The devil went down to North Carolina.
When I was little, I prayed for red shoes. When I say I prayed for red shoes, I mean I prayed hard for red shoes.
I went outside to pray, so as to eliminate any blockage between God and my prayers and I think I even threw in some thees and thous. I didn't leave anything to chance either. I told Him exactly and very specifically which red shoes I needed and where He could probably get them. I didn't want God wasting His time dropping shoes from Heaven if I wasn't going to really love them.
Now, in my little six year old head I thought I had this prayer thing all figured out. The preacher in our little Southern Baptist church had delivered a fiery sermon about how wonderful God was and how the reason we didn't have what we needed was because we didn't believe He was big enough to meet our needs. And as usual in our church, he made sure you also knew that if you didn't believe that, you were going straight to Hell. Or as my little cousin and I called it, "down there".
At six years old, I was surprisingly well versed in the landscape of Hell and all it's goings on. Even though I was not allowed to ever utter the word itself, I was allowed to sit in big people church every Sunday and hear all about it.
Hell was a dark, scary place where the devil lived. It was just one big hole in the earth filled with fire and little red men with horns that did whatever the devil told them to do, which was mostly to laugh at the people that got sent down there and poke them with those pitch forks they each carried. I knew for sure I was going to avoid Hell at all costs. You didn't have to tell me twice, Brother.
My parents, young and stupid and not having the expertise of Dr. Phil to fall back on when facing a child rearing dilemma, found the devil and Hell to be quite the effective parenting tool. They were quick to remind little six year old girls exactly where they would wind up if they didn't walk the straight and narrow. The devil himself would creep up from down there and immediately nab you in the event you smacked your brother with a tree limb, didn't eat all your vegetables or Heaven forbid, you told a lie. There was no stopping him and no second chances. If the devil made that trip all the way to your house to get you, you can bet you were going to stay got.
By all accounts, most of the time I was a pretty good girl. I didn't sass my Momma and Daddy, I rarely tortured my little brother Chad and I surely did not lie. Well, at least I tried never to lie.
But as you might imagine, occasionally little girls feel the need to protect themselves from something they fear even worse than the devil himself. Their Daddy. If your Daddy has told you in no uncertain terms not to do something and you go ahead and give it a whirl anyway, you know lying is your only option. There is no telling your Daddy that you directly disobeyed a lawful order. No explaining that you weighed the pros and cons and you found his judgment to be a little askew on the issue so you decided to go ahead and pursue it against his advise. You lie, Baby. You lie like a big dog.
And so I did. I looked my big ole Daddy right square in the eyes and told an untruth. It doesn't matter what the dirty little secret was that I was hiding. Who knows? Maybe I didn't really eat my lima beans, but instead chose to stuff them in the book shelf under the Encyclopedia Britannica. Maybe the red welt on my brother's back was not due to a freak swinging accident as I had suggested, but in fact the direct result of my attempt to encourage his three year old annoying self to get out of my sand box. A lie is a lie is a lie and in my heart, I knew that sadly I would soon be leaving for Hell. It was just a question of when.
I went to bed that night dealing not only with the awesome guilt of having lied to my Daddy, the man I adored more than anyone or anything in my life, but with the full knowledge that soon the horned red man from "down there" was going to show up just at any moment to escort me to my new, hot home.
I grabbed my trusty baton and tucked it under my bed spread and wrapped my fingers tightly around it. My mother had insisted that I take not only piano lessons, but baton twirling as well and since I couldn't fit my piano in bed with me, I always slept with my baton. It was a fearsome instrument of protection. I knew that because the Jolly Green Giant had slept under my bed for years just waiting to eat me alive and the only thing that kept him from yelling, "Ho, Ho, Ho" and eating me finger by finger, was the fear of my two dollar baton from Roses Five & Dime. If I was going to hell, I wasn't going without a fight.
I had a plan. I would stay awake until I saw him in my room and then I would beat him within an inch of his life with my terrible baton. I needed first to determine how he'd enter my room. Naturally my first thought was that he'd slither up from under my bed, but I quickly remembered that the Jolly Green Giant was already occupying the space and I couldn't imagine enough room under there for the devil, too. No. He'd have to either come in through the closet or from the hallway. Lucky for me, I could see both by staring straight ahead.
I'd had a hard day, what with the stress of perpetuating a lie and planning on doing battle with Satan and all, so not surprisingly I eventually drifted off to sleep despite my overwhelming sense of impending doom.
I should probably mention here that we lived in the country and my Daddy was a southern farm boy from way back. As a result, it got country dark where I lived at night and for those of you that don't know what that means, it was pitch black dark. No street lights, no lights from the neighbor's houses and God forbid my Daddy would spend a nickel on the amount of electricity it would have taken to operate a night light. Night lights were for sissies and Daddy wasn't raising no sissies. All I'm saying is it was dark.
I don't know what woke me up. It could have been my brother wiggling around in the bed next to mine. Or it could have been a dog barking in the distance outside. For whatever reason, I woke up sometime in the middle of the dark, black night. And the first thing I could make out in that darkness?
You guessed it. Lucifer himself was standing right outside my doorway staring in at me!
I know I had a plan. It was supposed to be just me against the devil. I was going to pulverize him with my shiny baton and send him whimpering back to the pits of Hell. I would be a hero at church. Probably the pastor would do a sermon just about me whipping Satan and everyone would want to hear me tell all about it again and again. My parent's would be so proud to be the Momma and Daddy to the little girl known the world over for opening a can of Whoop Ass on the devil.
It didn't go exactly according to plan.
The truth is, when I saw those horns, which were way bigger in real life than what most people realize, my plan went right out the window. I froze. I tried to scream, but nothing came out. I tried to tighten my fingers around my weapon, but they wouldn't move. And he just stood there in my doorway, ugly old big-horned devil mocking me and laughing at the idea that the King of the underworld could be beaten by a six year old girl.
After what seemed like an eternity, my vocal cords loosened up and I could make a noise. I screamed! When I say I screamed, I don't mean I made a noise like a human child makes when upset. I mean I flat cut loose with a cry so blood curdling the chicks in slasher movies would have to applaud.
My Daddy says when he heard that god-awful wail coming from our bedroom, all he could think was that someone had gotten in the house and was trying to get us. Little did he know that someone had broken in! Daddy tore out of his bed, dressed only in his underwear and tore down the hallway. In the process, he knocked every picture off the wall and banged himself up pretty good. My mother, apparently much like her daughter, lie frozen in fear in their bed. She couldn't move.
Daddy made it into our room, flipped on the bedroom light and ran to me. Still I screamed. Nothing was going to stop me. I mean seriously,the devil was right behind Daddy and screaming seemed like the only logical response. So, I screamed and I screamed and I screamed. If I couldn't run the devil off by beating him, maybe I could scare him away with my voice!
Somehow, someway, my Daddy got me about half way calmed down. Now I was just shaking and emitting little, tiny whimpering screams.
"What's the matter girl? What in the world is the matter?" Daddy demanded.
"The devil! The devil! He's come to get me", I finally managed to get some words out now. "There he is! He's right there!" pointing to the hallway, where I might add the devil had stood his ground during all the commotion.
Daddy turned to look in the direction I was pointing and then walked toward the hallway. By gosh, he was going to beat the sense out of Satan himself for trying to take his little girl. Now that old devil would be sorry. My Daddy could whip anybody. Even the prince of darkness.
But instead of throwing down with the devil, Daddy reached across the way and flipped on the hallway light. There, just across from my doorway propped up against the opposite wall was my tormenter. My mother's folded up ironing board. Great long horns and all. Daddy was not amused.
Which brings me back to praying for my red shoes in my front lawn. I held my face toward Heaven, squeezed my eyes so, so tight and offered the single most eloquent prayer ever uttered by a six year old. I just knew when I opened my eyes, there they'd be all red and shiny and ready for all the dancing I would secretly do.
Guess what? When I opened my eyes, no shoes. God didn't just hide them either, trying to have some fun with me. I looked. They were no where to be found. He didn't meet my needs! I needed those shoes and I didn't get them. What was up with that?
It would be many, many years and many, many tears later that I would finally figure out that God was not the same as the Sears Wishbook and that He most certainly did not allow a big-horned devil to snatch you up the instant you did something bad.
What a relief that was!