21

Things That Go Bump…

Halloween is fast approaching, and even though it can’t begin to compare with the sheer bowel-wrenching scariness of the current government shutdown/debt ceiling debacle we have Ted Cruz to thank for, I thought I’d give it a nod with a ghost story from my past.

About seventeen years ago we moved into an old house in Texas which was built in the late 1800s.  It was constructed partly of limestone blocks that had been hand-quarried and featured an upstairs room running the length of the house.  This had served as a sort of dormitory for the boys in the family.  The house is quite small, but it held two families of ten kids each over the years.  When we moved in, it was just the two of us and we marveled how those early folks had managed to thrive in such small quarters.  By the time we bought the place, all the modern conveniences were there, but outside there was a remnant of an old outhouse.

A reminder that we had it pretty good, so no complaining allowed.

Eight months prior to our move to Texas from California, we had to have our 16-year-old long-haired Chihuahua, Lolita, put to sleep.  We had one other Chihuahua, Pepe, and a mini-Dachshund, Rudy, who made the trip with us, along with four big Collie-mix dogs.  All six of them and the two of us traveled together in our Econoline van.  When we stopped at rest stops it was like the clown car at the circus.  We opened the back doors and the dogs just kept on a’coming.

About a month after moving into our new (old) house, we’d turned in for the night in the bedroom downstairs.  Not long after turning out the light, we heard the sound of a little dog running across the wood floor.  It came from the adjoining dining room and ran toward the door to the porch, which was at the foot of the bed.  It stopped there, scratched the door two or three times, and then ran back across the room.  This happened several times over the course of the next hour.

Pepe and Rudy were soundly asleep under the covers.  It wasn’t them running through the room.  The big dogs were outside.  The hair on the back of my neck stood on end.  What the…?

Just about every night thereafter the same routine occurred.  Sometimes it started right after lights out, and sometimes it wasn’t until one in the morning.  A couple of times, soon after turning out the light, I would hear the “ghost dog” (as we’d started to call it) get up from the sofa near the bed, shake its ears enough so I could hear them flap and then jump down to the floor.

We had become friends with one of the “kids,” now in his late 70s, who’d grown up in the house and we nonchalantly inquired if the family had a little dog at any time in the past.  He said no, they hadn’t.

Then it dawned on us that when we moved we’d brought along Lolita’s old dog bed.  Why, I can’t say.  And then we realized that we’d stuck it in the dining room which was serving as a catch-all until we could get everything sorted out after the move.  That’s where the activity seemed to be emanating from.

So we took the dog bed and put it upstairs in the dormitory room.  It wasn’t long before we would hear ghost dog come clicking down the stairs on her nightly run.  She also was heard rustling in the wastebasket next to the desk upstairs while my husband was working there.

I took to sleeping with a little flashlight I called my “ghost buster.”  Whenever the activity started, I would take the flashlight from the table next to the bed and scan the room on the off chance I’d finally see something.  All it did was stop the activity—for a bit.  Some nights I would hear her drop what sounded like one of our other dogs’ Nylabone chew toys on the hardwood floor.  When I lit up the room, there was nothing there.

Other nights, Lolita (by this time we figured it had to be her) would bonk around under the bed like she used to do when she slept in her dog bed under our bed back in California.  We would even hear her tripping over the extension cord on the floor.  Sometimes Rudy and Pepe would look up after hearing her, but they never growled or seemed disturbed by any of it.

This went on for almost a year until the terrible day that Pepe was bitten by a rattlesnake and died hours later on my bed.  We were grief stricken.

Maybe a week or so later, we heard two little dogs running around upstairs, like they were chasing each other.  There was more rustling in the trash and just double the activity in general.

Then, the noises gradually subsided and finally stopped altogether.

I’d had a dream (or visitation?) from Pepe the morning after he died.  He used to wake me up by standing on my chest and licking my face.  That’s what I awoke to—or dreamt I was waking to.  He was backlit by white light and I was crying, I was so happy to see him.

Then he faded away and I realized I was awake and he was gone.

But maybe he wasn’t.  Maybe he hung around with Lolita for a while before they both went off to doggie heaven together.  Maybe…

Happy Halloween

Lolita swami

LOLITA SEES ALL…KNOWS ALL…

9

The Ghost and Mrs. S.

Note from the Eldercare Underground:  Spirit edition

Since moving my mother to the nursing home, my daughter and I have come to the agreement that rather than constantly contradicting my mother when she says things that are a little loopy, we’ll just play along with her. 

Really, what did it matter if she got the two of us mixed up, or if she told my daughter that she needed some bread and milk from the store?  It’s a lot easier on all of us just to say something agreeable and let it go at that. 

Besides, she usually forgets what she was talking about in a few minutes anyway, so trying to set her straight on the fact that my grandkids aren’t my kids is just an exercise in futility.  By the time we get the matter somewhat settled, it’s disappeared like a will o’ the wisp into the air.

Speaking of will o’ the wisps…

Today I went by to see how she was doing and was pleased to see they’d gotten the humongous recliner in her room operational.  It’s controlled electronically by a remote and the other day they hadn’t quite figured out how to get it working. 

Today my mother was well ensconced in it in front of the TV watching the Travel Channel’s show “Bizarre Food;” a show about something called “stinky tofu.” 

Don’t ask.

As I went about putting away her laundry, my mother looked up brightly and said, “Guess who came by to see me today!”

When I asked who (thinking it might have been my daughter and her kids), she said, “Honore.”

Okayyy….playing along, I said, “What did she have to say?”

Mom kind of rambled on about her doing something with her group of friends…or something.  The plot line kind of veered here and there and was generally unfollowable.  So I just said, “That was nice that she came to see you” and dropped the subject.

Honore was my mother’s best friend from childhood.  They pretty much grew up together and remained lifelong friends.  I remember my mother telling me funny stories about Honore’s pug dog, Cherry Boots.  They used to paint the dog’s toenails red and it seems it had a problem with frequent flatulence. 

“Oh, Cherry Boots!” became somewhat of a catch phrase in my family whenever anyone was a little…um…gassy.

Honore came from a wealthy family, whereas my mother did not.  The Depression slammed my mother’s family hard (my grandfather’s quitting his job as a railroad conductor just before the 1929 stock market crash didn’t help either) but Honore’s family came out unscathed.

I remember my mother telling me that she (my mother) had good enough grades to go on to college, but that was out of the question.  Honore, on the other hand, wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box, as the story goes, but she got to attend USC because her parents had the dough to get her accepted. 

That was the time-honored story but, really, my mother’s version of things has never been absolutely reliable and often has a way of getting torqued around to where she comes out the aggrieved party who’s vindicated in the end.

Be that as it may, the two of them remained friends and in contact with each other all through their lives—up until a couple of years ago when Honore passed away in a nursing home in California.  She had no children, but had befriended a nice lesbian couple who took care of her until she had to move to the swanky (according to my mother) care facility.

My mother has forgotten that many of her old friends have died. 

One was the mother of a childhood friend of mine, and when my mother casually mentioned last year (before her fall and subsequent move from her home) that she hadn’t heard from Irene for awhile, I foolishly reminded her that Irene had passed away several years before Dad. 

She looked up from the lunch we were sharing and said, in a bewildered tone, “I didn’t know that.” 

I immediately felt bad that I’d told her about Irene’s death.  There wasn’t any reason to set her straight about it.  Now I know better.  I just let her go on about Honore, knowing that, for the moment at least, she felt good that an old friend had come by for a visit.

And, who knows?  Maybe she did.

Mom (on the left) and Honore at the beach in 1937.

Mom and Honore in 1939, one year after my folks married.