“Wilson, would you come up here?”
Mr. Hickey, our well-loved elementary school principal, was standing up in front of my fourth-grade class, beckoning to one of my classmates.
It took Wilson some time to get out from behind his small desk and up to the front of the room. For Wilson was fat. Quite fat.
Well, perhaps not by today’s standards, when grossly-overfed children are not uncommon, and the majority of children are fat, but the very round Wilson stood out in those days.
When Willie finally made it to the front, Mr. Hickey, a warm man who was loved by all—despite the well-worn paddle kept on the wall beside his desk—Mr. Hickey stood Willie facing the class and hugged him affectionately with one of his own meaty arms.
For Mr. Hickey himself was fat. He was almost as big around as he was tall.
Mr. Hickey called out to the class:
“Who here likes spaghetti?”
Hands shot up all over the room.
Mr. Hickey looked down at Wilson for a moment.
“Willie: Do you like spaghetti?”
Willie was shy, but he was a good, obedient boy, and the principal was asking him a question.
“Me, too. It looks like you like it a lot! Maybe a little too much!” “Is that true?”
Willie hung his head a little. “Yes.”
Some children laughed.
“Me, too!” (Patting his own belly, smiling, rolling his eyes, and looking at the class.)
Mr. Hickey called out again, smiling just like before:
“Now, who here would want to be made fun of for liking spaghetti?”
No hands were raised.
“And who here thinks it’s okay to make fun of Willie for liking spaghetti?”
The room was dead silent.
“Then I don’t think I need to say anything else to any of you about this ever again, do I?”
Mr. Hickey asked our teacher if he could borrow Willie. Then, he walked that boy from classroom to classroom and repeated that lesson in each classroom and grade of our entire elementary school. When Willie returned later that day, he was beaming.
God bless you, Mr. Hickey.
This is part one of a multi-part series on bullying.
If you’ve missed this NPR item, you really ought to take a look. It’s a wowser. I find the misogyny it points out especially notable because the woman being criticized is attractive and not even that overweight. The attitude of some men today is, apparently, “How DARE a woman show her face or body in a public performance venue unless she match a standard no human can meet without starvation and surgery?” It is a given that all the male critics in question look like Adonis.