Mama’s Last Church Service

From Kathy Rhodes, editor Muscadine Lines (Southern Literary Review)

A young Elsa

“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.

Elsa Frawley passed away April 29, 2010

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?”

Elsa and daughter Joy in Mexico

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!”


Author’s note:
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.


Author Joy Ross Davis on the steps of the Mileybright Inn

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)

Please visit the author at:

All are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble:

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Author of the novels The Final Salute, Johnnie Come Lately & Seven Wings to Glory. Former contributor to Family Circle Magazine and Military Times. Future work represented by agent Diane Nine, Nine Speakers Inc.

7 thoughts on “Mama’s Last Church Service”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed the story about your mother in church! Is nothing sacred? haha Obviously not! God bless her and may she be making a joyous sound in heaven right now! And God bless you for giving up a career to care for her. Your story reminded me of something that happened one time – though not IN church, it definitely had something to do with church conduct. “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.” ha! When I was expecting our first son (a college prep English teacher), we attended the funeral of my first cousin who had lived a very colourful, mostly godless life until she contracted cancer. She then gave her life and the hereafter some serious thought, and probably at the request of, or in honor of our mutual Grandmother Wilson, they had a minister from the church that I was familiar with from my youth. He took the opportunity to preach to these people that he knew nothing about yet considered hell bent, a gospel sermon and convert all these unlovely people from their heathenistic (?) ways, and he only had one opportunity – the funeral service!! After a very long time and the shuffling began and the whispers of discontent from those who came to honour Bonnie Sue only, with no plans for an hour sermon, a long, tall cowboy stood up in the back of the funeral home and said, in a very loud voice, “GET ON WITH IT! We came to honour Bonnie, not listen to you!” He brought his very long sermon to an instant close and I secretly giggled all the way home (a very long journey and we had all ridden together), as he and my folks complained bitterly about the obnoxious cowboy. Ha! I still laugh today every time I think of it.

  2. What a delightful way to remember one’s Mom and not all the sad times.

    I love the name of the magazine, Muscadine Lines. So Southern! My. Mother made a recipe for Muscadine Rolls, and I’m the only one in the family to have it. I will remember those times when she taught me to prepare them this Mother’s day.

    Wishing you a wonderful family-filled weekend.

    Love from SC, NITA

  3. This is a beautiful way in which to remember your mother. Thank you for sharing, and thank you to Joy for letting you share.

  4. Wonderful mama story, Joy. Sounds like your mom enjoyed her life right to the end, even if she did create a waves. Your love and sense of humor shine through. Thanks for sharing the story with us, Kathleen, including your sweet introduction.

    1. Elaine,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed reading Joy’s story about her mother. Joy was her caregiver until the end and there were days… She truly has a gift when it comes to writing about people in good times and hard times and all points in between.

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