Mrs. Arends in Her Heyday

📅 October 22, 2020

This story will not be complete until I tell you the beginning, who my mother was and still is, somewhere in the deep places of her soul.

Virginia Wilson was born in Amarillo, Texas, on May 17, 1929 to Ralph and Alma Wilson, and spent the better part of her childhood in South Plains, Texas, a “wide spot” in the road, where I accompanied her in 2005, so she and I could revisit our Texas roots.  

Born the year the Great Depression began, “Gin,” as her family called her, was reared by hardworking parents, but like everyone else of that era, grew up poor. Photos from her childhood confirm this. Clean but well-worn clothes, no shoes, or near worn out shoes, and a host of similarly clad playmates, carbon copies of the Wilson children.

The story I was told was that my grandmother Alma “worked for the public,” which I interpreted as cleaning of some sort, perhaps laundry. For as long as I knew her, my grandmother worked in a dry cleaners. Long after she had been diagnosed with cancer, she kept working “a press,” and when her lungs would fill with fluid, she would drive herself on the Los Angeles freeways to the hospital, have her lung drained, and be back at work the next day.

My grandfather—again, this is from scant information I have, not the whole story—was a dreamer, and “anytime he had two nickels to run together,” would move the family somewhere else, always hoping for better days and greener pastures. I assume that is true. The general consensus on getting through the Depression was to be on the move.  

Perhaps it was these early “hard scrabble” days, as they were described, which caused my grandmother to instill in my mother the need to be “independent.”

And that is precisely what Virginia Wilson did. She graduated from high school early, went to West Texas State College, again graduating early, and got a job at the Air Force base in Amarillo. That’s where she met Carl Arends, who had joined the Air Force and left his home in Jacksonville, Florida.

They met and six weeks…yes, weeks… later they got married. Their only daughter—by which I mean me—was born the following year.

Virginia Arends became a high school teacher. I remember her teaching at Seminole High School, Denver City High School and then, when we moved to Florida in 1967, teaching at Terry Parker High School.  

She worked till retirement age, retired, and then came back to Terry Parker as a substitute.

She taught both English and business subjects, particularly typing and shorthand.

More times than I can count, when we would be shopping or eating out, someone would approach my mother, call out “Mrs. Arends,” and then thank her for “teaching me to type,” and list the multiple opportunities and benefits they had received from her insistence they learn the keyboard.

If she caught them looking at their keys, while doing an exercise—she bragged to me many times—she would march straight to the student, yank the paper from the carriage, tear it up, and then tape a file folder to the front of the typewriter, to make a roof over their hands, so they could not look at the letters.

And yes, my mother could type faster than a speeding bullet.

As devoted a business and English teacher as she was, she was even more devoted to being a Sunday School teacher.

She always…and I do not use that word lightly…always had the Bible open somewhere—on the kitchen table or a desk. She had an extensive library of devotional books, concordances, study Bibles, maps, handbooks, and commentaries.

When we lived in Denver City (1960-67), her mentor was Sweetie Belle Toler, a lovely, soft, fluffy, gray-haired saint, who had arthritis so afflicting, she had to sit in a rocking chair on the last row of First Baptist Church of Denver City. Every Saturday without fail, my mother would put me in the backseat of our 1956 White Ford and we would drive to “Toler’s” house and pick her up.

Then we would drive to Dairy Mart No. 1 where I would get a Broil-a-Burger No. 2 with smoke sauce (I can taste it even now) and a vanilla creme Dr. Pepper. I would eat in the back seat while my mother and Toler talked about the Sunday School lesson for the next Sunday, going over verse after verse, verse by verse, “line upon line, precept upon precept.”

That instilled in me at a very young age how important the Bible was—that it was not just any book—it was not to be handled lightly—it had life-changing significance—it was quite simply the most important thing in the world to know God and present His truth accurately. None of this they “said,” but I knew by the tone of their voices and the length of time they spent studying and “convening,” that this was serious business. That conviction has never left me.

This is my principal memory of my childhood with my mother.

Even now, with the scantest memory left, she can quote Bible verses she has long loved and lived.


  1. Teresa Haney

    Thank You So Much for Sharing this Story of the Early Life of Your Sweet Mom, Virginia Wilson Arends. My Memories include her quoting passages of Scripture in Her Sunday School Class (of which I was a Member) and encouraging – or forcing – us to Memorize the Precious Word of God. Our Class, the TLC Sunday School Class at Trinity Baptist Church, is also a part of her Legacy.

  2. Judy

    Wow! I love reading this about your mom and look forward to the future installments. She was always “Holly’s mom” to me, but I loved her quick wit, her laugh, and her love for the Bible, which has definitely been passed on to you! But she was also a good barber and saved Paul lots of money in haircuts when we still lived in Jacksonville!

  3. Kathie

    I always thought of your mother as a strong, confident, deeply religious person and she was as long as I knew her. She loved you and your daddy so much. You were lucky to have her this long, and I just wish she could remember what a great person she is.

  4. Kathie Morris

    I don’t know if you ever heard this story about your daddy. He was one of the kindest and wisest men I ever knew and I fully understood how painful this story was for him.

    He was in the service and had not seen his mama for a while and wanted to go home for a visit. He was told they would fly him home to Jacksonville if he took a prisoner back. He agreed.

    When they wereleaving they told him he had to sit the whole flight with the prisoner handcuffed and holding a gun on him. The prisoner was very young and he cried and begged your Daddy to let him go. He just wanted to go home and see his mother.

    Your daddy told my mama he never did anything as hard in his life as that. He said it just broke his heart to see this young man so unhappy and not be able to tell him.

  5. Shalanda Braman

    I remember Mrs. Arends as the kindest teacher. She taught me English in 10th grade, many years ago. A fellow student and I road to church with her every Sunday and in the afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Arends took us to lunch at Captain D’s. I would love to tell her hello and thank you for being so kind to me. I was in a very odd place in my life before I moved back to Virginia and it gave me some normalcy to my unique life. I will never forget her kindness.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Holly Bebernitz

Native Texan Holly Bebernitz moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 1967. After thirty years of teaching speech, English, and history on the secondary and college levels, she retired from classroom teaching to become a full-time grandmother. The change in schedule allowed the time needed to complete the novel she had begun writing in 1998. When Trevorode the Defender was published in March 2013, the author realized the story of the Magnolia Arms was not yet complete.


Semi-Finalist - 2021 Royal Palm Literary Award Competition - Florida Writer's Association