Alabama Winner

She was a forty-seven-year-old, taking Algebra One. But she was no stranger to hard work. Schoolwork was nothing compared to pulling double-shifts and feeding hungry mouths.

Her husband left her with two kids and a Honda. She didn’t even have a place to stay. She moved in with her sister. She worked thankless jobs.

And she hardly ever smiled. Not because she wasn’t happy, but because she was missing teeth.

“Lost these two teeth in middle school,” she says. “My dad got in a car wreck. My brother and I were in his passenger seat.”

Teeth or not, the woman is tough. It’s in her hillbilly blood. She raised three kids single-handed. She fought off rowdy teenage boys who dated her daughter. She taught her sons how to be men.

The day after her youngest left for the military, she marched into a local bank. She only had one hour before work.

“I had good credit,” she said. “I knew they couldn’t turn me down. Never had any debt.”

She borrowed a lot.

She could have used the loan money to buy a house. She could’ve invested in dental work. She could’ve replaced her rusted Honda.

She enrolled in community college.

She was a forty-seven-year-old, taking Algebra One. But she was no stranger to hard work. Schoolwork was nothing compared to pulling double-shifts and feeding hungry mouths.

“I’m a good student,” she said. “Always been a quick learner.”

She was more than quick. She was a natural. She enjoyed each class, each lecture, each teacher, and each test. But more than anything, she liked carrying a backpack.

During her first summer semester, she met a woman. The woman had salt-and-pepper hair and wore white scrubs. She took nursing classes.

Sometimes, between classes they ate lunch together in the breezeway. The woman was nice. They both talked about life. About their families.

“I looked at her,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Hell, this lady’s my age. If she can do it, so can I.'”

She enrolled in the nursing program. Seven years, she worked. Seven long years of math tests, lectures, and clinicals. She completed mountains of homework. She borrowed more money.

“Wouldn’t believe how much education costs,” she said. “Could’a got five whole mouthfuls of new teeth for what I paid.”

She graduated. Her kids were at the ceremony, front row. She wore a cap and gown. She walked across the stage. She took the podium and made a speech. Not to her classmates, but to her children.

“I hope you’re proud’a your mama, guys,” she announced. “Because for the first time in your mama’s life, she’s a winner.”

Then she told her story, starting with the fella who left her when she was young.

When she finished speaking, she surprised her kids by flashing an open-mouthed smile for the entire audience to see. Something she hadn’t done since childhood.

Afterward, she hugged her kids.

Her son remarked, “There’s something different about you, Mom, can’t put my finger on it.”

She smiled another big grin. “Do you like’em? I gott’em fixed yesterday.”

Her new teeth are nice.

But they aren’t anything compared to the pretty face they belong to.


  1. Katherine Edwins Schumm - April 26, 2017 11:32 am

    Shoot, I know better than to read this stuff before I’ve had my coffee. This one was a two tissue piece which made me proud of women. We really are amazing creatures – strong and resilient and brave. I know women like this and have met many during my seventy years here….but Sean, I hate weeping before breakfast. Guess I will have to wait until my coffee is brewed to read tomorrow’s. Love your stuff…really.

  2. Perri Geaux Tigers Williamson - April 26, 2017 11:41 am

    You make me cry righteous tears, Sean of the South! You’re near abouts as good as a mashy squashy sandwich shared with my best friend of 45 years. Real. Darn. Close.

  3. Nona - April 26, 2017 12:50 pm

    She sounds like a winner~ that same spirit that raised Christ from the dead had to be in this precious soul in order to do what she did. Praise the Lord for he is good All the time.
    I love your spirit and your stories. I look forward to them everyday.

  4. Debbie Beach - April 26, 2017 1:49 pm

    I cried like a baby on this one! Loved it and look forward to your postings!
    Thank you Sean!!!!

  5. Gayle Dawkins - April 26, 2017 1:53 pm

    Loved this Sean, thanks

  6. Sam Hunneman - April 26, 2017 2:18 pm

    So much more than pathos…

  7. James Godwin - April 26, 2017 3:31 pm

    The world sure could use a lot more moms like that.

    • Maria Flynn - June 18, 2017 10:53 am

      There are a lot more than you think. My community college classrooms are full of them.

  8. Susie Munz - April 26, 2017 5:21 pm

    Sounds similar to my story except for the teeth. My mother went back to school in her 40’s after my teen-age sister and brother were killed in an accident. She finished her degree, got her Master’s Degree, turned her Master’s thesis into a book “Clients Come Last”, and became a Sociology and Criminology professor, and taught until retirement. I went back to school as a 28 year old widow with two children, was class President, and became an RN, my middle daughter left an abusive marriage, with two teenage boys, went back to school while working full-time, and graduates a week from Saturday, with a teaching degree. While it’s easier to go to college right out of high school, it is very possible to do so later in life, and the feeling of accomplishment is tremendous!

  9. Lilli Ann Snow - April 26, 2017 11:50 pm

    Sean, no matter who you write about or hat you say about them, all I experience is love.

    Sean, as a very talented songwriter once wrote, it’s “all you need.”

    Sean, what this world needs is more Seans.
    I mean, love.

  10. Deanna J - June 18, 2017 1:45 pm

    Thank you for your blessings

  11. Shelley - June 18, 2017 5:03 pm

    As I read this tears filled my eyes because I could relate to the mom whose husband left her with three children and a Honda that was on its last legs. Last Fall I enrolled in the local community collage at 46 working on a degree not because of myself but for my daughters who inspire me every minute of the day. Love this story and Happy Fathers Day to all of the moms who are mom and dad to their children.


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