The Oakleys and the Bennetts

📅 January 4, 2022

I began writing Lawson Payne, Part V of The Magnolia Arms Chronicles, in December 2019. My usual goal is to finish writing a book in two years. I did not quite make that deadline this time.

At present, including “barely begun” Chapter 25, my word count is in the neighborhood of 112,000 words. I estimate I’ll need another 12-15,000 words for a satisfying ending, the details of which have all been written in my head, and are queueing up, waiting to be put on paper…none of them remaining politely in line till I am ready for them.  

Lawson, bless him, is the most complex character I’ve ever wrangled with, and, when he is on the scene, he keeps the Magnolia Arms and everyone in it in a constant state of uncertainty.

Here, for good measure, is the theme: “When considering the past, choose to repay kindness rather than avenge mistreatment.”   

When I began writing Lawson Payne, I chose “January 4th” as the beginning of the story, and I want to take advantage of this day (hopefully) to whet your appetite for the upcoming book, which I anticipate will be ready to launch in the spring. I am aiming for March.  

What I’ve enjoyed most about this book is exploring the back stories of Ivy Leigh Ransom (now Hampton) and Muriel Porter.  

This chapter is titled: “Prologue.” It is not, however, the first chapter in the book.

Like Romeo and Juliet, this story begins with “two households.”

The Oakleys and the Bennetts.

 Were “both alike in dignity” as Shakespeare wrote of his fabled families?

 That depends on the point of view.

 The Oakleys were deemed “dignified,” because of ‘social standing.’ Owners of the most prestigious business in Dennisonville, their house—columned, iron-gated—was a showplace.

The Bennetts possessed the other kind of dignity—‘nobility of character.’ Their house in Plainview—rambling, brown-bricked—was a refuge.

In short, the Oakleys were the family everyone wished they could live like.

The Bennetts were the family everyone wished they could live with.    

Benson Oakley, Jr. inherited his name, as well as Oakley Furniture, from his father, Benson Oakley, Sr. and in turn passed the name to his firstborn son, Benson Oakley III. Satisfied his wife Hettie had produced an heir to the family fortune, “Junior,” as the townspeople called him, set his sights, and hopes on his firstborn son to carry on his legacy.     

Edward Bennett, like the Bennett men before him, was a railroad man, and brought up his children in the home grandfather Preston Bennett had built. Later, the house would pass to Edward’s firstborn daughter, Muriel, who proudly carried on the family tradition of providing good food and good company for the good people of Plainview in a restaurant she named ‘Drifters’ Rest.’  

Hettie Oakley and Sophie Bennett were as different from each other as their respective husbands were.

Hettie, brought up in the York mansion in nearby Durham, was the youngest—and least sought-after—of Martin York’s five daughters. Wedded for the prestige accompanying her last name, Hettie fulfilled her social responsibilities with grim determination. Unloved, she was a pool drying inward from the edge.

Sophie was literally “the girl next door,” with whom Edward became smitten at the age of five. As they grew up, they grew in love. Cherished companion, Sophie was a spring fed lake, forever fresh, spilling over with life and love.         

The Oakleys and the Bennetts had only one thing in common. 

They each had a child on January 4, 1940.


  1. Frances Adams

    Can’t wait for the next Chronicle.

  2. Wanda Violet

    “…the details of which have all been written in my head, and are queueing up, waiting to be put on paper…none of them remaining politely in line till I am ready for them.” I like that. 🙂

  3. Mary

    “…the family everyone wished they could live with.”

    • Holly Bebernitz

      I named them Bennett after “the” Bennetts. You know who I mean.


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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