Jodi Hills

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


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Making heirlooms.

I looked it up, to see the exact definition —. Heirloom: a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations.


I don’t suppose we’ve ever been a family of objects, but I’don’t feel badly about that. Because we do have valuables. My grandparents, being farmers, grew something every year. Not for display. But for the growth. The life. And the stories that remain, even after every truck and tractor, every tool, had been auctioned off, the stories remain. And I hear them. I write them. And I pass them on – these heirlooms.

Since I can remember, I have only seen my brother in overalls. He is not a farmer. I’m sure if you asked him, he would say for the comfort, the pockets, easier to work in… and those reasons are probably all true. But it occurred to me that maybe he is creating his own heirlooms. Just as I write the stories, he puts on my grandfather’s wardrobe, and gives his own grandchildren an image of the past. An image that they certainly will carry with them forever. Their Grandpa Tom wore overalls.


We get to decide what is valuable in this life. What is important to us. For me, it has always come down to the human connection. Never to be displayed on shelves, but certainly displayed daily, in hands reaching out, arms pulling in, love grown, lives shared.


Some days, as I type, I wonder, is it really important, to write these words? And then you respond with memories of your own. Share your stories — your heirlooms — and grandparents are kept alive, traditions, schools, hometowns… and I smile and know it is valuable — making these daily heirlooms.


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From both sides now.

I’m not sure that it was the heart of the lesson, but what I learned with the math “times tables” in first grade (this times this equals this) was that if you memorized something, it came with the security of always having it. I suppose this was the security I was searching for.

It was just my mom and I. Everyone else had left. I could hear my mother cry at night. I wrote poems and drew pictures, hoping to give the tears a soft place to land. But in the dark of night, I, we, could see none of them. So I began to sing, in my head. I found an old album cover that my sister used to play. It was Joni Mitchell’s, Court and Spark. I memorized the songs. Each lyric. Each note. I knew them all. Each took around three minutes to sing. And magically, time would pass. “This times this” — words times music equaled safety.

When days and nights became easier. Time became filled with activities and eventually, somehow, joy. I heard my mother’s laugh. And my own. Life became more full. And the rotations of songs in my head, became less frequent. And then almost not at all. But I knew they were there. They still are. And now, if I sing one, maybe while mowing the lawn, it is somehow, nothing but joy.

I painted her on one of my jean jackets. Maybe it’s too simple to say that she had my back. It may be simple, but it is true.

I saw a video of her on Youtube yesterday. 78, having survived a near death experience not that long ago. The words came out like honey. Pure and sweet. Tears flowed out of the eyes of those around her. Cheers flowed out of the audience. It was beautiful! Magical. Nothing but joy. And at the end of the song, she laughed. Giggled really. Like the little girl that still lived within her. Like all the little girls, the women, she carried. And in that moment, (with the words and music that we will always have,) she, I, we, were saved.

https://youtu.be/4aqGjaFDTxQ


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Heart song.

“Words are partly thoughts, but mostly they’re music, deep down. Thinking itself is, perhaps, orchestral, the mind conducting the world. Conducting it, constructing it.” ― Patricia Hampl

We have a glove compartment full of cds. The car holds our only cd player. Vacation for us begins as I slip the cd into the player. It grabs it gently. Recognizes it. And starts to play the familiar soundtrack of our wanderings.  These trips could be 30 minutes down the road, or five countries in five days. We know the words to each song. The beats. The rhythms. The little nods inside the lyrics. The poetry that fills our souls, guides us down an untraveled path. 

My mother and I did the same. We soundtracked our journeys. Each note giving us strength and courage and the joy of exploration. Frank Sinatra, singing “My kind of town — ” led us into Chicago. And so it went with nearly all of the 50 states. A song for each journey, each story. 

I suppose the music has always carried me. Each note a suitcase for the memory, and a map for open road. Those who know me, really know me, are the ones who can sing along. 

Find this someone — this someone you can sing with. Someone who doesn’t care about the missed notes, or when your timing is just a beat off. Someone who laughs when the country band whispers, “…and Leon…” or is moved to tears with the pure magic of every Paul Simon turn of phrase. Find someone who shares your heart song and says, “Play it again! Play it again!”


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Just breathe.

We knew a little about team work, from playing in school sports, or even gym class, but this was different. We weren’t just working together, “It was more than that,” he said. We had to breathe together. Breathe together? All of us? Was that even possible?

We were just a group of teenagers in a band. We had never heard of breathing exercises. Certainly never heard of yoga. We were preparing for the state high school band tournaments in Minneapolis. Maybe some of us had grand aspirations, but I don’t really think so. We got to get out of school early. Ride a bus to Minneapolis. That was about it. But for some reason he believed in us. Wanted us to believe in ourselves. Reach for something more. And he stood in front of us, with that baton, that wiggle, all that hair, smiling, and we started to believe too.

It was the first time I even brought my clarinet home. Practiced. This was new. For most of us. We were all learning our individual parts, but it wasn’t enough he said. He said we had to be “one.” And the only way we could be “one” was to breathe together. For the first time I listened to my own breath. I was aware of my actions. Aware of the girls on either side of me. The boys behind me. We had different interests. Different skill levels. But we could do this. We could breathe together. We could do this for ourselves. We could be better. And we were. Every day.

That bus ride to the competition was fantastic. We sang. Arm in arm. Shoulder to shoulder. Our instruments snuggly packed in the compartments below. We played better than we ever had. Cohesive. One unit. It sounded beautiful — to us. We didn’t make it past the first round. I don’t suppose that was the ending you imagined. You were expecting some sort of victory. OH, but you see we were victorious. We thought so! And he thought so, our conductor, Mr. Christianson.

On the bus ride home we sang and laughed, still arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, because we had done what we thought impossible. We became one. And that was the victory after all. We were part of something. I can hear a big band song on the radio today, and feel it!. I breathe in, once again, the gift he gave us, the gift we gave ourselves. And I belong.