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.