called ahead and rented two chairs and an umbrella.  

According to the rental person, our chairs would be to the right of our hotel, with our name on it. The guy said, "If you decide to leave, put towels over the chair so that people will know you are coming back." 

Ponte Vedra Beach is not overly crowded. The beach property is lined with more condos than hotels. So everybody there isn't on the beach.  

When we went down, as far down as I could see, there was only one set of unoccupied chairs. Our name was not on them, but a white t-shirt advertising in red a "1-800# to "Beach Rentals" covered the backs of each chair. Those had to be it. The chairs had seemingly been untouched. 

In five hours time, we had had a visitor, had lunch and returned to our spot. I had invited one of my friends to come out to beach so we could catch up. She stayed for a couple hours. After she left, Christopher and I went to the room to eat leftover pizza and then we returned to our chairs.

We were in the process of making the trench for our moat when a family of two grandparents and two little girls approached.  

"Excuse me" the grandmother charged, "you're sitting in our chairs!" Not alarmed, I said, "Really? We've been sitting here all day."  The grandfather yipped like a chihuahua right behind her, something about that's why they put their t-shirts on the chairs so people won't take them.

She said, "My son lives there",  pointing to the condo behind us, "and he reserves these chairs for us whenever we come to stay with the girls."

I told her that when I called, they gave me the approximate location of our chairs and when we came down, these seemed to be the only ones unoccupied.  

The grandfather continued to yip as he took the girls toward the water. The grandmother asked how long we'd been out there. I told here since noon and she said, "We left at 10:30."  

I said, "C'mon son" and was about to say let's call it day, but Christopher's shoulders slumped as we had to abandon the moat. 

I got her name and tried to call the rental place as I was moving our stuff out of their space. I wanted to make an effort to resolve this, because her tone and the grandfather's yipping made me feel as if we had stolen their chairs. I felt like people where watching and I was embarrassed.

The girl who answered the phone was useless. They were already out collecting empty chairs. The rentals were collected and/or had to be turned in by 6:30. I needed to call back in the morning and talk to the manager. 

After my phone call the grandmother said, "You don't have to leave". Oh, I didn't intend to, I thought.  

"We were building a moat", I motioned my hand towards our handy work and then pointed to Christopher saying, "That's my son. Do you mind if he continues to play there?"

She didn't mind. The moat was at the foot of the two chairs and she moved one of them, offering me the other seat. I said I was fine. I refused to sit because I didn't know if the chihuahua was fine. 

She stood also and she asked questions about where we were from and told me about her family. When I told her that my husband was a retired Marine and explained his whereabouts for the day, she told it all to Grandfather chihuahua. It was only then that I felt like he stopped glaring. 

At some point she introduced Christopher to the girls and had one of them offer him a snack. He politely declined. As I did with the chair

After we'd talked a while, she apologized about her approach in a round about way, calling it a mixup. She said I should try to get my money back. I told her that I wasn't concerned about getting my money back because we'd been able to enjoy the beach all day. I said, "I just wanted to make sure you believed me." 

Her response was that I should still try to get my money back, she bet they'd comp me some chairs for the next day. Whatever.

The grandfather never warmed up to us, even after I offered to take a picture of them and grandmother returned the favor by taking a picture of me and Christopher.  

The situation had turned out alright, but it was her tone, the grandfather's stare down and the possible witnesses that made me uncomfortable with the whole situation. 

It had taken a conversation to find out who I was, where I was from and why I was there to feel her guard let down and then a "tell your husband thank for his service", for her to completely let it go.  

We talked until we were all leaving the beach and she hoped to see me there again the next day.

If this were a case, I would have been at fault for sitting in chairs clearly intended for someone else. My lawyer would have defended my case with my hotel receipt for the rental, and perhaps the rental business would be charged with negligence in failing to identify my chairs or even place them out there at all. 

I relayed this story quite differently than I had intended to. The memory of the tone and it's implication has diminished over a months time. I only remembered it's significance to me after reading Solange Knowles post yesterday titled, And Do You Belong? I encourage you to read it. 


  • How would you have approached strangers who were sitting in your chairs?
  • And would you have asked for your money back or some type of compensation?