Racing

After gloating about our room-temperature Christmas weather here in Altadena, my sister, Mary — who lives in Rapid City, South Dakota — almost hung up on me. Telling her I could smell lemon blossoms was kind of mean. Considering it was double-digits below zero in the Black Hills near where she lives, I couldn’t blame her for her not wanting to talk to me. She changed subjects from the weather to talk about a cousin we hadn’t seen in decades; Mary had news.

“I heard from Eunice. Her beloved husband, Bob, died unexpectedly.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. We continued to chat a bit; how Eunice had a good marriage, how she’d stayed in Texas all these years.

“What were they doing in Tyler, Texas, anyway? Eunice had always been a California girl.”

“Well,” my sister said. “This is so weird. Eunice said a really joyful part of her life with her late husband was that they raced Chihuahuas together.”

“Raced Chihuahuas? That’s disgusting! And they’re supposedly evangelical Christians. What’s next? Chihuahua fighting?”

“I know,” Mary said. “It’s just really hard to imagine.”

“Just think how small the jockeys must be! But seriously, this is a case for the animal cruelty people. Just think of those little doggies, shivering while they wait to be let out of the starting gate,” I said.

“I really had a hard time believing it when she said it. Frankly, it took me by surprise.”

“I know. I thought that strict Christians were against gambling. I’ve never heard of such a thing. But think of the names for those dogs: Shiver-me-Timbers, A Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On, or Pea Biscuit,” I said. “Maybe it’s a new Texan thing.”

I added, “Eunice must be thrilled right now, seeing as she’s anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-women’s lib. But dog racing?”

“It struck me as very odd,” Mary said.

“Did you ask her where they race? I mean, what kind of tracks do they use? Did you get any details?”

“No, because I was so stunned, I just didn’t know what to say. Remember, Aunt Beatrice loved little dogs so much. She would be appalled if she were alive and knew what Eunice was doing.”

I said, “Oh, yes, Bea would be devastated.”

We both went into a reverie for a minute until a torrent of questions flooded out of us.

“The Chihuahuas certainly couldn’t have much stamina, so I doubt they could use Greyhound racetracks,” I said. “What kind of betting goes on? Are there Trifectas? Pee Wee Derbies? Do they ever race against Yorkies or Mini Dobies? Is there a whole network of secret Chihuahua racetracks across Texas and possibly reaching into Mexico? Did our cousin somehow get involved with something dangerous to the dogs and the people involved? These live animal sports characters can get pretty rough. I think I should call the people at Animal Planet — they do great investigative reporting. The ‘Animal Cops’ show used to be really good. I’m sure they’d love to bust a Chihuahua racing ring.”

“You don’t suppose they chase a mechanical rabbit around the track like they do for Greyhounds?” Mary wondered.

“I don’t think so,” I responded. “I don’t think the Chihuahua is a natural rabbit predator. Of course, if you get a Chihuahua angry enough, it might chase a rabbit. But a mechanical rabbit would be bigger than most of the racers!”

Thoughts of those little Chihuahuas neck and neck, pounding their little paws into the turf with haunches glistening as they went into the home stretch, made me wonder what the heck had gotten into Eunice. The thought of Chihuahuas being pumped with steroids made me shiver.

“Maybe they hook up Snausages, drag them behind a golf cart and chase that around the track,” I said. “But it just all seems so unlike Eunice. She used to be such a nice person. I can’t see her doing something this unsavory.”

“Me neither. But Eunice said that’s what she and Bob liked to do together. For years, apparently.”

“Are you going to talk to her more about it?”

“I don’t know,” Mary said.

“I want her email address. I think there’s a column here. I just have to interview her about it. But I should probably wait since her husband passed away recently, don’t you think?”

“Yes, that’s probably a good idea. It was interesting talking to her after such a long time. You know, she even has a Texas accent now. I had a hard time understanding her.”

Something clicked for me.

“Could it be that you aren’t used to her accent, and she might have said that she ‘raised’ Chihuahuas with Bob?”

Silence.

“That makes more sense,” I continued. “Although I was sort of warming up to the idea of Chihuahua racing. I see a whole product line: teeny-tiny sweaters with numbers, floral victory collars and itsy-bitsy silks.”

So in a real-life tribute to Gilda Radner’s beloved “Saturday Night Live” character Emily Litella, I told my sister, “Raising Chihuahuas. Oh, that’s very different. Never mind.”

Note: I haven’t used my cousin’s or aunt’s real names. While I used a smidgeon of “poetic license,” this conversation actually happened. Really.

2023 marks the 30th year that Ellen Snortland has written this column. She also teaches creative writing online. She can be reached at ellen@

beautybitesbeast.com. Her award-winning film “Beauty Bites Beast” is available for download or streaming at vimeo.com/

ondemand/beautybitesbeast.