I grew up spending at least one week each summer at Lylewood Christian Camp. Like all camps, Lylewood has certain spooky stories that get repeated. The main ones, in order of popularity, concerned Mad Myrtle, Baby Jim, and Sonny. Mad Myrtle was (spoiler alert!) completely made up, Baby Jim was based somewhat in reality though greatly embellished, and Sonny, well, Sonny was real.
Sonny lived near the camp as was often described as “not all there.” He wasn’t dangerous, but you could often see the glow of his cigarette at the top of the hill at camp in the night. Stories about him involved his near silent (but extremely fast) running, his penchant for following us (just out of sight) on hikes, and generally just showing up and watching over camp in the middle of the night. He was reported to wear mostly white and whenever the campers were gathered to listen to such stories, they invariably ended with a counselor dressed in a white t-shirt running out from the trees to the screams of audience.
When I became a counselor, I took my turns telling the stories. I enjoyed telling them and loved getting the campers worked up. That all changed one week. It was the middle of the day and I was picked to haul the trash to the dumpsters a few miles down the road (mainly because I had a pickup). Two of us were going and we noticed a third friend alone on the tennis court. We mistakenly believed he needed us to cheer him up, so we kidnapped him.
Getting to the dumpsters involved passing Sonny’s house. He was often working in his yard or sitting on his porch. Whenever we passed, he would always wave. That day, he was mowing. We were inside the truck with the air running full blast, but still, the exact moment we said his name, he looked up from his mower and waved. We shivered and convinced ourselves it was a coincidence.
We made it to the dumpsters and laughed about a recurring theme from the week as we unloaded the trash. The director had used the phrase “Crap on you, God loves me.” in one of his lessons. It was, of course, seized upon and repeated ad nauseam. This phrase caused a slight problem on our return trip.
As we passed back by Sonny’s house, the friend we had kidnapped (who also just wanted us to leave him alone for a moment), rolled down and climbed halfway out the window as we barreled down the road. Then, very uncharacteristically, pointed and yelled, “Crap on you Sonny! God Loves me!”
He slipped back completely in the truck. We stared at him, not just because it was so unlike him to do such a thing, but also because we were in awe and a little frightened.
“You just yelled at Sonny!”
“You just yelled at Sonny.” It was the only point we had.
We told the rest of the staff what happened when we got back. I didn’t give it much thought again until the trash needed hauling off the next day. As I passed Sonny’s house, he was sitting on his porch, but he didn’t wave as I went by. When I passed by again after unloading the trash, he stood in the middle of the yard, looked right at me, and did not wave. He did not wave at me the rest of the week. That was also the week the rear window of my truck got mysteriously smashed one night. It was also the week I stopped telling Sonny stories.
Three or four years went by without Sonny waving to me. During that time, I resisted the pleas to tell Sonny stories. I still told tales of Mad Myrtle and Baby Jim, but Sonny was off limits as far as I was concerned. Finally one night I agreed to tell one, but on my terms.
I started by telling the story of that day of hauling the trash, Sonny no longer waving, and my broken window. Then, on the hillside with only the campers and staff in sight, I addressed Sonny directly.
“Sonny, I know you’re here even though most of these kids think you;re just a story. I know you’re nearby and listening, just as you always are. I want you to know I’m sorry. One of us was having a bad day. We didn’t mean anything by it, but we shouldn’t have done it. Please forgive me, because I really am sorry.”
The friend who actually yelled at Sonny also added his own apology. The irony, of course, is that the campers freaked out that we talked to Sonny and they kept nervously looking around for him. We never saw him of course, most of that was always just a story.
The next day I was taking off the trash. I felt better having offered my apology, even if it was only to the assembled camp and thin air. I had hurt the boogeyman’s feelings (who was, after all, just a man), but had somewhat made it right. I turned the corner before Sonny’s house. He was sitting on his porch, but stood up when I came into view. He lifted one hand and waved. I waved back and smiled, knowing my apology was accepted.