I felt at first like I was dreaming. When I received the message from the International Women’s Writing 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.
When I married in 1985, my husband was still fighting the war in Vietnam, although it had been over for years. In his mind, though, the war raged on, year after bloody year. As a civilian, he was an attorney, but as a young enlisted man of 19, he was a member of the elite Green Berets.
He’d left an unhappy home and enlisted when he was 18. He took to the military life and within a short time, he gained the respect of many of his fellow enlisted men. He became an expert target shooter, won several awards, and because of his skills with a weapon, was eventually called into the Green Berets. It was his crowning glory.
And this is where his story stops. Dead still.
His memories would become clouded, he said. Dates, times, and places lost all of their continuity, but not all of their power over him. He was enlisted in the Green Berets to be a “cleaner.” It was his job to advance into areas to make sure that they were clean….devoid of any living soul. It was his job, he said, to clean up. He couldn’t remember anything else.
There were nights when he screamed in his sleep, nights when he woke enraged, terrified, fighting back an enemy. Even though he loved me, at night in his dreams, I became that enemy he tried to choke, beat, and strangle…the enemy that must be crushed. When he was in that killer mind, there was nothing I could do. It didn’t happen every night, not even once a week, but when it did happen, I’d be caught unawares, terrified and defenseless. And he would be exactly the same….caught unaware, memories flooding his mind of terrified screams and pleas for life.
He was a big man, my Jack, tall and broad shouldered with powerfully muscular arms. They were arms that could hold and comfort and arms that could break a neck or crush a windpipe. He was a good man with a generous heart, but at night in those horrible dreams, he became the hunted, the soldier defending his life, striking out at anyone in his path.
By day, he was a successful lawyer winning every case that came his way. But by night—no matter how much medicine he took–he became again a member of the Green Berets, that young man whose job it was to “clean” every area.
Our marriage was not a successful one, but by some miracle, our love for each other stayed strong. When he passed away in 1993, I was at his bedside, listening with tears in my eyes as he breathed his last words, “Joy. Joy.”
The author is a student of the lore and magic of the back hills of Tennessee. She writes imaginative fiction featuring unusual angels as main characters. She has lived and worked in Alabama for most of her life. She has a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and for many years, taught English at a local community college. She retired to become a caregiver for her mother who suffered from dementia. For several months in 2007, she lived in Ireland and worked as a travel writer and photographer. She lives in Alabama with her son and three rescue dogs.
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)