Jodi Hills

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

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Roll on by.

She wasn’t a screamer, nor a fighter. I suppose I get that from her. But I know that my mother got stressed. And somehow it had to get out.

I wasn’t yet of driving age. We had a blue Chevy Malibu station wagon. It wasn’t built for speed. Not known for its quick pickup. The light blue remained unblurred, but for those special moments when out of traffic’s way, safely buckled in, she would wink at me, slam her Herberger shoed right foot onto the gas pedal, roaring the engine! We could only squeal tightly along with the tires. We released our breath and she, her foot off the gas. “I just had to get the soot out,” she said. And we laughed. Louder than any engine’s roar.

It took awhile, but I would come to realize it wasn’t to release the “soot” from the car, but from our very spirits. Life can clog you down. And somehow, you have to release it. Laughter seemed to be our favorite route!

I can’t Malibu myself out of today’s stress. But I have found my own ways. On the gravel path. In shades of blue on the canvas. Sometimes, just word by word on the page, hoping they take you along for the ride, sometimes with a laugh, sometimes with a tear, sometimes both. The sun is coming up, hop in, my friends, let’s get the soot out!

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My freshly earned driving permit was burning a hole in my pocket. “I don’t care where it is…I’ll take you anywhere,” I pleaded with my mom. When you’re 15, a Sunday can seem as long as, well, a month of Sundays. And not to use my state issued permission to drive (with another qualified licensed driver) seemed unthinkable. “We could go see…” “Yes,” I interrupted. “Grandma,” she finished.

The roads to my grandma’s house were long, straight, and for the most part, untraveled. I got in the driver’s side of our light blue Chevy Malibu station wagon. My mom got in the passenger seat. I put on my seat belt. Adjusted the mirrors. Started the engine. Turned off the radio. Looked in every direction. Put on my blinker, even though there was obviously no one behind us in the driveway, and proceeded with caution onto the road. The football coach who taught us Driver’s Ed was fresh in my mind.

Even with the windows closed, I felt the breeze in my mind. Wide open. Such freedom. I had experienced it on my bicycle, but this was fresh, exciting, this new travel — it was indeed Malibu!

My Uncle Ron was also visiting my grandma that Sunday. He watched me pull in the driveway. He slipped the toothpick from his mouth. He said things slowly, like my grandpa. “What kind of mileage do you get?” he asked me. Not only did I not know “what kind of mileage” I got, I didn’t even know what it was, or if in fact I was actually getting it. I shrugged my shoulders. “You don’t know. You have to know,” he said. I looked at my mother. She raised her eyebrows as if to wish me luck, and went into the house. I looked at my uncle. He led me inside to the kitchen table, where all things were learned and/or decided. He took a scratch pad and a pencil from the rolltop desk and proceeded to do the most math I had ever witnessed on a Sunday.

I stared at him, which he may have mistook for attention. But it was really more amazement. This was our first conversation in 15 years. I think he actually cared about me. Sure it was all disguised in a car metaphor, but I smiled and nodded. I stashed his full proof formula inside my pocket.

Freedom isn’t always measured in distance. Sometimes it takes you to the familiar, in a way you’ve never been before.

Today’s journey is beginning. I look in the morning mirror, and give myself permission.


True blue.

I got my driver’s license at 16. Not long after, I had a cast on both legs. A full length plaster on my left, from ankle to hip. And on my right from my toes to my knee. I could still walk. A little like Frankenstein. I couldn’t sneak up on anyone, but I kept moving. I could ride my ten speed off-brand bike. I tied a shoe lace around the right pedal to hold my foot in place and rode one legged from Jefferson Street. I could still drive. My mom had a sturdy (even more than we thought) used Chevy Malibu station wagon, in light blue. To get into the driver’s seat, I opened the door wide, lifted my left straight leg, (there was no way to back in) and in one full swoop, I grabbed the steering wheel, slid my left leg under the dash, hoisted myself up by that same light blue wheel, and seated myself at the ready. I’m not saying it was smart, or even legal, but I did it. Somehow we all survived. Me, my mom, and the Blue Chevy.

You never know what will end up supporting you. I suppose it’s the same way with friends. There is no way to anticipate or predict even what you will need. It’s not like you can go to the car dealership and hang from every wheel before you buy the car. But in this life we are gifted by the strength of others. Those beautiful friends who will support you, the full weight of you, when you need them. Without knowledge or permission we grab them by the wheel, and they hold. Some for a lifetime. True blue. I give thanks for them, every day.


A change is gonna come

Our nephew turns 16 today. In the US, that means one thing – driver’s license.

The first time I was behind the wheel was when I was 12 years old. My sister had her license and she was driving us out to see my grandma. We were in a more than sensible car (meaning huge) and on equally large, unoccupied, roads that led to the open fields of farms. For the most part, it was safe. She asked me if I wanted to try, (asking in a way that a younger sister couldn’t really refuse.) She pulled over to the gravel shoulder and we switched sides. Gas. Break. Wheel. The essentials were slightly explained. I pushed on the gas slowly. Never had I felt so disconnected. The steering wheel certainly wasn’t connected to the tires. My rubber arms were not connected to the wheel, and my brain seemed to be separated from the whole experience. You know how when you wiggle a jump rope against the ground and it jumps back and forth in a squiggle – that’s how it felt to be driving. I drove for what felt like a lifetime (probably less than half a mile). I was never so happy to see the driveway of my grandparent’s house. I stopped the car. My sister made the turn toward the house. My heart started beating once again.

We didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to. But I must admit there was a tiny spot in my heart that was changing from fear into excitement. I guess that’s what we call growth.

In a few years I would take the classes, behind the wheel and in the classroom. I would be given all the tools I needed to make the transition in my life. To take the steps toward this glorious freedom.

Today, when faced with any new challenge, when I feel the rubber arms and heart of uncertainty, I think of guiding that beast of an Impala along the road, and know that I will be given the tools, the gifts, the lessons, to change fear into life, and keep moving along this exciting path. The state of Minnesota gave me a license to drive. The universe gave me an open road.

Happy Birthday, Oliver! Happy Travels!!!!

(Not the Impala, but I haven’t painted one of those yet. )