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Christmas Came in many delightful ways to readers of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED this year, but it is doubtful if anywhere it brought more cheer than to the home of 12-year-old Kirk Williamson of Jacksonville, Texas. The story tells so well the kind of pleasant things that are likely to happen when our readers start writing letters that I am glad to be able to pass it on to you.
It began a couple of years ago when young Master Williamson, recovering in a hospital from a bout with polio, read James Street's novel, Goodbye My Lady, which is a fantasy about an uncommon and particularly charming breed of dog, the Basenji. In its issue of last September 19, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED carried an account of the goings on in Albany, Georgia, where the motion-picture adaptation of the book was being filmed. Shortly afterward SI received two communications, one from Kirk, which asked simply for any additional information we could send him on the Basenji; the other from Mrs. Bettina Belmont Ward, a leader in Basenji breeding of Middleburg, Virginia, who felt that our story (which pointed out that the Basenji, when called upon to star in the role of quail hunter, presents some problems) did not give the breed its deserved due.
The coincidence of letters naturally suggested putting Mrs. Ward and Kirk in touch with each other. Mrs. Ward was only too happy to send "masses of literature" on Basenjis to Jacksonville, Texas. Kirk was only too happy to devour them.
The correspondence flourished, until Christmas when Bettina's Bronze Star, a canine traveler from Virginia, who celebrated his first birthday the next day, arrived wagging his tightly curled tail at the Williamson home near Jacksonville. A gift from Mrs. Ward and known as "Tubby" to his intimates, "He is," wrote Mrs. Ward, "generally an extra-special dog and already has 12 points on his championship."
As a hunter, Tubby is so far untested, but Kirk has plans to try his talents on squirrels. The Basenji, which does not bark, can scream, laugh and maybe sometimes yodel.
There are also rumors, without foundation in Mrs. Ward's experience, that he weeps when unhappy. It's no rumor, however, but a fact that Kirk Williamson can weep when he's happy. "He was," Mrs. Ward said, "in tears when he called to thank me for Tubby. I can hardly express the pleasure it gave me."
And, I should add, the pleasure it's given to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.