Some fool called her, “trash.” And that’s when she made up her mind. She wanted to better herself, and her family. So, that’s what she did.
“That GED test,” she said, while she checked my blood pressure. “That ain’t no joke, now. It’s tough.”
Her accent is so Alabamian it hurts. She’s missing a few teeth, but it doesn’t look bad on her. She’s old, wiry, but strong.
Where she grew up, country folks didn’t go past the eighth grade—still don’t. And according to her daddy, “Once a young’un can read, it’s time to work.”
Saying this made her laugh.
All six of her brothers dropped out, so did she. She met a man who worked in a lumber mill, they had two children before she was twenty. She’s still with him. She calls him Beater. I don’t know why.
When she was twenty-four, Beater suggested she apply for a job at the hospital. She thought this was ridiculous. Hospitals didn’t hire poor white trash.
Even so, she inquired. They told her, she needed college. So she called a college. They said she needed a high-school diploma. So she called the high-school. They said she needed a GED.
For six years, she attended night classes. Beater took over cooking, and putting kids to bed.
“He believed in me,” she said. “He’d always say, ‘Wish I could do what you’re doing, but I’m too stupid.’ But he ain’t dumb, he paid for every bit of my school.”
If only there were more Beaters in the world.
She got her GED. Then, she zipped through college, clinicals, and even taught a little.
“Been a nurse since the seventies,” she said. “I work ER shifts too. Shoulda retired long ago. Shoot, my kids’re grown.”
Beater is pushing for retirement. He even bought an RV. He wants to visit the Everglades, the Grand Canyon, and above all, Las Vegas. She’s not ready.
“Ain’t about money,” she said. “I like to help people. If I didn’t, I reckon I’d die. Just last week, little girl came in the ER, they amputated her foot. I needed to be there for that. Just how I am.”
Life is funny. She went to school to better her life. Instead she betters everyone else’s. And all she asks, is that you don’t use her name when you write about her.
“Okay,” I said. “How about Beater’s name?”
“He won’t care,” she said. “But, maybe you can write in there how I used to think I was trash, but now I ain’t. Might help someone.”
It just did, ma’am.
Cate Bryson - August 16, 2016 2:52 pm
What an inspiration she is! Thank you Sean.
Jerenell Gorbutt - August 16, 2016 3:22 pm
Today, the happy is streaming down my face. I have shared you with my friends in TN. I know that you will not mind. They are good folks too. They have a lot of money now, but they grew up hard. They understand exactly what you are writing about and most days, they send me a little note to tell me thanks for telling them about that smart young man from Alabama…keep on writing youngun, you are making us proud! ms jere
Maureen - August 16, 2016 8:09 pm
a story of perseverance – thanks for that
Philip Huff - September 9, 2016 11:47 pm
Every time I read your stories they take me home to my front porch in Camden, AL. You are an incredible storyteller. Thank you for all you do!
Cynthia Maxwell - September 28, 2016 7:48 pm
I am a nurse. I have known many women like her. Probably a darn good nurse. Nursing is generous in that it has given many, including me, a chance to have a career, and gain respectability and self-esteem. I wish I could meet her, I wonder if I already have.
Janice Otinger - January 27, 2017 4:21 pm
Just when I think you can’t write anything better, lo and behold, you do!! Thanks so much for your inspiration….
Pam Germeroth - January 27, 2017 4:55 pm
Hopefully, Beater can pull her away from her other love long enough to see some sights! Thanks for sharing her story! She’s a hero for sure!
Kathy Burgess - January 28, 2017 5:53 am
I was a poor SC girl but our parents wanted better. 3 girls, the first 2 19 months apart the 3rd 10 years apart. We all graduated college, 2 with Masters Degrees. All of our children are doing well except one. One out of 8 ain’t bad. I AlabamaTrash Gone Good and Beater e st take that trip, tell them to come to Pensacola and I will show them around. And tell her I was a nurse for 43 years. Love your work, Sean.
Connie - December 7, 2017 4:00 pm
Just wow. I grew up poor white trash too. I’m a long way from having money now, but I graduated high school. I was good with numbers so I went to vocational school and I’ve been a bookkeeper for many years. My husband left 7 years ago, and I have been blessed to have this skill to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Perseverance, stubbornness, pure hard headedness-it’s a Southern trait. Thank you for celebrating all of us.
Sara - May 12, 2018 10:18 am
Thank goodness for the beaters and the loving hearts of the don’t use my name folk. Love to the both!