It was ridiculous that at the age of twelve I was still afraid of the dark, but there you have it. We lived out in the country, and there was no reason to suppose there were bogeymen hiding around blind corners. But there was just something creepy about the church and those big scraggly bushes growing up around it.
The church looked nice enough, not falling down or anything, but there was never anybody there. It just sat there. I overheard grownups whisper stories when they didn’t know I was listening—a church split, one story went, and another theory was about a pastor dying or maybe even murdered behind the pulpit one Sunday morning, so nobody wanted to go to church there anymore.
Of course such mysteries made it all the more attractive to my loutish older boy cousins and scarier for me.
Some Sunday afternoons, when our parents were busy in Grandpa’s old house drinking coffee and arguing about what somebody paid for a new combine, cousin Carvel helped himself to the keys of his dad’s pickup and piled us all in to go over to the church property, about a mile and a half from Grandpa’s place.
Mind you, there was nothing there but the church and those bushes, so what could we do? Well, play hide and seek, of course, and I was never “it,” so I would have to muster up my courage to hide behind one of the bushes.
It was late in the day the last time we played there. The combination of darkness and deepening shadows nearly paralyzed me. I ran behind the bush farthest from the front of the church where cousin Marvin was counting to 100.
No moon at all tonight. No stars, either.
Oh, it is so dark!
Maybe I went too far.
Now I can’t hear the others at all. When will he call ollie ollie oxen free? Will I hear him?
It’s so quiet.
Should I yell? I don’t really want anyone to find me. Carvel once came to where I was hiding and said we could hide together. I didn’t like that at all.
It’s so quiet.
I feel like crying, but I don’t want them to find me like that.
Oh, I’m really really going to die here. You can die of being afraid, I just know you can.
I won’t cry. I won’t!
“Sing, little one.” A sweet voice close beside me. “Sing with me – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…”
I couldn’t help it. I ran to her. She laid her cheek next to mine. She smelled like lilacs.
So we sang. Jesus loves me, Jesus loves the little children, Heavenly Sunshine…I guess I fell asleep because the next thing I knew my Daddy picked me up and carried me home.
He had been crying, I could tell, but now he was furious. I’d never seen him so angry.
It seems the boys had come back to grandpa’s house, thinking it was quite the joke to leave me there and not tell anybody where I was.
Mama knew I was scared of the dark, and held me tight, telling me she prayed I wouldn’t be afraid.
“Oh, I was crazy afraid at first, but the lilac lady came and we rested until Daddy came.”
Now every spring, when lilacs perfume the air, I remember her, smile and sing, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s something about that name…”