Last night (this morning) about 1:30 a.m. I was reading quietly in my chair in the living room and heard a loud thumping noise from the side yard, just beside the living room/kitchen. It startled me but I dismissed it, thinking the gardener must have forgotten to latch the side yard gate again. It’s been pretty windy so I figured that was the noise, and decided I wasn’t going out at 1:30 in the morning to re-latch the gate. A little while later I heard the noise again only this time louder and accompanied by a big dragging sound. The gate doesn’t make that noise no matter how windy it is.

So I turned on the kitchen light and I first thought to open the front door because it provides a view of the gate in question. I turned off the alarm and looked out but didn’t see anything. I closed the front door rather loudly hoping that if somebody was lurking they’d get the message. I was pondering what to do next when I heard another thump and drag. I wasn’t at all sure at this point if it was coming from my side yard or the neighbor’s yard (they have a very high fence I can’t see over). I don’t know if adrenaline kicked in or stupidity or what. But I went to the side door off the kitchen and turned on the side yard light. Then I open the door, looked out, didn’t see anything and decided to go down the stairs and check things out. The gate latch was perfectly secure so I looked behind me but the rest of the yard beyond the light was too dark to make anything out.

That’s when I said to myself, “Woman, if somebody is out here they’re going to hit you on the head and it’ll be all over.” So I hurried (as much as my arthritic legs can hurry) back into the house. And I said to myself, “Sometimes you are not very smart.”

But I didn’t hear that noise again. Either there was somebody messing over next door or in my yard and I scared them off, or it was critters and I scared them off. Whatever, I had no business going out there at 2:00 in the morning (by that time) on my own. Maybe next time I’ll just settle for flicking the lights on and yelling out the back door that I’m going to call the cops.

I have to admit, though, that I am my mother’s daughter. Neither one of us ever had enough sense to do the girly thing. We always charged full bore out any existential back door to investigate on our own. It’s a wonder either of us survived until old age. My mother was tall (5’9”) and strong and had grown up tough with a house full of brothers and on cattle ranches. She didn’t think twice about taking on anybody at any time. And yet, she always managed to look glamorous while doing it and she liked girlie things. A glamorous Valkyrie.

There was one memorable instance when I was in high school and some teenaged boys decided to break into the tool shed at our old house in Venice. It was a summer Saturday night and the windows were open. Mom (who had been up late reading, as it happened) heard something going on (she had ears like a terrier) and charged out the back door. She was wearing baby doll pajamas and fuzzy slippers. She bore down on those boys in full Valkyrie mode. One of them managed to get away, but she wrestled the other one to the ground and held him there, yelling at me, “Call the cops! Call the cops!”

Imagine, if you will, in those days before 911 when you actually had to call the police desk to get a squad car to your door, and me, a teenaged girl on the line with a cynical police desk sergeant trying to convince him that my mother had actually wrestled a thief to the ground and was sitting on him until the police could arrive. There were no cell phones in those days so I was in the house and my mother was outside so no sounds of commotion reached his cynical ears to help verify my story, even though I left out the detail of the baby doll pajamas. He eventually, grudgingly agreed to send a car (to get me off the phone, I’m sure), but none ever arrived. (It was Saturday night and Venice was a pretty rowdy place in those days. I mean serious crime and all.)

Meanwhile, some of the den of thieves who lived across the street and were related to the boys heard from the one who got away that my mom was holding the other boy prisoner and came to his rescue. Picture this: my mother in her baby doll pajamas and fuzzy slippers wrestling with not one but two teenaged boys. Going at it pretty heavy. One of their older brothers came running up holding his hands out like a peacemaker at this point, but the teenaged boys managed to get the other one free. My mother was so mad at this point she coldcocked the peacemaker on the chin with her fist and knocked him on his ass. He didn’t retaliate, fortunately, and managed (somehow!) to calm my mother enough that she went back in the house. But she insisted I call the cops again.

For some reason, the cynical desk sergeant was even less inclined to believe my story. Even though Mom got on the line this time and did some yelling. She insisted I write a scathing letter to the Times (“You’re good at that sort of thing”), cc’ing the chief of police and our local councilman about the shocking lack of response to a poor frail lady and her teenaged daughter needing assistance with a gang of teenaged thieves and receiving none. The Times declined to print our missive, and we never got a response from the chief of police or the councilman, either (although I’m pretty positive whoever may have read that letter got a really good laugh out of it).

The den of thieves who lived across the street remained the scourge of the neighborhood and surrounding blocks, but none of them ever again tried to rob our house.

I think, however, that in future I will try turning on the lights and yelling out the door if I hear suspicious sounds. If those Valkyrie genes don’t kick in an rob me of all sense of self-preservation.

A glamorous Valkyrie