South Carolina

Somewhere in South Carolina. A rundown seafood joint. The kind of place that serves oysters on the half shell.

I’m sitting at the bar, eating Captain’s Wafers, waiting for my food.

The view is astounding. The salt marshes go on for miles, only interrupted by the sabal palms.

The beer is cheap, and cold enough to crack your fillings. The cocktail sauce is free.

The woman behind the bar looks happy tonight. She is late-middle-aged, and silver haired. She missing more than a few teeth. But it doesn’t affect her beauty. She bounces behind the bar with springy feet.

I finally ask, “Why are you so happy?”

She leans onto the bar. “Guess,” she says.

“You won the powerball?”

She shakes her head. “Guess again.”

“You’re pregnant?”

She laughs. “Honey, that ship sailed a long dadgum time ago.”

Only she doesn’t say “dadgum.”

“I’m happy,” she says, “‘cause I’m gonna graduate.”

“Graduate from what?”

“High school. My daughter and I just took the GED test. And we passed it. Passed it clean.”

The woman looks at me and smiles a her tooth at me. And I’m smiling my less-than-optimal dental work at her, too.

Because, you see, sitting before her is a guy who was a dropout, just like her.

“I got pregnant when I was in ninth grade,” she goes on. “Parents kicked me out, I had to start working. But I ain’t sorry. I got a good daughter out of the deal, I married a dadgum good man.

“When you’re a kid, it’s easy to drop out. Your little teenage brain only thinks about the here and now. If only I had listened to the adults in my life.”

I nod. Because I’m picking up what she’s laying down.

“But, hey, I don’t regret my life choices,” she adds. “They made me who I am today.”

Another nod from the choir.

She uses a church key to pop the top of my PBR.

“But all these years,” she says, “I felt like something was missing. Like there’s a piece of me that ain’t been tapped yet. You know?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I think I do.”

She tells her story well. Her daughter followed the same life path her mother blazed. Her daughter got pregnant. Dropped out. Same old dog and pony show.

But it was her daughter who started the educational ball rolling.

Her daughter turned 30 this year and enrolled in an in-person GED preparation class. When she told her mother the news, her mother started crying.

“My daughter tole me she wanted to go into medicine once she got her GED. I was so proud of my kid. So dadgum proud.”

They attended night classes together. After they got off work. Husbands babysat grandbabies.

Mother and daughter attended class, multiple times each week, just to learn all about sentence diagrams, the cosine, and who exactly Paul Revere was.

But that was just the beginning. Earning a GED is hard. Bone hard.

What they don’t tell you is that getting your GED is like earning six high-school diplomas at once. The amount of material you have to memorize is borderline ridiculous.

Don’t ask me how I know this.

“Didn’t think we were going to pass,” says the woman. “Thought to myself, ‘Oh, man, I ain’t going to make it.’

“But I just prayed over and over, I said, ‘God, if I don’t pass this test, fine, but let my daughter pass.’”

When the woman received the confirmation email with her score, she had received a 164. A passable grade. Her daughter scored even higher.

The woman smiles when she tells me this.

I ask the woman what she’s going to do now that she is a proper high-school grad.

She laughs. “Nothing, honey. I like my life, don’t want to change nothing. I took that test for me. For my sense of pride.

“I guess I did it because I wanted my kids to look back and say, ‘See, my mom’s a smart woman. People were wrong about her. Our mom ain’t stupid.’”

No, ma’am.

You dadgum sure ain’t.


  1. Carol Stern - October 7, 2022 6:59 am

    Thanks for another inspiring story! We need them!!!

  2. W. Larry Evans - October 7, 2022 10:30 am

    Kudos to mom, daughter, and you, Sean !!!

  3. jocelyn - October 7, 2022 10:33 am

    Nothing wrong with GED or at what age it is received. Seen many people move forward with a GED. Great story mother / daughter team up for success. Thanks for stopping to eat some oysters along the coast of SC.

  4. Cleo Goddard - October 7, 2022 10:35 am

    What a wonderful story! My mother’s dream was to get her high school diploma so after our father died that was what she wanted to do. We enrolled her in the local GED course and she received that diploma when she was 80 years old!!! That was such a happy day for her and her 7 children!!!! She was determined and enjoyed her classes so much that she was sorry when it all came to an end. Her GED instructors took her to the local senior centers, nursing home and other places around to show those who felt their lives were over and they couldn’t go to school that you are never too old to accomplish your dreams!!!

  5. Te - October 7, 2022 10:37 am

    I remember my mum’s story about taking the GED. She must’ve been in her late 40s but she didn’t take classes. She was a stay-at-home mom most of her adult life, began working at 16 when the family moved from the Tennessee mountain farm to Nashville during the Depression. Anyway, she said she was overwhelmed by the test and knew she was in trouble. She said a desperate prayer for help, and what should appear on the test was a faint red dot by certain answers! Taking that as answer to her prayer, she used it to guide her, and got her GED. True story.

  6. Ed (Bear) - October 7, 2022 11:10 am

    Congratulations to everyone who got their GED! I’m a high school dropout too with a GED diploma. I’m not proud of the mistakes that I’ve made but I am proud of my life, family and friends.

  7. Paula - October 7, 2022 11:25 am

    So blessed by your posts of real America

  8. Harriet White - October 7, 2022 12:16 pm

    Me too Paula.

  9. Pubert - October 7, 2022 12:25 pm

    Sean, simple story. Complex message. Felt like I was down at Nick’s in Freeport. Good stuff! And good for the waitress! Smart!

  10. Belinda Graham - October 7, 2022 12:35 pm

    Love this story. I got goosebumps as I was reading it. It’s never too late and a sense of self pride is a wonderful thing to own. .

  11. David Britnell - October 7, 2022 1:30 pm

    She should be very proud of herself!!

  12. H. J. Patterson - October 7, 2022 1:33 pm

    Sean, I enjoyed the insight to you and Jamie’s new domicile in Birmingham.

  13. Cheryll - October 7, 2022 1:51 pm

    I live on the SC Coast…have been there my entire life! Do you remember what restaurant you were eating in?

  14. mccutchen52 - October 7, 2022 1:52 pm

    Everyone makes mistakes but it is what you learn from your mistakes that count.

  15. Cheryll - October 7, 2022 1:56 pm

    I also meant to say that my Mom went to night school after raising all six of us to finish high school…I was always proud of her…

  16. BRENDA DAVIS - October 7, 2022 2:08 pm


  17. sjhl7 - October 7, 2022 2:16 pm

    Beautiful story! Beautiful life!

  18. Billie - October 7, 2022 2:27 pm

    My Mom recently passed away at the age of 98-1/2 years. Among her “things,” I found her workbooks for the GED class she was taking back when I was a teenager. A child of the Depression, she had dropped out of school in the 8th grade. Went to work. Supported herself. Later, met my Daddy…married…was a stay-at-home mom to three daughters. My Mom was smart. She always kept a dictionary close by (to check meanings and spellings) and world & USA maps (to know what was going on in the world and where her kids and grandkids were traveling). Her cursive handwriting was beautiful! As for the GED, too much was going on in her life at the time and she didn’t ask for help. I wish she had. She ended up dropping the classes. Looking back, I would have loved to help her make that dream come true. Finding these workbooks told me Mom still had that desire. Made me sad to be reminded of her unfulfilled dream…

  19. Pubert - October 7, 2022 2:45 pm

    Truth is, education just makes life a lot more interesting. “I heard ‘Dat!”

  20. Judy - October 7, 2022 2:50 pm

    My daughter-in-law teaches GED classes to all sorts of folks…dropouts to prisoners. These are unsung heros that have touched so many lives to create these proud moments. Thanks Sean

  21. Jocelyn Knepler - October 7, 2022 2:54 pm

    Beautiful story! (as usual 😉)

  22. Steve Garrett - October 7, 2022 2:58 pm

    Absolutely love your stories. Growing up in the south with all the traditional customs and environments that it all entails, I relate in similar ways and recognize myself in many of your words. You’re inspiring me to sit at the keyboard again. Thank you. 👍

  23. Suzanne Moore - October 7, 2022 5:38 pm

    Great story, Sean. Thanks for sharing!

  24. John Swetnam - October 7, 2022 6:06 pm

    A good friend turned me on to your stories. She said she starts her day with them and they help put her in a positive place for the day ahead. So I started doing the same thing and found I got the same good send off for the day. So I’m writing, not to make a specific comment about today’s offering, but to just let you know I”m out here benefitting from and enjoying what you give us each day.. It’s always good to know that one is seen and heard, so I felt like I should let you know I”m listening too and benefitting with all your other folks.. You’re making the world better for all of us one story and one day at a time. Thank you, John

  25. John Swetnam - October 7, 2022 6:20 pm

    While reading all the comments this morning, suddenly I remembered that my first job out of college was teaching young high school drop outs to prepare them to get their GEDs. One of the young women who got her GED ended up working at the same hospital as I did and spotted me in a hall, and from that our old friendship returned. She had a grown daughter who was working at the same hospital and I got to meet her sometimes too. So many happy memories from that starting period of figuring out how to have a grown-up life.

  26. Slimpicker - October 7, 2022 6:54 pm

    Your younger readers may not know what a “church key” is. There was a time when most guys had one on their key ring.

  27. Chasity Davis Ritter - October 7, 2022 9:07 pm

    That’s so wonderful and she deserves that happiness. She dadgum sure earned it and it’s awesome!!!!

  28. pattymack43 - October 7, 2022 9:56 pm

    Good for both Mom and daughter!!! Congratulations and blessings to them, both!!

  29. Janice Greatting - October 7, 2022 10:12 pm

    Bless you, Sean.

  30. Hope - October 7, 2022 11:53 pm

    I can so relate! I ran away from home at 15, pregnant at 16 and a new mom at 17. At 33 I took night classes and got my GED. I wanted to get a better job. I have been at that job for more than 20 years. I’m proud of those accomplishments! Anyone should be. You should be proud too Sean. 💜

  31. Wanda Vincent - October 8, 2022 8:53 pm

    Love your stories, I feel like I’m there seeing and hearing everything

  32. Tom - October 8, 2022 8:57 pm

    Good read Sean!!

  33. Kay - October 15, 2022 10:13 pm

    She opened your PBR with a church key…I’ll bet a LOT of people would have no idea what to bring you if you asked them for a church key, but they’ve just learned something new today!


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