Devil's Den Memories

Sometimes a remembered event from my childhood is so golden that I wonder if it was really that good or if time and distance have colored my perception to create that perfect snapshot of memory. Some memories are like soft-edged, slightly out-of-focus pictures with rosy pink hues and the faint lingering perfume of long ago smells. Others are clear and sharp and bright with primary colors. They stand out in 3-D and exude fondly remembered smells and sounds. One of my favorite summer memories is like that.

If you have ever seen Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” or even heard the theme song, you can picture how it was in my home town in central Oklahoma where “the wind comes sweeping down the plains.” In my city neighborhood, shade trees were scarce, usually not more than one tree per yard. The summer sun blazed, and the winds never ceased. I loved it when we vacationed in other parts of Oklahoma where Nature showed off her stuff. I delighted in seeing her all dressed up in bright green foliage, smelling of moss growing on tree trunks, with sounds of water splashing playfully in the background.

That’s why I relished vacationing at Devil’s Den in southern Oklahoma . We explored the rugged country where legendary outlaws like Jesse James and the Younger gang hid from the law when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory . We hiked nature trails, climbed over boulders, picnicked under the shade trees, and visited the little cabin where the notorious outlaw Belle Starr had once lived. Fun!

My memory of a particular afternoon at Devil’s Den is as clear as a Kodak picture. I can feel the heat of the summer day and the cool relief of breezes sneaking through the green canopy of leaves rustling overhead as we children played outside our modest little cabin. In the afternoon, Mom and Aunt Mabel took us children swimming. They spread out their towels and sat on one of the big rocks that surrounded the rustic spot. The other children and I made our way carefully across the small slippery rocks that tumbled down to the little swimming hole and plunged into the clear, cool water with shrieks of delight. A little farther down from us there was a small rapid where the water gurgled in delight as it escaped noisy children and foamed and churned in its rush down the stream.

We splashed and played while Mom and Aunt Mabel talked and enjoyed the sun. I was having such a good time I didn’t realized that I was gradually drifting further from the others. Suddenly, the ground dropped down several inches. Before I knew what was happening, I was up to my chin in water, and the undertow of the rapids knocked my feet out from under me. I grabbed at one of the big boulders on the bank of the swimming area and hung on with all my strength. The rock was wet and slippery and within seconds my hands slipped until I was hanging on with the tips of my fingers. My body was almost horizontal in the water as the rapids tried to tear me from the boulder. I was terrified!

At this point, Mom was occupied with one of the other kids, and Aunt Mabel was closest to me. I kept saying, “Aunt Mabel…Aunt Mabel…Aunt Mabel.....” I thought I was screaming, but actually she could just barely hear me. Every time I said “Aunt Mabel,” she answered, “What....What, Karen?…What do you need, hon?”

I screamed in my head, “Can’t you see I’m going to drown? Don’t you care? Why don’t you jump in here and rescue me?” In my mind, I thought I wouldn’t live to see third grade! But all I could do was hang on, sputter, and say, “Aunt Mabel…”

It seemed like forever, but it was really all over in a matter of minutes. I struggled until I got my feet down to the mud, dug in with my toes, and finally made it back to safety. The others never even realized I had been in distress. When I got closer to Aunt Mabel, she leaned over the rocks and said, “What do you need, sugar?”

I never did tell her.

Sometimes in my walk with the Lord, I feel like that little child again–smack dab in the middle of the devil’s evil design, in over my head, the current sweeping me away, barely hanging on by my fingertips. I am able to put on a good game face, so those around me may not even realize I’m in distress. But in my heart, I’m screaming, “God, don’t you care that I’m drowning here? Why won’t you jump in and rescue me?”

If my grip had loosened on that rock all those years ago at Devil’s Den, my mother and aunt would have jumped in and rescued me. The water that was deep enough to cover my head only came to their chests. The rapids that tried to sweep me away wouldn’t have been strong enough to withstand their motherly instincts and courage. The fast moving waters and strong undertow looked like the rapids of the Colorado River to the child that I was. My mother and aunt saw them from a different, adult perspective. After all, they would never have allowed us children to swim in an environment that was too dangerous for us.

I must remember that God sees things from a divine perspective. He will not put on me more than I am able to handle. And unlike the human beings who love us, God is never unaware of where we are and what we are going through.

I should never cry out in childishness, “God, don’t you care that I’m drowning?” I should always remember His promise: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you…” (Isaiah 43:2). Heavenly Father is always there to grab me by the hand and guide me to His safety.

Karen Harper DeLoach

Copyright February 2006

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