Jodi Hills

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

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You are part of my story, and it is beautiful.

Becky gave me one red cherry yesterday.  It was delicious. I named our cherry tree Becky. It seemed so obvious to me. Tom Sawyer describes Becky Thatcher when he first sees her, “the new girl in the garden… a lovely little creature…wearing a white summer frock.” How could this not be our Becky — our lovely cherry tree. She is, in fact, the newest of our trees. She hasn’t yet produced what one might call a real crop. Just a smattering of red cherries, but the most beautiful cherries I have ever seen.  

Summertime, to me, will always mean youth. The days are brighter, longer. Everything greens and blooms and grows, and somehow, I feel, so do I. 

Probably the first to bloom in my brain were the words of Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry Finn. At the time they seemed more real than almost anyone I knew.  They jumped off the page. They were alive. They were my American childhood.

Through the years these books have been banned. But then again, so have I. I remember one church that wouldn’t let us in because my mother was divorced. We couldn’t go to the golf club because we were too poor. (And this I realize is nothing compared to how others are banned, but I, we, felt it just the same.)  And maybe it’s childish, (and part of me hopes so, because how pure is that!) but I still believe that we can learn and grow and become better. We can treat people better. All people. We can take the light of summer and start to see who we really are. Possibly even bloom. Summer is so open. So freeing. Maybe we can be the same. 

The birds are singing. I see Becky swaying in the morning breeze. Everything is still possible.

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Under today’s sun.

My Grandma Elsie bought the breakfast cereal variety pack. Those animated boxes in every color! OH how we loved them. To reach into the cupboard and choose! This was something! Each box fit perfectly into our palms – already sweaty with the anticipation of sugar. Moons and stars and loops that changed the color of the milk, and our collective heart rates. Our legs fueled, we began the day running. There was so much to see on the farm, and we couldn’t do it fast enough. We didn’t want to miss a minute under the sun.

My cousins and I couldn’t be more different now. Living separate lives, in separate countries even. A variety pack for sure. What a glorious gift to have been given options. Choices. I suppose when you have it, this freedom, it’s easy to forget about it. But I don’t want to take it for granted. So many do not have this luxury. And it is a luxury!

Gratitude’s sweet sugar fills my heart, and I’m still racing. To write the words and paint the painting! To see the day! To live the life! I was given a gift and I don’t want to waste one minute, miss one minute, under today’s sun.

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Just ride.

The trees are blanketed in last night’s rain. They don’t seem burdened, but relieved. They received what they needed.

I remember summer mornings on VanDyke road. It was gravel then. After a rainy night, (not too much, just the gentle summer kind) the road was firm and tight. It felt like I could ride my bike so much faster. And everything smelled possible. I had no schedule. No direction. I just woke up. Wiped the seat of my bike, and rode. The tops of my shoes were wet. And it felt like I was a part of it all. No different from the ground I rode on. And somehow I knew, just like the dew covered grass, and the trees and the road, I too would be given everything I need.

I haven’t missed a day of writing in 406 days. Before I began this daily blog, I thought I would have to search for the subject. But all I really needed to do was wake up, and see. Every day the world offers more magic than I can contain on paper or canvas. The birds singing. The taste of butter in the croissants. The dew covered trees.

As I walked around the house this morning to open the shutters, the tops of my shoes dampened. I smiled. It’s harder now to let go of daily worries, but when I wake up and look around, and really see, I mean really see, I have everything I need, just as I always have. No different from the youth and dampened gravel of Van Dyke road. I am a country away, but still home. I smile, and hop on today’s ride.

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Sprigs of green.

I received this tiny flower for May Day and I put it in the bathroom. It’s only been 48 hours, but I don’t know how I will ever live without it. I thought I loved this shelf before, but now… I will forever want something green. Something growing. Something alive. 

They say that about love. “When you know, you know…” But the problem with that is, you only know what you are taught. And until someone loves you, shows you what real love is, how can you possibly know? And I’m not just talking about romantic love — I mean all of it – the “thy neighbor”, fellow man, global, empathetic, understanding, forgiving, curious, ever kind, evergreen sort of love. Because that’s what love is. Love doesn’t make mistakes. Humans do. And we fail all the time. I fail all the time. But I have been blessed to see what real love is, maybe only glimpses, and maybe that’s all the human eye and heart can handle of this beauty, but what I’ve seen makes me want to try. Makes me want to do better. Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Oh! To be better!  

Today I give thanks for all those who have shown me, taught me about real love — all those sprigs of green that have lit up my heart. I wish it for everyone — a love forever growing, forever green.

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All of the trees in my grandparents’ yard were climbable, I suppose, but especially one. It was one of the biggest. It faced the road. Someone, I don’t know who, had pounded in strips of wood. If you could get one foot on the lowest piece, and reach your hand up to another, and pull, with all of your might, then up you would go.

There were 27 of us grandchildren. That tree had been marked and carved by every kind of shoe. And it stood strong. As strong, I imagine, as our need to get higher, to see more. get above and beyond.

And we did. We climbed. Higher and higher. And then, each of us, on different days, different years, we got high enough, and brave enough, and off we flew. With all of our wildly different high hopes.

I have flown far and wide, with the memory of trees — the strength of those who gave me a start, a rung to climb. And I give thanks. For I have been lifted, daily, knowing, we never really fly alone.

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Never finish.

There was a certain percentage of students at Washington Elementary that ate the Elmer’s glue. I must admit I liked the smell, but I never did eat it. I, along with the remainder of the class did however, put it on our fingertips, let it dry, and then peeled it off. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how satisfying that was.  This, along with a box of colored construction paper and Crayola crayons, could keep us busy during any rain altered recess. 

I was watching it rain yesterday afternoon through my office window, busy working on my new website. I have a small selection of paints at my desk, and a couple of brushes. 

I needed a recess — a rain altered recess. It’s amazing how it still can thrill me. The colors. The possibility. I knew at 5 years old, how magic this world was. Not only could it take you anywhere, but it would stay with you, inside of you, so permanent, so sure. I suppose it’s possible that I could have learned this on my own, I don’t know, but I give thanks every day for Washington Elementary. I give thanks for the teachers that introduced this world. What a gift they offered — this ability to go anywhere, even when the world was closed down…this ability to save yourself from the storm.  

I’m still learning. Still loving. I pray I never finish.

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The day after.

We do love our “holidays” in France. The Monday after Easter is a holiday. Everything is closed. Not that that’s different from every other Monday. If you want something special for a Tuesday, you will be wise to get it the Thursday before, just to be sure.  

I still forget. Even Dominique forgets. And it can be annoying. It’s so easy to slip into the mode of “Why isn’t everything open all of the time?”  — doing my best Veruca Salt – “I want it now!” 

But today, still enveloped in the beauty that was yesterday, Easter Sunday, I’m glad it’s a holiday. I don’t really want the feeling to end. And why does it have to? Tomorrow even! Well, maybe a little less sugar, but I want the feeling to live on – this fluttering in my heart. 

I don’t think the birds know if it’s Sunday or Monday, as they bounce in the air, singing all the while. I suppose that’s the magic of living – keeping that flutter. 

And today doesn’t have to be different. The violet trees bloom under the blue sky. The grass is greening. I still love who I love – what could be more special than that? 

So I direct the question, not to the stores in the street, but to my eyes, heart and mind, “Why isn’t everything open all of the time?!!” Let’s celebrate. Wide open! Today. The day after. And the one after that!

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Rabbits and bells.

I still get excited. And why not!? Everything is in bloom. There is candy on the table and kindness in the air. Eggs of many colors. Family soon to arrive. Everything feels like hope.

My first Easter in France was so different from that of my childhood. There is no Easter bunny here. They have bells. Bells deliver the candy and hide it. Not in baskets, but behind trees and throughout the garden. Bells, I thought, how ridiculous – everyone knows a rabbit… I know. I heard it too. And so I joyously rang the bell, and let myself believe. It made no difference how the magic arrived. It was there, filling the trees. 

My mother used to change the words to Peter Cottontail. As she skipped through the house with a basket of candy she sang, “Here comes Peter Cotton-fuzz, best little bunny that ever was…”  Different words. Still magic!!!

There is room in the sky for all of it. All of us. Whether you celebrate Passover, Easter, or Ramadan, or just the bloom of spring. I think we all want to believe in the best of us. The renewal of goodness. The spirit of kindness. The lightness of hope. Let the message be delivered in every way possible – even on wings!

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Small mercies.

The first time I got lost on Van Dyke road, I was 6 years old. I rode my flowered banana seat bike to the “North End” – the undeveloped area north, (I’m guessing, I had no sense of direction) of our house. It was, I suppose, just a gravel pit and a bit of a swamp, but not in my imagination. It was unknown, undiscovered, so certainly it contained danger in various forms of “North End” creatures. 

I was free to ride my bicycle on Van Dyke road. There was no traffic. Front doors were unlocked. Parents of all kinds were in shouting distance. We didn’t announce when going outside of the house, we just went. 

As the gravel got looser, my wheels dug in deeper, and so did my thoughts. If I got stuck here, would anyone find me? Would anyone look? Did they know I was gone? What was lurking behind that tree – for surely things did not live here, but lurk. My heart beat faster and I turned and spun and wait, not this way, there’s water, that’s not right, round again, where is the road??? My cheeks were getting hotter in the cool spring air. I had no watch, but the hands on my heart’s clock spun faster and faster. 

And then I heard a familiar noise. A garage door. Opening. Shutting. (I wasn’t that far from the last neighbor on the road.) I rode towards it. The sound that led me home was so small. Perhaps that is the way with all mercies. 

My mom was on the phone. The curly cord reached from the back door, through the garage, into the driveway. She smiled and waved without breaking conversation. I waved back. Time stood still. I was home.

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A moment.

It took me many years to go back to Van Dyke Road. The place I grew up. I don’t know what worried me the most – if it would be the same, or if it had changed. I am able to write about it now, those days on that road, because I understand that actually both are true, and will forever be true, and that’s OK. 

I painted this bird. It landed on a flower pot that I had placed outside because I was trying to coax the plant back to life with a little sun. A little fresh air. I had just given it a good drink when this beautiful little bird sat down on the edge. It was only a moment. But in the painting, I feel the movement. The energy of the plant – still trying. The energy of the bird, perhaps showing it the way. And it is alive. 

Everything is a moment to be captured. The Van Dyke Road I grew up on is kept alive with heart and hands and memories. It is in the falling off of bikes, and friends made, and families broken, gravel stuck in shoes, and hope stuck in hearts. Today’s Van Dyke Road is alive and well and making its way on and through the hearts of those that live there. It’s all just a moment, and oh, it is beautiful!