Jodi Hills

So this is who I am – a writer that paints, a painter that writes…

1 Comment

…and then I see it from your side.

The assignment was on perspective. Maybe it was because it was my first time away from home at university. Maybe it was because my eyes were always filtered through my heart. Because I needed my world to get bigger, broader, more open, I saw the perspective in reverse and drew it. Instead of everything narrowing to a point, looking down the long hallway of the campus dorm, I was the point. Everything at the end of the hall got bigger. The other 18 year olds in class laughed as they displayed their drawings, one replicating the other. The teacher smiled. She gave me an “A.”

We were watching videos with friends last night, showing them tours of Aix en Provence. They were so excited. Ooohing and aaaahing over our ordinary. This is the street, next to the statue of the king, where I buy paint. The church where we laid Dominique’s mother to rest. Cezanne’s house. The place for the best pastries. Where I bought earrings. The fish market. The view of the Sainte Victoire. As their excitement grew, our ordinary felt spectacular again. Perspective.

It’s so easy to get stuck. To lose sight of the glorious things all around you. Trying to force everything to make sense — bring it all to a point. I learn the lesson again and again. To open my eyes. Open my heart. Change my view.

I guess that’s what real friends do — Oooh and aaah you into falling in love with your own life again. They are the point that opens all perspective.

Leave a comment

A stroke of Mrs. Bergstrom.

There is a reason we call it spelling. The magic of the letters, when put together to form words, can indeed cast a magical spell within and around us. 

She stood in front of the class of first graders. Mrs. Bergstrom. Tall and straight. Not with a robe, nor a hat, but she did have a wand. Some might remember it as just a teaching pointer. But not me. As she tapped it against each letter chalked perfectly on the blackboard, white dust — fairy dust I was sure — sprung into the air. We were spelling. And it was magic. 

That magic moved from the blackboard to our Big Chief notebooks. Then marched with us single file to the library down the terrazzo halls of Washington Elementary. With each book we moved into neighborhoods. Made friends with dogs. Rode horses with cowboys and bloomed into teenage girls, and boys with paper routes. Everything was possible in the words. 

I’d like to think it still is. As I type each morning, I take that magical journey. With each letter I make a path. Sprinkling it with a stroke of Mrs. Bergstrom. Because it’s all beautiful, even the hardest of days — when wanded into the words of “look what we survived,” and “look what we’ve become” — are nothing short of magical! I still believe it. I have to believe it. I hope we all can.

Because she didn’t just give us the happy words. She taught us how to spell. How to make our way through it all. Today, I too will stand straight and tall. And I promise, I will not waste the magic.

1 Comment

Beside her.

My grandparents had apple trees. All variations of sweet, but for one. That tree produced sour apples. My mother loved them. During peak season, my grandma would pick sacks of apples. Ready for any visitor that came by. Reused brown paper sacks from Jerry’s Jack and Jill grocery store filled with green. Only one was labeled. She wrote Ivy in bold, black magic marker. The sack with the sour.

I had only begun to put letters together to form words. I knew my name, of course, and I knew my mother’s name. I ran to it in delight. In this sea of ordinary brown paper, there was her name. “Are you famous?” I asked her. “Yes,” she nodded and smiled. My heart beamed. I knew it!

During my husband’s first visit to Alexandria, Minnesota, my mom took us to Herberger’s. We walked in the back door by shoes. Jessica looked up from her customer’s feet, “Oh, hi Ivy!” Sue from the bra department waved, “Hi, Ivy!” Dominique smiled. Claudia from the Clinque counter asked her how the new moisturizer was working. A man stopped, put his hand on my mother’s shoulder and said “It’s good to see you, Ivy.” “He’s the manager,” my mom offered. Dominique looked confused. “Is your mother the mayor?” he asked me. I smiled. “Of Herberger’s… yes.”

I suppose we all want to be seen…noticed for the bold markings of our own magic. But just as important, and rewarding, is to see others. What a privilege it is to be let in. To be trusted in someone’s truth. My mother gave me that gift. Let me walk beside her. I give thanks for this, every day.


An apple a day…

The apple used to be a symbol of a job well done at Washington Elementary. It was all I thought about as I handed in my paper of work. Spelling. Math. Telling time. Passing it up through the row of desked children, I crossed fingers and toes hoping that Mrs. Strand would take out her ink pad, press the rubber stamp deeply into the red and rock it over the top of my paper, marking it forever with a beautiful apple. Seeing the apple in the upper right corner of my returned paper, the red moved from hand to heart to cheeks. (Maybe that’s why they call them apple cheeks.)

I lingered in the classroom one day as all the other five and six year olds went out for recess. I saw that she had our papers on her desk. Ink pad resting beside. My chubby fingers rested on the side of her wooden desk. My eyes peeking just above. “You like the apple, don’t you…” she smiled. I shook my head yes. “Do you want to try it?” she asked. I shook my head briskly. She handed me my paper. “Go ahead,” she said, “You deserve it.” I gripped the handle of the stamp, pressing it into the rouge stained sponge. Pulled it up slowly, then pressed it down onto my paper, slowly rocking it back and forth, as I had seen her do a million times. I pulled up the stamp, and there it was. I gasped. So beautiful!

My lips were much more shy than my heart when I was five. I didn’t have the words to ask for what I needed. But she must have seen the apple panic on my face. (I pray teachers still have the time and inclination to look.) “Do you want the others to have one?” I shook my head yes. “Go ahead then.” She refilled the pad with ink, and the rest was, as I remember, just a glorious red blur. Perhaps I remember this day so well, not only because of what she gave to me, but what she allowed me to give to everyone else. My first lesson in humanity.

Maybe it’s why I love to paint the apples now. I live in the land of Cezanne. He once proclaimed, “I will astonish Paris with an apple.” I have often thought this is why I paint them. And it’s probably true. Partially. But looking back, maybe it was Mrs. Strand who first astonished me. Who showed me the power of something so simple. Rosy-cheeked still, I sit before the canvas and paint another. Hoping you can feel the magic, and pass it on, through hand, heart and cheeks. An apple a day… go ahead, you deserve it.

Leave a comment

Place by place.

I was using it as bookmark, one of my apple paintings. Lying in the hammock, he stood over me and picked it up from my chest. “You did that,” he said. I smiled with eyes, mouth and heart. It felt like we both were “holding my place.”

From the age of six, I wrote poems for my mother. Burned the edges of the paper and decoupaged them to the panels of wood I had stained with a blowtorch. It was my humble attempt to make her feel better. To feel safe.

I suppose in my childish ways, I thought maybe life was like a lifeguard at the beach — that you only had to be saved once. But I learned that in love, in life, we would have to (get to) do it again and again. I kept writing. I kept painting.

And all those poems, those paintings, they weren’t just saving her, but me. And day to day, as we reflected smiles from heart to heart, face to face, we could look at each other and say, “You did that.”

Life’s pages keep turning. True love moves with you. Recognizes you. Holds you. Place to changing place.


Celebrating jam!

I made a small batch of raspberry jam last night. I’m surprised I even slept, with the excitement of having it for breakfast. 

When the birds told me to open up the shutters, I donned my slippers and made the bed, quick as a wink. I clipped down the stairs and saw it — as red as Christmas morning. I brewed the coffee and toasted the bread (bread that I had also made). 

“Look at that color!” I exclaimed to Dominique. The perfume of the raspberries lingered through each bite. I held up the small jar in wonder. Mid-song of my praises, I began to laugh. I was transported to my grandparents’ table. The floor above the countless jars my grandma had filled. With nine children, I can guarantee that there was never a time my grandma sat at the table, admiring her jam, saying, “Look, Rueben!  Look at that color!”  I’m still laughing.

It’s glorious to make things. I want to live in a world of makers. And we should take pleasure in it. Joy even! But before we get too full of ourselves, thanks must be given to those who made the paths. Those who didn’t have the luxury of the morning stroll, but those who labored so that we could!  

My grandmother’s kitchen was always mid-boil, mid-brew. 9 children. 27 grandchildren. She didn’t have time to teach us recipes. She didn’t even have time to follow recipes. She just added, guessed, tested. So how is it that I remember the soothing rumble of her aproned belly, as I rode in the laughter of her lap. She still had the time. Took the time. For me. Perhaps the greatest gift of all!  

So, I say go ahead and celebrate the morning jam! The morning coffee! The morning laughter! What better way to give thanks?!!!


Permanent strokes

There was only one tree in my grandma’s yard with sour apples. They were my mom’s favorite. Little green apples, with a sour so big, it almost bit you back. A sour that squeezed through your squinted right eye, then into your clenched jaw bone. And rummaged down the back of your throat. 

What I loved most about them was that my grandma always had a brown paper sack filled to the top, with “Ivy” written in black permanent marker. I loved that she knew her daughter. 

It was with that same care that my mother packed my school lunch. A little brown paper bag. Every day, since the second day of first grade. On my first day that year, the lunch lady made me eat a pickle. A pickle!!!! Worse than any green sour… Both of my eyes squeezed shut. In horror. In prayer. That this horrible thing would be forced down my throat. 

As silly as it sounds, for me it was traumatic. And what I loved most about it, was the fact my mom never made fun of me. She knew me. She always let me eat grandma’s sweet apples. She packed my lunch every day. I saw my name. In black permanent marker. And I was loved. I was saved.

You just can’t pencil it in. This life. You have to really see people. Know them. Accept them. Love them. Love them with full, broad, permanent strokes. That is a love that never fades.

Leave a comment

For the green.

I grew up thinking they were all green. My grandparents had apple trees. So many apples. Bushels and baskets filled. We would pick and climb. Using the stick with the jagged bag, getting the highest ones. The ground splattered with those that just couldn’t hang on anymore. The cows filled. Our bellies as well.  

We never had to buy apples. Every green summer visit to the farm, we went home with brown paper bags filled. Marked by the sweetest to the most sour. My mom loved the sour ones. I suppose one would say tart, but my youthful palette could only think of sour. I always reached for the sweet.

You can imagine my surprise when I went through the school lunch line for the first time. Plastic tray in my chubby hands. I sidestepped single-file with all of my classmates. The lunch lady put the plate filled with something resembling meat and potatoes on my tray. Sidestep. A small carton of milk. Sidestep again. She placed it on my tray — a red apple. Red? Why was it red? Apples were green. Weren’t they green? I looked around to view what I imagined would have been a collective shock, but no one else was surprised. 

What I love about my youthful heart, it didn’t feel bad. It stayed quiet, but happy. I smiled, filled with my special knowledge.

It was Autumn. I helped my grandma pick the remaining apples from the tree. Not many. Just a few held on to summer. The basket wasn’t heavy, but we carried it together. Each grasping a wire handle. Stride for stride. I knew this was something special. For the green. For the grandma.  

“They come in red too, you know,” I said as we walked to the house. “Yes,” she smiled. “I like that we have green,” I said. She nodded, “Me too.” We moved through the grass as one. It was, we were, something special. I keep holding on.