Alabama White Trash

Some fool once called her, “white 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. Strong.

Where she grew up, country folks didn’t go past the eighth grade—some still don’t. And according to her daddy, “Once a young’un can read, it’s time to get out and work.”

Saying this made her laugh. I’m not sure why. Maybe one’s own private memories are just humorous.

All six of her brothers dropped out, so did she. It wasn’t a big deal to drop out of school back then.

Take me. I dropped out of school in the seventh grade. Nobody said a word about it. I returned to school as an adult and got my high-school equivalency stuff. And to this day, I still have a hard time spelling “equivalency.”

She and I aren’t that different.

She met a man who worked in a lumber mill, they had two children before she was 20. She’s still with him. She calls him Beater. I don’t know why. But personally, it’s not a nickname I would want.

When she was 24, Beater suggested she apply for a job at the hospital. She thought this was ridiculous. Hospitals didn’t hire “poor white trash.” Hospitals were for learned people. People with letters behind their name. Not hillbillies.

“Which is exactly what I am,” she tells me as she checks my temperature with an ear thermometer.

Even so, she inquired with the hospital about getting a job there. The hospital told her she would need college. So she called a college. The college said she needed a high-school diploma. So she called a high school. The high school said she needed a GED. So she called a GED program. They said, come on.

And so it was, for six years, she attended night classes. Beater took over cooking, and putting kids to bed. She studied her butt off.

“He believed in me,” she said. “He’d always say, ‘Wish I could do what you’re doing, baby, but I’m too stupid.’ But he ain’t dumb, he paid for every bit of my school. He’s smarter than he gives himself credit.”

Would that there were more Beaters in the world.

She got her GED. Then, she zipped through college, clinicals, and even taught a little. She connected with students because she was relatable. She was real.

“Been a nurse since the mid-seventies,” she said. “I work ER shifts, too. Shoulda retired long time ago. Shoot, my kids’re grown now. But I just can’t seem to quit. I love my job.”

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. She worked hard to get here. She wants to stay here for a while.

“Ain’t about money,” she said. “I just really like to help people. If I didn’t, I reckon I’d die of boredom. Just last week, little girl came in the ER, they amputated her foot. I needed to be there for that. Just how I am. I had to help her through.”

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?”

“Hell, he won’t care,” she said. “Use his name all you want. But, maybe you can write in there how I used to think I was white trash, but now I ain’t. Might help someone.”

It just did, ma’am.


  1. Holly Lebed - August 16, 2022 6:45 am

    This made me cry…in the best of ways. ♥️

  2. Joseph B Mizereck - August 16, 2022 7:48 am

    Love this…

  3. Donna - August 16, 2022 8:06 am

    Got me right in the ❤️

  4. Ed (Bear) - August 16, 2022 8:36 am

    Thanks for writing about this wonderful lady! Again you’ve helped start my day with good news!

  5. 1018le - August 16, 2022 9:02 am

    So much truth to your comments about Alabama White Trash. She did what she had to do to be able to help others. What higher calling is that?!! Her humility in using the name is evident and her wish to continue being there when others are suffering shows that she is far from trash! She is a precious daughter, wife, mother and nurse. She leaves a legacy that you are not letting others forget! Thanks! 🙂

  6. Clark - August 16, 2022 9:53 am

    I spent 18 days in a hospital with Covid in 2020. I met many nurses ( angels ) and to each I asked the same question: “ why do you do this!”
    Each answer boiled down to the same response: Compassion. Compassion drives many people to help their fellow humans and it is a gift from God!

  7. Ann Thompson - August 16, 2022 10:18 am

    Maybe she laughed at retelling her fathers remark as that’s a way to deal with the pain.?
    Its all about education and believing- in yourself and in others.

  8. Dolores - August 16, 2022 10:32 am

    Children take everything to heart: they live up (or down) to your expectations. Children take everything in: what surrounds them becomes their identities too.

    This Mom did well to break the cycle of poverty which begins with a big heart (passion). Education helps but it’s no guarantee. Bless Beater for his support: everyone with a dream needs a cheerleader.

  9. Randy Baker - August 16, 2022 10:39 am

    Indeed lots of folk just like that.

  10. sjhl7 - August 16, 2022 10:52 am

    Love this! What a roadmap of how to get the most out of life and give to others as well!

  11. suzi - August 16, 2022 10:54 am

    Keep on “singing” about the unsung heroes!

  12. Joy Jacobs - August 16, 2022 11:00 am

    So encouraging. Thanks for sharing her story. ❤️

  13. Patricia Collins - August 16, 2022 11:06 am

    Love this! So many people are just like her but then again so many are not! Thanks for sharing the story, maybe it will inspire more individuals to do as she did. 😜👌

  14. Brenda Edson - August 16, 2022 11:28 am

    Wonderful story! Thanks for sharing!

  15. Linda Willson - August 16, 2022 12:05 pm

    I love this story and I despise the words “poor white trash”….it is a terrible moniker to place on anyone and I am certain God weeps when one of his beautiful creations is called such!

  16. Cm - August 16, 2022 12:10 pm

    Thank you for writing about this very strong lady. True Grit. I wish I could be her friend!

  17. Paul McCutchen - August 16, 2022 12:11 pm

    I agree with Bear. I enjoy starting my day with a good story and maybe a “happy” tear to keep from using drops in my eyes in the morning.

  18. Anne Arthur - August 16, 2022 12:22 pm

    Write on, Sean, about the beautiful people in our world.

  19. Rhea Wynn - August 16, 2022 12:32 pm

    I hate the labels we put on others and ourselves. It is refreshing to read about overcoming the way the world, and sometimes even we, look at others and ourselves. We have to do better. Your column is a great start!!! Thank you for your daily dose of the real world (a good one) that is there if we will just look at it and quit focusing on the negatives.

  20. Margaret L. Freeman - August 16, 2022 12:37 pm

    Beautiful story about an amazing woman/couple. They and others like them are the soul of this country.

  21. Sean of the South: Alabama White Trash | The Trussville Tribune - August 16, 2022 12:42 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

  22. Priscilla Rodgers - August 16, 2022 12:48 pm

    Sean, I went to college in my late 40’s, when divorce was inevitable. I even went to summer school with my son one summer. He said, they hate us unconventional students, we always set the curve. By the way I graduated summa cum laude, I couldn’t have done that when I was right out of high school. This meant so much more. Thanks for that success story, they are everywhere!

  23. Peggy Slaton - August 16, 2022 1:25 pm

    Such a wonderful story of determination, hard work, and success. So happy for her!

  24. Carol Pilmer - August 16, 2022 1:48 pm

    Thanks for another good one, Sean…Wishing another wonderful Day!

  25. Lana - August 16, 2022 1:48 pm

    Love it

  26. David Britnell - August 16, 2022 1:53 pm

    Beautiful story!

  27. Janice Greenwood - August 16, 2022 1:54 pm

    Thanks. When it’s all over, it doesn’t matter where we start. What matters is how we used our talents to make the world a better place for others.

  28. Cathy M - August 16, 2022 2:06 pm

    Great story and I love the fact that her husband not only encouraged her but took over household duties so that she could reach her goal. Marriage is team work and he was not “stupid”. Her success bettered their family and she reached her goal. Happy Tuesday to all who follow you

  29. artwimberley - August 16, 2022 2:49 pm

    Six years! Who among us would have the fortitude to do what this strong woman did? And how many spouses would pick up the slack and do what needed to be done to support her? Great for both of them!

  30. Annie Walsh - August 16, 2022 2:51 pm

    You meet the best people!

  31. Jim Duncan - August 16, 2022 4:45 pm

    Inspiring and worth sharing with others. Thanks

  32. Linda - August 16, 2022 5:02 pm

    “Would that there were more beaters in the world.”

  33. pattymack43 - August 16, 2022 5:11 pm

    Not exactly the same, but close. I finally went through Nursing School in my mid-forties. It took 5 1/2 years to complete a 2 year program. Now, I am a retired RN. Wouldn’t trade a minute of my life for someone else’s. I didn’t have a “Beater”, but my kids kept me encouraged in the tough times. By God’s grace, I worked at a job that I totally enjoyed for over 20 years. Even when she (the RN in the story) retires, she won’t be. Thanks for today’s story! Blessings!

  34. Michael A. Ceraig - August 16, 2022 5:19 pm

    Sean, I busted a gut laughing about Mother Mary yesterday, and yet you end on such a meaningful and poignant note. And certainly today’s story about Alabama White Trash was the same. I think you are a better writer than most people think. You use short phrases and short words, like Hemingway. William Faulkner once said of Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” Hemingway then said of Faulkner: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” Like Hemingway, and even Steinbeck, you use very few words in conveying a character sketch or telling a story. But it has a big emotional impact. I think both Hemingway and Steinbeck would have approved and would have enjoyed having a beer with you.

    Michael A. Craig, Attorney
    Houston, Texas

  35. Michael A. Ceraig - August 16, 2022 5:22 pm

    I busted a gut laughing about Mother Mary yesterday, which ends on such a meaningful and poignant note. Same with Alabama White Trash today. Sean, you’re a better writer than most people think. You use short phrases and short words, like Hemingway. William Faulkner once said of Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” Hemingway then said of Faulkner: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” You use very few words in conveying a character sketch or telling a story, much like Hemingway and Steinbeck. But it has a big emotional impact. I think Hemingway and John Steinbeck would have enjoyed sharing a beer with you.

  36. Linda Moon - August 16, 2022 6:06 pm

    Yes, it did. I’ve known and loved “white trash”. I hope Beater gets to the places he wants to see. And those people you told us about…they’re not trash….just recycled humans like the rest of us, Sean.

  37. Jackie - August 16, 2022 6:08 pm

    Mighty good woman…& man!

  38. Kenny Baskins - August 16, 2022 6:53 pm

    Thank you for sharing not just this lady’s story but so many peoples story of life. To love God with our everything and to love neighbor as ones oneself is the foundation of the Christian faith. May we all seek to live a life in service to others. Thank you for your service Sean!

  39. Carmen - August 16, 2022 7:10 pm

    What a great story!! Thanks to Beater for encouraging her, and thanks to you for sharing her story.

  40. Steve McCaleb - August 16, 2022 7:13 pm

    White trash…….now there’s a moniker worthy of all the other negative epithets we humans choose to hang one another. As much as I hate the term, I’ve grown in my later life to regard it as a badge of honor. To me….” white trash” conjurs up a lot more terms of description, like self made, hardworking, never-say-die, eyes on the future, determination, bettering yourself, building a foundation for generations to come, and fiercely independent. It means what you have, YOU worked for ……not what somebody handed you on a silver platter. And no matter what some people think, being poor is not a crime. No less than Abraham Lincoln once said “the Lord must truly love poor people…….just look how many of them he made.” A lot more of us need to take that to heart.

  41. Rhonda - August 16, 2022 7:29 pm

    Love it. White trash is a Hollywood actress slamming into a house with Fentanyl, cochise, and vodka.

  42. April McGough - August 16, 2022 8:02 pm

    Love this!!!

  43. Elizabeth Clark - August 16, 2022 8:18 pm

    Another heartwarming tear jurker

  44. Gwen Hicks - August 16, 2022 10:57 pm

    My momma would be one of those white trash ladies, but she had someone that believed & encouraged her. She became a special education teacher with a master’s degree and made an impact in so many lives.

  45. Paula - August 17, 2022 4:01 am

    Helps me .
    My mom anyways said my Dad was white trash, Okey from Muskogee, etc.
    One day I realized she married him she picked him not me. That helped too.
    Thanks pfor sharing your story.

  46. Lynn B - August 17, 2022 4:02 am

    I hope Mrs. Beater knows how special she is and she enjoys seeing her story in print! We sure do!

  47. Debbie g - August 17, 2022 7:36 am

    Amen Steve
    And Sean You are an awesome
    Inspiration thank you!!!!!
    And to Beater and his wife Way to go congratulations and thanks for the encouragement
    Love you Sean and Jamie
    And love to all

  48. Bonnie - August 17, 2022 1:33 pm

    What a wonderful story of will and determination, but also the importance of SUPPORT. Way to go, Beater. Way to go to this lady who pushed beyond!

  49. Fred Frederick - August 17, 2022 2:10 pm

    I think that hillbilly might just be an earth angel.

  50. Donna LaForge - August 17, 2022 5:17 pm

    Another great example of why we shouldn’t be so fast to judge one another. My sister said she wants to write a book and already has a title. “We Were Poor White Trash and Didn’t Know It”
    We may have took turns ( there were six of us kids) “swimming” in the garbage drum to cool off in the summer but we had good food on the table. Poor people didn’t have food!

  51. Dee Thompson - August 17, 2022 8:40 pm

    Nurses are angels come to earth, 95% of them. They have seen me through some bad times. Thank God for them. It’s not merely a job, it’s a calling.

  52. Karen Snyder - August 18, 2022 7:22 pm

    I prefer the descriptive “Salt of the Earth.” Thanks, Sean. ❤️

  53. Carter Naugher - August 19, 2022 2:35 am

    Very positive story! Thank you!

  54. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 21, 2022 1:48 am



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