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I dreamed I went to hillbilly hell

I just came in from stapling some plastic sheeting on my back wall. I’m nailing it over the two-year-old tarpaper that isn’t keeping the water out next to the kitchen door. In some places it’s hard to find a surface for the staples because the wood underneath is crumbling away from rot.

I’m glad two sides of the house look good now, ’cause anybody seeing those back walls first would surely be thinking they’d walked onto the set of Winter’s Bone.

“I’m better than this,” I want the world (e.g. UPS drivers and my immediate neighbors, but not the tax assessor) to know. “Really. I’ve got class.”

Then I turn and look at my Gorilla-taped car … and I wonder.

What’s stranger is that I like it this way. Well, except for the rot.

My family wasn’t white trash. But we knew white trash and knew ourselves to make better choices. “Lace curtain Irish” would have applied (though my American mongrel mother wouldn’t have accepted that term). We were tract-house dwelling, factory- and switchboard-working, “buy it on sale and still don’t tell your father how much it cost” people.

Be we had some quality, you know. Mama didn’t produce no dummies, but kids who went on to get multiple college degrees and move up in the world. Or … erm, choose not to get any college degrees and to plummet determinedly down in the world, but do so for sterlingly well-thought-out philosophical reasons.* Mama also didn’t produce anybody without taste. We wrote. We drew. We created. Our minds could snap like angry turtles when we put them to it.

And I ended up here.

I’m really glad I bought that 100-foot length of very heavy-duty plastic sheeting. It’s already gotten me through two winters of damaged walls, unheated rooms, construction dust, and leaks. Here’s to one more. Totally without leaks this time.


* Or as the family liked to describe my philosophical choices in their typically nuanced manner: “What the hell’s wrong with you? You could have done something with your life!”


  1. bud
    bud November 23, 2015 1:59 pm

    “Lace-curtain Irish” brought a grin to my face. My mother would use that term, but mostly in contrast to what she privately called some of her er… downwardly-mobile… in-laws: “Pig-shit Irish”.

  2. MJR
    MJR November 23, 2015 2:22 pm

    “What the hell’s wrong with you? You could have done something with your life!”

    Claire, lets see… you are a respected published author. You are living on your own terms not for somebody else. You actually have the gift of getting people to think for themselves. You have even helped save animal lives. So the next time one of your family asks “What the hell’s wrong with you? You could have done something with your life!” look em straight in the eye and tell em you chose not to be an automaton.

  3. Claire
    Claire November 23, 2015 2:27 pm

    You’re a sweetie, MJR. And for the record, nobody has actually asked me the “what the hell’s wrong with you?” question for many a year. They didn’t like my choices, but they did ultimately have to accept them. This blog was just me laughing at my circumstances, which sometimes look more “tarpaper shack” than they really are.

    I suspect your advice could be very, very useful for some younger people hereabouts who may be facing similar circumstances.

  4. Claire
    Claire November 23, 2015 2:28 pm

    LOL, bud. “Pig-shit Irish.” I knew about lace-curtain Irish and shanty Irish, but I must admit your mother’s evaluation is more … erm, colorful.

  5. Joel
    Joel November 23, 2015 2:43 pm

    Having only this year gotten to the point of adding tarpaper, I offer no criticisms. I do wonder, though, at the astonishing ambition you showed by buying that rotting house in the first place.

  6. Thomas L. Knapp
    Thomas L. Knapp November 23, 2015 3:29 pm

    The correct answer to the question “what’s important in life?” is “whatever’s important to YOU in YOUR life.” Congratulations and thank you for acting on that answer. The world would be a much poorer place if you had gone with “whatever it takes to get a mortgage on a McMansion and a permanent car payment.”

  7. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau November 23, 2015 4:43 pm

    Tom, you took the words right out of my mouth. I was going to say that there is more to life than one’s nose to the grindstone, to pay for a McMansion you don’t need.

  8. Matt
    Matt November 23, 2015 6:30 pm

    My sister put it quite ably not long ago. “We mite of grown up in the right side of the tracks, but were up against the rails.” I am blessed with two sisters,I love dearly, but they both have spent their lives trying to raise above the humble station in life,we grew up in. The have been very succesful. Me, I embraced that humble station much to the chagrin of many people. i like Tar paper shacks, trucks held together with duct tape and bailing wire and a pack of rowdy hound dogs, Real people and lack of pretense.

  9. idahobob
    idahobob November 24, 2015 5:40 am

    Gorilla taped car, that reminds me……………

    A few years back, I was toodling down the road, minding my own business, and what jumps out in front of me, but a suicidal whitetail. All I could do was apply the brakes so as to lessen the impact. After the impact, I was able to pull over to the side of the road and assess the damage. Deer….dead. Jeep……extensive damage to the left front end and the headlight was dangling dangerously. Pulled the deer carcass onto the side of the road and slowly drove home,

    Since the next morning I was scheduled to drive over to the other side of Montana, a friend of mine and I spent the next couple of hours duct taping the front end of my Jeep back together. Went through two rolls. Made it over to the other side of Montana and back without anything falling off.

    Didn’t get it to the body shop for a few days, and got an awful lot of strange looks from folks. I thought that those were rather insulting, considering some of the wrecks that people drove around here were a bit more shoddy than my duct tape repaired front end.

    So, Gorilla taped car…….not so strange.


  10. Mike
    Mike November 24, 2015 8:32 am

    Speaking of the duct taped car, I haven’t heard anything related to the ongoing saga of the stalling Toyota. How’s that project coming?

  11. Claire
    Claire November 24, 2015 8:49 am

    Mike, I was wondering when somebody (particularly one of you helpful guys) would ask. The saga of the Xterra is no longer ongoing. I ended up selling it in as-is condition. The shadetree mechanic I sold it to ultimately discovered that it needed a new mass air-flow sensor. He got one at a junkyard and was on his way.

    I miss the Xterra and remain grateful for all the help, but Old Blue sure gets better gas mileage.

  12. Claire
    Claire November 24, 2015 10:53 am

    Dana — I remember learning in art history class looooong, looooong ago that the Irish saved civilization. But now I must read that book.

    The civilization-savers may not have been my ancestors, exactly (being monks and all), but I’m proud of ’em anyhow.

    Or were monks even celibate back then?

  13. jed
    jed November 24, 2015 11:16 am

    2 things:

    I am astounded that in all of the examining done by various mechanics, nobody could diagnose a mass airflow sensor. Well, that’s air through the engine at this point. But, SRSLY?

    I hadn’t realized, until today, the synchronicity between this “hillbilly” post, and World Toilet Day.

  14. Claire
    Claire November 24, 2015 12:11 pm

    Yep, jed. SRSLY. I admit I had the same thought. We even, at one point (and at the suggestion of RG, who knows his stuff), pulled the sensor and cleaned it. So it’s not like the sensor was ignored.

    I think the big thing that kept throwing everybody off is that the one, single, only computer code the vehicle ever threw kept pointing to the distributor (or things residing inside the distributor). We did check and test and change other things — many of them. But there may have been an underlying assumption that “well, if it was the mass air-flow sensor, the codes would point to that.”

  15. Claire
    Claire November 24, 2015 12:59 pm

    Oh, and the World Toilet Day article was … um, was … er … enlightening.

    I guess I’m among the lucky hillbillies. I have everything that qualifies as a bathroom. Now. Didn’t for a while there, though, during the Great Bathroom Project, phase I.

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