Clair McFarland: When You Realize You Failed To Hillbilly Your Sons

Clair McFarland writes: “I’m the hillbilly caricature whose lithe pale sons hope someday to place in a crisp nursing home with a Roomba and a Mozart album — for her own good, or something.”

Clair McFarland

June 15, 20235 min read

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I don’t even know what it means to be a “hillbilly,” but my kids sure seem to.  

I like to strain hot bacon grease and bark out lazy slang about what will happen to those boys if they leave the toilet seat up one more time.  

“And y’all re-MEM-ber, next time,” I add.  

“Y’all” is not as common in the Wyoming rural dialect as it is in, say, the Georgia one, but I use it because English deserves a second-person plural pronoun just like any other Latin-based language.  

My Firstborn son hawks into his cheek like a walkie-talkie burst of white noise and says, “Hillbilly One has landed. I repeat, Hillbilly One. Has. Landed.”  

I look behind my right shoulder, then my left, to see if any long-lost cousins have dropped by. But all I see is the torn margins of that sign I made for the front door, which says, “Doorbell is broken. Yodel really loud.”  

Outside, the cactus blossoms flaunt their pink, yellow and nectarine petals. They’ll make a fine salad later.  

“Honey,” I say to Firstborn, who’s checking whether his right biceps is bigger than his left, “could you please sweep up in here?” 

The kitchen floor looks like someone loaded a pallet of Doritos with Tannerite, rifle-blasted the thing and ran off giggling.  

“Aw, Mom, really?” whines Firstborn, who is not as bad about whining as he was last month, before I bribed him not to whine.  

I’m not sure what he’s griping about. My mom had me washing dishes at age 5. I would rather have gone outside to chop wood with my brothers, but I was lousy at it.  

“Welp. It ain’t gonna sweep itself,” I chirp as I scour sludge from the kitchen drain stopper with my bare fingers and some baking soda.  

Firstborn grumbles and grabs the broom. He’s not great at sweeping. I’ve coddled him and the other boys, giving them all the things I wanted as a kid but didn’t really need.  

For example, I would have loved a towering book collection and long mornings with nothing to do but read, when I was a child. Now I stock our walls with fresh books — with new ones upon request, as long as they’re not “Captain Underpants” — and let the boys read until their eyelids grow heavy and their limbs quiver from holding hardcovers over their spiky little heads.  

I’ve made a gaggle of lousy sweepers though.  

“Drag from the corner, along the edge and pivot toward the pile,” I tell Firstborn, who thinks he can sweep the whole kitchen from the comfort of his dad’s high-backed dinner chair. “You gotta stand up. This is just silly.”  

But he gets it done, and I can see the wood floor between my bare toes once again.  

Then Firstborn says something bizarre:   

“You know, Mom, I’m not having the same hillbilly childhood you had. We could just get a Roomba.”  

The word stabbed my chest. A Roomba? 

Absolutely not. There will be no techno-demons in this house doing the honest work that people too fertile for their own good have historically taught their four sons to do.  

There will be no shortcuts, no whiners, no lazybones and no excuses about why you can’t haul that 50-pound bag of hog feed to your pigs at 6 a.m. and clean your shoes in time for the morning bus so you don’t get sent home from school in a stench-related shame.  

“I just want to point out,” interjects my Middleborn son, “that we don’t even HAVE livestock.” 

And so we don’t. I have failed as a mother. I haven’t even built the boys a chicken coop. Or threatened to house them in it when they get too loud.  

“Yikes, bro, let’s go hiking before she puts on some country music and tries teaching us her barnyard line dances,” says Middleborn.  

Then it hit me. I’m “Hillbilly One.”  

I’m the hillbilly caricature whose lithe pale sons hope someday to place in a crisp nursing home with a Roomba and a Mozart album — for her own good, or something.  

Apparently, I am a “hillbilly” to these boys because I like hard work, country music and bacon grease.  

Is that really all the term means? Are there no more criteria than these rewarding, human anthems of Americana that have come as naturally to me as chemical wafts from the purple paint with which I once helped to coat my childhood trailer house?  

Funny. I always thought I’d have to work harder than that to earn the “hillbilly” title. Figured I’d have to learn how to rope a calf, at least, or spit chaw without breaking a syllable.   

“All right then, have your hike,” I say to those boys slipping through the back screen door. “Be sure and take your slingshots in case of coyotes, though.”  

Middleborn pops his head back into the house through the cracked door, winks at me and says, “Aight-then.”  

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter