St. Nicholas was a real saint, He was born in the third century in a Greek town in what is now Turkey. He became a bishop and was known for his kindness to others, especially children. His day of death is his feast day, December 6.
So for the children, and the child in all of us, here is a story about a boy and his dog who learned to deal with their bullies. I dedicate it to Píccola, who occasioned the story and helped me deal with my own bully.
Will had wanted a dog as long as he could remember. But his parents said no. “Maybe when you are older and can take care of it yourself.” Will wondered when that would be.
The day after Thanksgiving, Will and his little sister sat down and wrote a letter to St. Nicholas. According to family tradition, St. Nicholas arrived on December 6 at their house and left a special present just for the children. Christmas was celebrated on Christmas Eve with smaller presents under the tree for the whole family. Will liked this tradition. They told him about the past year, what good they had done, what they still needed to work on, and politely suggesting ideas for a special present.
This year, Will helped Carrie first. She was only three and couldn’t write yet. “I want a wagon, and a great big Clifford dog, and..”
“One special present,” Will reminded her gently. “What do you want most of all?”
She sucked on her pencil. “Clifford,” she decided finally.
Will wrote the letter for her, then she wrote her name. “Now draw a picture,” he said. “Draw carefully so St. Nicholas knows exactly what you want.”
While Carrie was drawing, Will wrote his own letter.
“Dear Saint Nicholas. I have been responsible this year. I take out the garbage without being reminded and I make my own bed. I help Carrie and play with her. Sometimes I ignore my mother when she tells me to get off my video games. I will try harder to listen to her. I would like a new bicycle this year. My old one is too small and the brakes don’t work. If possible, could it bea red bike with racing stripes and at least three gears? Thanks.”
He took his letter to his mother to be proofread. “No dog request this year?” she asked.
Will shrugged. “I’ll never get one, so why ask? Maybe when I’m a teenager.” He sighed. “But that’s a long time from now.”
“It can’t hurt to ask,” his mother suggested. “You’ve been really responsible this year, Will, since I started work. You take care of your own breakfast dishes and you help with Carrie”
“Okay,” Will said. Just to please his mother, he took his letter back and added, “But what I would really really like is a dog of my own. I promise I would take care of the dog and it wouldn’t be a bother for my parents. And I would teach it to be gentle with Carrie.”
He signed his name and addressed the envelope his mother gave him. Of course, he knew there was no St. Nicholas in Greece, but he played along. His parents had told him there once was a real St. Nicholas there, so that’s where he should send the letter. Maybe the Saint’s spirit still resided there. Anyway, it was fun to play along, and he always did receive a special present on the Saint’s feast day.
School began to be more fun now that it was December. Of course, they still had work to do, but report cards had been received and the teachers relaxed a bit. Fun learning activities were planned and more talking was allowed. Math lessons revolved around problem solving in groups, such as figuring out how many gifts were received on the Twelve Days of Christmas. Best of all for Will was his afterschool art class, where they were working with clay. Will was planning to make some Christmas ornaments for his family.
But the fun was ruined on Monday morning, when Will saw the school bully headed for him. This large older boy named Bubba had been teasing Will for weeks, calling him a weakling or sissy. Will tried to ignore him and get away as fast as possible.
But this morning, Bubba walked up just as Will entered the gate.
“Hey, kid, give me your lunch money.”
“I don’t have any,” Will mumbled, trying to sidle past the big boy. But Bubba blocked his path.
“Sure you do. How much do you have?”
Will shook his head. “I brought my own lunch.”
Reluctantly, Will pulled out his lunch bag, which his mother had decorated with dog stickers.
“How cute,” Bubba sneered. “Give me something good from your lunch.”
“My mother makes healthy lunches,” Will answered. “You know, things like yogurt and carrots.”
“Yeah sure, how about candy? I’ll bet you have candy in there.”
Will shook his head. He didn’t mention the homemade ginger cookie.
“Okay, well I’ll let you go this time,” Bubba said. “But tomorrow you had better have something good for me, or else.” He shook his fist in Will’s face.
Will didn’t want to think about what that or else might be.
The next morning, Will made sure to be early at school and he hid out in the boy’s bathroom until the bell rang. And after school, he didn’t linger but left the playground before the big kids’ bell rang. He did that all week and managed to avoid Bubba.
St. Nicholas Day fell on Saturday this year. Just as the day was dawning and Will was still asleep, Carrie ran into Will’s room.
“Will, come on, get up. We have to see what St. Nicholas brought!”
Will sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Okay, just a sec, Carrie.” Then suddenly he was awake. Would there be a new bike downstairs?
Carrie slid down the bannister, with Will holding her hand. Then they walked hand in hand into the living room. Carrie squealed and ran over to a large red Clifford dog. It was almost as big as Carrie.
Will looked for the hay they had put into a large rain boot. It was no longer there. And the plate filled with his mother’s homemade cookies from an old Dutch family recipe was empty. He grinned, wondering which parent had eaten them. That was a lot of cookies.
Then he looked around the room. No bike. Maybe it was outside? He would wait.
He sat on the sofa to watch Carrie play with her dog. It was great how easy it was to make a little kid happy. And him? Well, a bike would be nice. But a real dog would make him just as happy as Carrie. A big dog, one that would scare Bubba. He smiled at the thought and began to daydream of a German Shepherd straining at its leash, just trying to reach the bully. And Will saying, “You’d better leave me alone or I will let him off leash.”
Finally, their parents came downstairs.
“Happy St. Nicholas Day,” their father said. “Did he bring a special gift to the greatest two children in the world?”
“Oh Daddy, “ Carrie squealed. “Yes. A big big doggy.”
A big, big dog. That’s what I need too, Will thought. He waited for his father to tell him to go look outside. He was sure the bike was out there.
No one said anything. Will looked at his father. What was that in his arms? Something wiggling?
“Well, Will, don’t you want to come meet your new dog?” his father asked.
Will just stared as his father set down a very wiggly black and tan dog.
Will knelt down and the dog ran to him, sniffing him all over. Will just sat there staring. No, he wasn’t crying!
“She’s a miniature dachshund, Will. Not a puppy, maybe a year old. We got her at the shelter. She’s a bit skittish. We had to convince the people there that you were responsible and would take good care of her.
“Oh, Dad, Mom, thank you! I will do everything for her. She won’t be a bother to you at all.”
“No, she just kept us up all night.” His father smiled wryly.
“She can keep me up tonight,” Will answered. “I don’t care.”
“My doggy’s bigger than yours,” Carrie broke in. She looked a little jealous.
“Yes, your dog is very big. He can protect you, Carrie. And Doxie. And maybe he and Doxie will be friends.”
“I see she has a name already,” his mother smiled.
“I guess so,” Will answered. “The name just popped into my head.”
“Well, who is ready for a special St. Nicholas Dutch breakfast?”
“I have to take care of my dog first, Mom. Then I will come in. Do we have dog food?”
“Yes, Will. And today we’ll go out and get whatever else Doxie needs. The shelter called us late yesterday so we didn’t have much time.”
“Mommy, Clifford needs things too,” Carried pouted.
“Of course, Carrie. you can pick out his things.”
Will took a small bowl from the cupboard and poured kibble into the bowl. He filled another bowl with water. Then he led his dog to the food and sat by her while she ate. Only then would he eat his mother’s special pancakes. His mother gave him an old blanket for the dog and she curled up on the floor beside his chair.
“I see Doxie has already adopted you, Will,” his father remarked.
Will just smiled happily.
Will spent every waking minute with his dog that weekend. And some sleeping minutes too. Doxie quickly learned to sleep on his bed. Will didn’t tell his parents, but he decided it was okay.
Sunday evening at supper, Will suddenly remembered.
“Mom, I can’t go to school tomorrow.”
“Why, Will? Are you feeling ill?” His mother reached over to feel his forehead.
“No, it’s not that. But I have a dog now, remember? I have to take care of her.”
“Oh, Will, I am here. I can take care of Doxie.”
“She can play with Clifford and me, Will,” his sister added.
“But I promised you I would do everything and you didn’t have to do anything.”
Don’t worry. Doxie and I get along well.” She reached down to scratch the dog’s ears. “And as soon as you get home from school, you can have her all to yourself again.”
Will heaved a big sigh.
His mother peered closely at him. “Will, is there something else bothering you? Did something happen at school?”
N-no, but I want to be responsible. I promised you, and St. Nicholas that I would be responsible.”
His father spoke up. “It’s your responsibility to go to school to learn as well, Will.”
Will sighed again. “Alright. Well, at least we have time together now.” He stood up. “Come on, Doxie, couch time!”
Doxie, who had already learned this expression, jumped up, grabbed her little toy bear and ran to the living room. Will followed. Cuddling her on the sofa, he whispered to her, “What are we going to do, Doxie? How am I going to face Bubba? You won’t be there and you’re so little anyway.” He immediately felt guilty for saying that. I love you, Doxie. I don’t want you to be any other way, but I have to figure out what to do about Bubba.”
Doxie looked up and licked the tears from his face.
The next morning, Will tried to leave the house early. But he had to eat breakfast and feed Doxie, then he took her out to do her business and she wandered around sniffing instead. By the time she was finished, Will had to rush to get to school before the bell.
Sure enough, there was Bubba at the gate.
“Lunch?” he demanded, holding out his hand.
“Nothing good,” Will mumbled.
“Give it to me anyway.”
So Will gave him his lunch bag and hurried off to line.
At lunchtime, he told his teacher he had forgotten his lunch. She made sure he got a peanut butter sandwich and milk, so he didn’t starve. And the teacher assured him she wouldn’t call his mother just for forgetting his lunch once.
After school, Bubba was there with two friends, also big big, mean-looking guys.
“Hey, kid, your mother makes good cookies. Bring me some more tomorrow.”
Will just hurried past.
But Bubba called after him. “Kid, didn’t you hear me” I said to bring me cookies tomorrow. Let’s see, two each. That makes six. Do you think you can count that high?”
They all laughed, while Will nodded and hurried out the gate.
Will hurried home. Doxie jumped up on him, whining. He rolled on the floor with her, rubbing her ears, and letting her climb all over him. And even forgot Bubba for a few minutes.
“Will, I got a collar and leash today for Doxie. I thought maybe you could take her on a walk today.”
“Okay, Mom. Doxie, did you hear that? Do you want a walk?”
Doxie cocked her head. She obviously had not learned that word. Will wondered what her life had been like her first year. Well now she had a good home.
He buckled on her collar and attached the leash and they set off down the driveway. She didn’t pull much at all but stayed just ahead of Will, alert to everything around her. Such a smart dog, Will thought proudly.
But when they approached the house at the corner, the big white house with the picket fence, a large bulldog charged at them. Will saw the dog was chained so he didn’t worry. But Doxie sat down suddenly and wouldn’t move.
“Come on, Doxie, you can go by. He’s on a chain.”
Will tugged on the leash a bit. But Doxie pulled back. He called. He tugged again. But she wouldn’t move. The bulldog gave up and went back to his porch.
“See, Doxie? He isn’t interested. He’s gone now.” Will tugged on the leash again.
But Doxie turned around and started trotting back towards home. Will didn’t know what to do, so her followed her. When they reached their house, Will sat on the front step to pet Doxie.
“You don’t have to be afraid, Doxie. I will protect you.” Then he thought, But I can’t even protect myself. He buried his face in his dog. “Why do we both have to be such scaredy cats, Doxie? What are we going to do?”
The rest of the week, Will avoided Bubba at the gate and Doxie refused to walk by the big white house with the bulldog. Will kept thinking about ways to deal with his bully and with the bulldog, but mostly he came up with fantasies of himself as a Ninja or Doxie as a snarling beast.
On Friday, Will had his afterschool art class. He loved art. He sketched pictures of Doxie, sleeping, barking, begging. His favorite was of her standing alert, tail up, looking up. He would use that sketch to make a clay sculpture next week.
When he left class, the big kids were already getting out. Will kept his head down, looking at the picture he had drawn. But he heard snickering behind him. Someone grabbed his shirt.
“Hey, kid, do you have any cookies left over? You never brought me the ones I asked for. I really like your mother’s cookies.”
Bubba spun Will around. Putting his face close to him, he added, “Whatcha got there? Lemme see.”
“No!” Will pulled away. But Bubba had grabbed his picture. It ripped in two. Tears came to Will’s eyes.”
The two big boys with Bubba began to snicker. “Hey, look. The little boy is crying. His little picture is torn. Be glad you don’t have to do real work like we do, kid. Like Math, fractions, that stuff. You just get to draw all day.”
Bubba threw the picture back at Will. “Hey, kid, I’m sorry I tore your picture. But you can draw another one, right?”
Will grabbed his picture and left, trying to hold his tears back. All the way home, he seethed at himself. Why was he such a baby? Why couldn’t he stand up to these kids? Why were they so mean to him?
He reached home, where Doxie was out on the steps to greet him. He sat down and held her tight. And now the tears flowed freely.
“Why can’t you be a big fierce dog that would rip those guys apart?” Will whispered to her. “Instead, you’re as much a scaredy cat as I am.”
Immediately, Will felt bad. “No, no, I don’t mean that, Doxie,. I wouldn’t trade you for any dog. But what are you and I going to do? We can’t go on being scared forever?”
Will spent much of the weekend drawing Doxie in different poses. His teacher had said they would use their drawings to make a clay figure on Friday. And drawing kept his mind off Bubba. Every day he took Doxie on a walk and every day she came to a sudden halt at the white picket fence and wouldn’t budge until he turned back to their house. Will thought about asking his parents for advice, but he had promised to be responsible. Didn’t that mean figuring things out for himself?
Friday morning, Will woke up thinking of art class. It would be a fun day. But no—he would probably meet Bubba after art class. He could say he was sick and skip the class. But then he wouldn’t get to make his sculpture. Better to face the bully. Maybe he would come up with some solution. He thought of taking some money out of his piggy bank to pay Bubba, but that would only encourage the big boy to bully him more.
Art class was fun. Will made a clay figure of Doxie standing on her hind legs, her tail wagging. He worked so hard on his sculpture that he didn’t hear the bell.
“Will, class is over,” his teacher said. “That’s a fine dog you made there. Is that your dog?”
“Yes,” Will said proudly. “She’s the best dog ever.”
He put his sculpture in the box the teacher gave him and hurried out of the classroom. But he was too late. Bubba stood by the gate. This time he was alone. Will tried to hide his sculpture, but the box was too big to put in his pocket.
“Hey, kid, whatcha got there? Some cookies for me?”
Will had had enough.
“No,” he said. “It’s my guard dog. Don’t touch! She might bite you!”
Bubba grabbed the box.
“Don’t you dare touch her!” Will yelled.
“Hey, relax, I just want to see. Hey, did you make this?”
“Yeah I did. What of it?”
“It’s good. Maybe you’re not such a wimp after all.”
The big boy handed the box back. “But your dog is sure a wimp. I watch you walking her every day. She’s so scared of that bulldog. It’s funny.”
“I don’t think it’s funny. But she’ll learn.” Will turned and walked away.
“Hey, kid, I know you don’t have lunch money now. But bring me some cookies on Monday.”
“There is no school on Monday,” Will called back. Then he had an idea. “But you said you see us on our walk. I’ll bring out some cookies in case we see you. Special Christmas cookies. My Mom will be baking all weekend.”
He looked back and saw Bubba standing there, for once with no words. Just staring. Will wondered what the other boy was thinking? Plotting some revenge? Or maybe…
As soon as he reached his house, Will grabbed Doxie’s leash and called her. She came running. Will grabbed a few cookies as well. He had an idea.
“Come on, Doxie. Time for a walk. I stood up to Bubba, it’s time for you to stand up to that bulldog.”
They ran down the block together, Doxie’s long ears flapping happily. But she turned tail as soon as they reached the white house.
Will knelt down and stroked her muzzle.
“Look, Doxie, he is on a chain. He can’t hurt you. I will stand right by you. Just try it, okay?”
Will stood between the fence and Doxie. Then he held out a piece of cookie. Doxie took a few steps. The bulldog rushed the fence, growling. Doxie shrank back. But Will kept talking and holding out the cookie. “Come on, girl, you can do it.” She took another step. Then another. The bulldog gave up and went back to his porch. Will and Doxie got beyond the fence and crossed the street.
“You did it, Doxie, you did it!” Will gave her the piece of cookie. Doxie jumped up on Will, wagging her tail.
They walked two more streets, with Doxie prancing the entire way. On the way back, she only hesitated a minute before walking right by the white house. She ignored the growling coming from the porch. When they were past the house, Doxie looked up at Will, wagging her tail.
“She did it, didn’t she?”
Will flinched when he heard Bubba’s voice. But then he remembered his promise. Bubba bend down to pet Doxie.
“You may be little but you’re okay, hotdog.” He added in a quiet voice, ”Sure wish I had a dog.”
“Maybe you could ask Santa, I mean your parents,” Will suggested. “That’s what I did.”
“I’ve asked over and over. It’s always the same answer. My Mom says a dog costs money and she doesn’t have any time to take care of it. We live over there, kid, not in this neighborhood.” He pointed down the street to the ramshackle apartment building that Will always avoided.
“Oh, well uh, maybe you could help me with Doxie. You seem to know something about dogs.”
“You mean it?”
“Yeah, but she’s little. You can’t go around calling her names. And if you hurt me, she might bite you.”
Bubba actually smiled. Maybe he wasn’t so mean after all, Will decided.
“Why do you come over to my street?”
Bubba shrugged. “I like seeing all the Christmas lights people put up. And at suppertime, I smell good food.”
“Doesn’t you mother cook?
“I told you, she’s real busy. She cooks but at work. I get my own supper.”
“Oh.” Will didn’t know what else to say.
“Hey, Bubba, have a cookie.” He held out one of his two remaining ones.
“And if you come on Monday, that’s the day after Christmas, you could help me train Doxie. I think it’s time. And there will be lots of cookies to eat. And maybe someday, maybe…. you could have supper at my house. My mom is a great cook.”
Bubba smiled. “You may be a wimp, but you’re okay, kid. Yeah, thanks, I’ll come.”
“Okay, see you Monday then. Merry Christmas. Oh, and Bubba, my name is Will, not kid.”
Bubba nodded. “My name is Bill,” he said. “Merry Christmas. I hope you get all you want, Will.” A fleeting smile crossed his face. . “And then maybe you’ll let me play with your stuff?”
Will nodded. Then he picked up the leash. “Come on, girl, race you home.”