I felt at first like I was dreaming. When I received the message from the International Women Writers Guild (IWWG) that they wanted me to be a presenter at their upcoming conference, I could hardly believe it. It isn’t often that a small-town Southern writer is asked to do such a thing, especially in Pennsylvania, far from my home in Alabama. I’d dreamed of this for three years, submitting several proposals in hopes of garnering a spot. And now, I was to be the presenter of two workshops at the IWWG conference at Muhlenberg College in Allentown!
Once I arrived, I felt that familiar sense of place, a college campus buzzing with activity. I walked around the Commons relishing memories of the campus in my hometown where I’d taught for many years. The first workshop went even better than I could have imagined. I shared a part of my life with those in attendance, and every day thereafter, we shared, we talked, we cried, we laughed, and we healed.
On my fourth night there, I was laughing with my roommates, all of us gathered in my room, when my phone rang.
“Mama,” the voice on the other end sobbed, “she’s dead, Mama. Rachael died.”
I thought I must be dreaming again. No, this couldn’t be true. Rachael, my son Matthew’s fiancée, was only thirty-six years old.
“Mama,” he struggled again amidst his sobs. “She’s dead. Rachael died tonight. Do you think she will go to Heaven?”
My heart broken and shock setting in, I remember very little about the rest of that night. But what I do remember is this: I dreamed that Rachael and I were standing on an immense, glimmering white sidewalk. I tried to pull her forward, but she resisted. I reached for her again, and she relaxed. We walked together up that shining white sidewalk. At the end of the sidewalk, a shimmering—almost blinding—white light glowed, and in the background, I thought I could see two immense white wings. Rachael looked over at me and I nodded. She stepped forward, off the sidewalk, and into the light.
I left the conference early to be with my family. And with that dream in my mind, now I could answer Matthew’s question.
“Yes, honey, she did go to Heaven, and the angels were waiting for her.”
In loving memory of Rachael Headrick, a young woman tortured by demons: a mother, a daughter, and a loving partner now safely home in the loving arms of angels.
Joy Ross Davis is of Irish descent and a student of the lore and magic found in the hills of Tennessee. After a twenty-five year career as a college English professor, she traveled to Ireland and worked as a writer and photographer, publishing numerous travel articles and photos for an Irish travel agency. She has been a contributing feature writer for a local newspaper and has published articles in Southern literary magazines. She lives in Alabama with her son and beloved dogs. She loves to speak at conferences, book club meetings, and events to share her connection with angels and the stories behind her books. To learn more clickhere.
I saw the first jonquils yesterday. Maybe six to a cluster, dressing up an otherwise barren garden in late February. I was just passing by on my way to the house when I looked up from the road and was taken back by this sudden gold. Buttery trumpets turned up to the sun, a subtle sign that spring had come. They’re the jonquils! Some call ‘em daffodils. The first to sprout forth after winter’s kill. From gnarled old bulbs planted deep in the earth, come these bright sunny jonquils to welcome in spring. But they’re more than just pleasing and pretty to me. They’re proof that life, though harsh as it seems, still gives us a flower to rekindle our dreams…
Author’s note: Jonquils make an appearance in my 2nd novel, Johnnie Come Lately. This poem holds special meaning because I wrote it in 1986, three years after losing my youngest brother and months after giving birth to my first son.
I couldn’t stop sobbing after I received a cardinal print from Gold Star mother Beth Karlson of Wisconsin.
It took me about five mintue before I could even read the inscription on the back.
Beth’s oldest son, Army SGT Warren S. Hansen, was KIA 11/15/2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Beth and I met on Facebook about five years ago. We have never met in person. After reading my second novel, Johnnie Come Lately, Beth started leaving photos of cardinals on my FB timeline. A cardinal plays an important role in the novel. In a flashback scene in the story, Grandpa Grubbs tells a young Johnnie, “That’s not just any bird, young lady. That’s an angel bird, flown straight down from heaven.”
About an hour after receiving Beth’s gift, I called her on the telephone to thank her. That’s when she told me she’s had the print about fifteen years. She said one day after reading Johnnie for the second time, she walked by the print and thought, that belongs to Kathleen. When I asked her if Warren had passed by the print while he was still alive, she said, “All the time.”
To receive a gift from a woman who lost a son in combat…well, you can imagine what this means.
In a conversational tone, author Susan Reichert, Editor-In-Chief of Southern Writers Magazine, speaks directly into the fear most of us face at some point in our lives. Be it the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, or addictions that can threaten to tear even the strongest families apart, Susan’s empowering message in her new book, Storms In Life, is that we can go to God in prayer. The book is formatted in ten brief chapters, each interspersed with a short prayer, followed by a scripture suggestion for further reading.
By setting up several realistic scenarios we all dread, the author draws the reader in. In Chapter 7, a police officer knocks on your door in the middle of the night. This can’t be good. How do you keep standing when the worst news of your life threatens to take you down with it?
Emotional storms are just as real as physical storms. When my youngest son deployed to a war zone last year, I found myself almost crippled with fear. Fear can paralyze us and keep us from enjoying life. Susan takes us to a place where we must surrender the control. Of course none of us are ever really in control, but we like to think we are. So when things go wrong, we sometimes have a tendency to think the world is coming to an end.
This slim volume is never preachy. If anything, I found Susan’s book comforting. Storms In Lifeis a nice addition to your daily meditations or the perfect devotional book to keep on your nightstand when fear and anxiety creep into your thoughts and threaten to rob you of sleep.
Death is something we all face. Lives can change in an instant. There are going to be storms in life, both physical and emotional, but it’s how we “batten down the hatches” and prepare ourselves with prayer and scripture that we are able to wait out the storms that threaten to blow our hearts apart.
I highly recommend Susan’s book to anyone who is searching for a way to boss back fear without letting it control our lives.
Susan Reichert is the co-publisher of Southern Writers Magazine and Editor-in-Chief. She also is the leader of Collierville Christian Writers Group (CCWriters Group). Susan and her husband Greg live in Tennessee. They are the parents of four grown daughters, have grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
From Kathy Rhodes, editor Muscadine Lines (Southern Literary Review)
“A few weeks ago I accepted a story for Muscadine Lines from Joy Ross Davis of Bessemer, Alabama, who writes a bi-weekly column for her local newspaper titled “Mother, Can You Hear Me?” The column chronicles her experiences on retiring as a college English professor to become a full-time caregiver for her mother who suffered from dementia. On April 29, I got a brief e-mail from Joy letting me know her mother had just passed away unexpectedly and then a few days ago, she sent me her column about her mother’s actions at Palm Sunday service and said to pass it along to anyone facing this weekend without their mom, that it might bring a smile. I asked to use her story as a guest blog on Mother’s Day, in honor of our mothers and for all of us — my sister and my friends and Joy and me — who join hands and hearts this Sunday and remember those strong, beautiful, remarkable women who will always be with us in spirit, but no longer live where we can reach out and touch them or laugh with them or call them just to shoot the breeze. “
Mama’s Last Church Service
By Joy Ross Davis
Palm Sunday was a landmark day for my mother. After a year’s absence, she attended church. Now, going to church is not usually something that will fill a person with dread. But remember, I’ve been going to church with my mother for years, and I can tell you that what happens once she steps in the door is always unpredictable.
Since she can’t hear well, her voice is unusually loud, and she gets distracted easily. Peggy, our friend and helper, agreed to bring Mother in her car so that my son Clint and I could go a little early.
Palm Sunday services begin outside at Trinity Episcopal with the reading of the Passion, but on this Sunday, a heavy downpour forced us inside. I wondered if the worsening weather would make Mother change her mind about coming.
The small congregation gathered in the entry way of the narthex to begin. As is our tradition, each of us received a small hand-fashioned cross and palm branch. Our new priest, Father Bush, began with a prayer. Then, the rest of us joined in with a gospel reading.
We had said only a few phrases when the large wooden door flew open. Rain spattered inside. My mother appeared and announced in a loud voice, “Hey there, y’all. I’m Elsa Frawley, Joy’s mother. I’m not gonna stand here, though. I’m gonna go sit down while y’all do your thing.”
I glanced at Clint then at our dear friend, Jay Howton. Both were stifling laughs. But Father Bush seemed unaffected. He gently tried to pin a cross on my mother’s blouse. She brushed his hand away.
“Move so I can go sit down!” she said.
He complied and waited for Peggy and Mother to take their seats before he began again. About halfway through the gospel reading, my mother’s voice rose above that of Father Bush’s and drifted all the way to the narthex.
“Isn’t this a pretty church, Peggy? It’s been here for a hunderd years.”
The priest continued. I’m sure I saw him smile as he read.
He finished the gospel. Then, he led the processional down the centre aisle of the sanctuary. Behind him, Jay carried the ornate gospel book. Clint carried the large golden cross on a staff behind Jay.
As Clint walked by, my mother shouted, “Hey honey! You look like a doll!”
I’m absolutely certain that he cringed as he made his way to his seat near the altar.
During the homily, my mother got restless. Just as we began the Lord’s Prayer, she said loud enough for all to hear.
“Hey, Peggy, you got any gum?”
Peggy whispered something to Mother. Clint’s shoulders shook as he tried not to laugh out loud.
About midway through the service, I was certain that Mother would want to leave, just as she’d done years ago in a rather infamous event. After listening to a sermon for a little over twenty minutes, my mother got up, glared at the priest, and stuck out her arm. With her index finger, she tapped several times on her watch, turned around, and walked out.
But this Sunday, she sat through the whole service, and I thought we were home free until it came time for Holy Eucharist. When Mother saw the altar being prepared, she nudged Peggy.
“Come on,” she said in a voice that rang throughout the sanctuary. “It’s just Communion. I’m hungry. Let’s go get a hamburger.”
So, as Father Bush was reciting the Holy Eucharist prayer, my mother and Peggy walked down the aisle and out the door. It banged behind them.
At the service’s end, I shook hands with Father Bush.
“Joy, how’s your mother getting along these days?” he asked.
Before I could answer, he laughed out loud and added, “She’s quite a character!”
In memory of our mother, Elsa Frawley, who passed away on April 29, 2010. The Palm Sunday service was her last church service.
Hans Christian Andersen said, “A life is a story told by God.”
When He told yours, he created quite a character! You stepped on toes, made waves, rocked boats…but you were my mother, and I love you. May God hold you in His arms and delight in all your antics.
Joy Ross Davis lives in Bessemer, Alabama. A student of the lore and magic of the back hills of Tennessee, she writes imaginative fiction. She has a Ph.D in Creative Writing and for many years, she taught English at a local community college. She retired to become a caregiver for her mother who suffered from dementia. She documented her experiences with her mother in a series of articles for a local newspaper. The articles titled, “Mother, Can You Hear Me?” have also been featured in Muscadine Lines, a Southern literary magazine. For several months in 2007, she lived in Ireland and worked as a travel writer and photographer for Tourism Ireland. She is currently teaching English online for the University of Phoenix. She lives with her son and three rescue dogs.
Joy is the author of the novel, Countenance. Her other works include:
Emalyn’s Treasure (Helping Hands Press 2013)
The Transformation of Bitty Brown (Helping Hands Press 2014)
The Sutler of Petersburg (Helping Hands Press 2014)
On the eve of my husband’s surgery to remove a pancreatic cyst, two quilters from our church’s quilt group dropped by the house to present this “prayer quilt” to Tom. Ellen Boston and Pauline McCallum told Tom to wrap himself in its warmth and to know that he is loved and cared for.
As we gathered in a small circle in our living room and Ellen began to pray, Tom lifted the quilt to his heart and opened himself to prayer.
Many thanks to so many people who’ve reached out to us these past few weeks.