Back in the Day, my mother had a long-haired Chihuahua. She’d coveted Chihuahuas for quite some time, and while I was still in high school in southern California, she’d managed to bring herself to buy this little dog from a breeder. The pooch was chocolate brown all over, and my mother called her Penny. We brought Penny with us to Arizona when my father retired to Sun City.
Well, Penny was quite a little number. Unlike many of today’s specimens, she wasn’t especially aggressive, although in her tininess she could be alarmed by large moving objects and humans. Though she didn’t bite or threaten to bite, she yapped incessantly. This dog would bark at the sound of the sun rising and going down. She barked for no other reason, as far as anyone could tell, than to hear her ears rattle.
One December, I had come home from the University of Arizona for winter break. My father had gone back to sea, claiming he needed to earn some more money to make their retirement secure but really, I suspected, because he’d found full-time shore life less than the paradise he’d hoped for. So it was just me and my mother.
It was New Year’s Eve. My parents’ old friends, Capt. Karl and Mrs. Mabel Brunberg, had recently moved to Sun City, trailing my father as did a number of his other friends and his brother. They invited my mother over to their house to ring in the new year. Since a fair amount of drinking would be done and I was not of age — I was only about 17 then — I was left at home with the dog.
So, along about 11 p.m., when my favored TV shows went off the air, I climbed into the sack, with the dog ensconced on the foot of the bed.
Down the road was a grody little burg called Surprise. Today this town, having fallen into the clutches of the developers, is a middle-class suburb of stick-and-stucco look-alikes, but in those days it was largely an immigrant labor camp. It was small and quite a ways from Sun City, maybe eight or ten miles off. But real people did live there.
Well, along about quarter to twelve, the locals could no longer restrain themselves. The car horn-blasting, the firecrackers, and the pistol shots in the air began well before midnight.
The celebration was way, way in the distance, so far away it was barely audible to me.
But Penny could hear it. And she didn’t like it.
She started to yap at the first faint sound of a horn blaring into the black sky.
I figured she’d have a little frenzy at midnight, when everyone went outside to shoot and holler, and then she’d calm down and I could finally get to sleep.
Right on one count. Wrong on the other.
Once she got herself wound up, she stayed wound. Along about twenty to one, I finally gave up and went into the living room to await my mother’s return. Figured I sure wasn’t going to get any sleep in the bed. And maybe a change in venue would quiet the beast.
So now we’re perched on the living-room sofa. It’s a tiny house, no bigger than any of the two-bedroom apartments where my mother and I had lived over the previous six years. The living room, which was too small to accommodate a dining area if the residents wanted to devote space to a television set, was demarcated from the galley kitchen by an L-shaped wall that created entries to the kitchen from two ends.
Parked on the sofa, Penny has calmed down a bit. I pull an afghan over me and hope to catch a few Z’s.
She just settles down, and YAP!!! She’s up and barking. Settles down again and YAP YAP YAP!!! and settles down and…
Damn. This is going on and on. I begin to wonder if maybe someone is actually outside in the darkness.
Not being the brightest of young things, I open the front door. Can’t see anything, so I step outside to investigate.
A light breeze wafts past and whistles through the fronds of the Mexican fan palm in the front yard. And YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP!!!!!
Holy cripes. She’s barking at the sound of the wind blowing through the leaves.
I go back inside and we take up our position on the sofa again.
Penny has just settled down when BING-BONG!
The doorbell rings.
Whaaa? YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP It’s now one in the morning. YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP Who the hell is at the door at one o’clock in the morning? YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP
I look out and see the neighbors from across the street. Open the door. They’ve come over to wish us a happy New Year. I return the compliment and say my mother is at the Brunbergs’ house. They, probably noticing that I’m a bit pale by now, ask if I’m OK. Stupidly, I say everything is just fine. They go away, leaving me with my nerves unraveled and the dog vibrating like a gong.
This, I think, is getting out of hand. Enough is enough. I decide to call the Brunbergs and ask my mother to come home.
But they haven’t lived there long enough for their number to have been published in the current phone book. (In those days, the Internet had not even been dreamed of.) I get out my mother’s address book and find it is just chuckablock full of scribbled names and addresses. It’s so full that she no longer can list her entries alphabetically. I can’t find the Brunbergs’ number.
So I decide to call information. In those days there was no 4-1-1 (nor was there a 9-1-1). You dialed “0,” got an operator, and she would use the phone company’s records to look up the number you needed.
So I dial “0.” The phone rings and rings and rings and YAP YAP YAP rings and YAP YAP rings and rings and rings and YAP YAP YAP and rings and rings and YAP YAP YAP YAP rings and…. It’s New Year’s Eve. Everybody and his little brother, sister, and yapping dog must be calling their relatives long-distance. The operators’ lines are maxed, and I can’t get through.
I consider calling the sheriff, but think better of it. What am I going to say? My mother’s dog is yapping, please come protect me from the wind blowing through the palm fronds?
I consider walking across the street to the neighbors’ house, but…what if someone is out there? Walking around in the near pitch-darkness does not present itself as a wise idea.
The dog and I go back on the sofa.
Penny continues to doze off, jerk awake, and yap frantically, doze off, jerk awake, yap frantically, doze off, jerk awake, and scream YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP
She just settles down after a round of yapping, when all of a sudden a weird noise emanates from the kitchen, followed by a loud KEEEE-RASSSHHHHHHH!
I leap off the sofa, hair on end and heart pounding. The Chihuahua bounds to the floor, her hackles up, in full dwarfish ROAR.
She charges the kitchen in a cloud of purple YAPs.
I holler Get’em, Penny! Sic’em, sic’em!!!!!!!!!
YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP
Penny barks her way fiercely toward the kitchen door, but she’s afraid to go near it.
Finally the adrenalin load subsides enough to restore a modicum of common sense to my addled young brain. I realize that while we were on the sofa we had a clear view of both the hallway and the back door. No one could have gotten into the kitchen without my having seen him. And it’s not very likely that a burglar has been hiding in the kitchen all night.
I work up the nerve to creep over to the kitchen doorway. There I see…
A decorative holiday liquor bottle lid — one of those fake cut-glass lash-ups — has somehow fallen off the countertop and tumbled to the floor. My mother and her friends must have finished off the booze, and she evidently left the lid to the empty bottle sitting there.
But WTF? The counter tilework, as was the style at the time, had a border of lipped tiles that formed a little barrier to keep water from dribbling over the edge and small objects from rolling off.
I actually heard this thing slide across the counter before it fell to the floor. The sound was not CRASH but r-r-r-r-r-CRASH. How the hell did it move, on its own, and cross the lipped tiles to tumble off the counter?
That is a mystery I have never solved. Possibly it was the vibrations from the dog’s high-decibel yapping.
I figure she called up a poltergeist. After all, I was a teen-aged girl, and we know poltergeists are drawn to adolescents. And poltergeists are great tricksters. The spook must have thought it would be very funny to see what the little wind-yapper would do if a real, credible noise set her off.
Long-haired Chihuahua. Tatiana Borisova. GNU Free Documentation License.
Vintage decorative liqueur bottle: shamelessly ripped off E-bay.
A 14-year-old domestic servant, Therese Selles, experiences poltergeist / spontaneous PK activity in the home of her employer, the Todeschini family at Cheragas, Algeria, as featured on the cover of the French magazine La Vie Mysterieuse in 1911. Public domain.