I was eight years old when I moved to Roseville with my mother. My dad had died the year before. My mom always said I was now the man of the house. I thought about that on my first day to attend Roseville Elementary School. Mom wanted to take me there in our little yellow VW as she had on the day I registered, but I pleaded to be allowed to walk the seven blocks. She reluctantly relented, but made me promise that I would not cross our busy street except with the traffic guards at the school. I would soon regret that promise.
Four blocks from our house I stopped to admire an unusual gate. It looked very old, the bottom half mended with various pieces of wood. The top had small glass panes. It was supported by sturdy, but rustic, posts A profusion of white blossoms hung over the high fence from a tree inside. It framed the gate and gave it a friendly look. I was about to peer through the glass panes in hopes of seeing the house within when something crashed against the gate amid furious barking. The gate trembled as though it would burst open. For a moment I froze, then I ran. The angry barking followed me inside the fence and I glimpsed through the foliage a big black dog. I ran to the end of the block and the next one after that before stopping. My heart was pounding as though it wanted to escape from my chest. I thought of days to come. There was no way I was going to tell my mother that I was afraid to walk alone to school. My first day in third grade passed in a blur. I couldn't get that dog out of my mind.
For three days I ran the gauntlet. Each time white blossoms fluttered to the sidewalk as though to acknowledge my passing. I feared the gate might be weakening. It had begun to invade my dreams. Our teacher, Mrs. Warren, talked to us that week about Atilla the Hun, ferocious warrior-king. I began to think of my nemeses by that name. The message was clear: He wanted to tear me limb from limb. I had to do something. But what?
On Friday, the last day of school, I began my run past the dreaded yard when the gate suddenly swung open and Atilla the Hun burst through barking excitedly. "No," I cried and flung up my arms. But instead of attacking me, he raised up on hind legs. It was then that I saw the leash and soon after that an elderly man. "Stop that," the man demanded, and amazingly, the big dog stopped barking and dropped to his feet, but strained at his leash to get to me
"Naughty boy," said a feminine voice and a small woman in a blue dress, a flower-covered hat resting jauntily on her gray head, wheeled herself through the gate. Seeing me she said, "Don't be afraid young man. He won’t hurt you. He just wants to be friends. "I doubted that very much and my shaking limbs told a different story.
"Just put out your hand like this." She extended her hand palm down. "Let him smell your hand. That's how he gets to know you." The dog was allowed to approach me and I put out a trembling hand with visions of it disappearing into his mouth. His cold wet nose sniffed my hand. He licked it. "He likes you," the woman declared.
Then his paws were on my chest and he was licking my face. I gasped, began laughing and blinking away tears as I tentatively put my arms about him. And that is how Atilla the Hun and I became fast friends and the old garden gate framed in its fragrant white blossoms once again wore a friendly face.
Debra Beck Lennox Big River Farm, Springtime photopolymer etching