Jodi Hills

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

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The Cardinal beat.

We were never asked the question when we were young — “How do you identify?” I smile now, thinking about it, because I probably would have answered — “A cardinal.”

I didn’t see it for the blessing that it was at the time — maybe that’s the way with all blessings — but despite time and distance, it has stayed with me, this feeling of belonging, being, and I remain a cardinal.

Even on the teams we didn’t play for, we still came together in our red and black. Sometimes on the field. Sometimes in the band. Sometimes in the bleachers. Forever donned in our mascot, the Alexandria Cardinals. Because no matter what we were, hoods, geeks, nerds, jocks, preppies, we were always cardinals. We stomped and clapped to the Cardinal beat. Competed. Learned. Fought. Made up. Grew. Fell. Got up. Together.

I put on my second-hand Cardinal T-shirt yesterday. Wondering why it couldn’t all be this simple. Weren’t we, aren’t we, all a part of something bigger? I’d like to think so. Maybe the red and black is never all that black and white. But it is something to be connected. To be a part of the bigger picture. I want that. For all of us. For this world. We could come together. And identify as one.

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I don’t recall ever saying “It’s already Friday.” In grade school, each day lumbered into the next, being held up by spelling tests and times tables, bed times, and “but it’s a school night.” When Friday finally rang its last bell of the week, we raced out the doors, jackets dragging, expectations rising!

Friday nights meant a sporting event. Winter meant basketball. As a grade schooler, to watch the high school boys play was no less extraordinary than a professional team on the television. It was the first time I saw the inside of Jefferson Senior High. The long hallway smelled of popcorn and sugar. Kids my age were racing the terrazzo floors, daring their futures to catch them. The open gym doors wafted the scent of sweat and possibility across from the band room where they practiced our fight song. The wooden bleachers filled. Fathers pointed out sons. Mothers traced the stands for wandering youth. The town came together in red and black, and said, for these few hours, we are the same. We are one. Not divided by neighborhood. Not separated by wealth or religion. We were cardinals. MIGHTY, mighty cardinals – we sang. Together. We won and we lost. As one. 

I don’t remember exactly when the days began speeding, one into the next, when the future accepted our challenge and raced beside and beyond…when we all started to say, “It’s already Friday.” But it happened. Without our collective permission, the halls of Jefferson Senior high got smaller and smaller, and then one day, they simply had to tear it down. 

So why can I still hear the music? A country away? This morning, Glen Miller plays “In the mood” on the radio, and my heart is so happy, because the “halls” are filled and the band is saying, it’s only half-time…there’s so much more to play! Every chance remains. I am a part of something, still — forever. And hope remains…MIGHTY!

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Always with you.

I’m currently reading the third book in the Beartown series by Fredrick Backman — The Winners. All are set in Sweden, but easily could be any town, could be my town. Perched against my Alexandria Girls Hockey t-shirt (the one I bought this trip at Endless Treasures for $3.00) as I read, it IS my hometown.

Their collective identity is based upon the local hockey club. Some fit in. Some try to fit in. Others don’t fit in at all. All with their own struggles – trying to stay in, trying to get it, trying to figure out why they don’t even see the door.

I played on several teams in school. I liked sports. The activity. But maybe most of all, I wanted to wear the red and black. Not to stand out, but to blend into the sea of the town’s colors. To be accepted. Buoyed. To be identified as part of the team.

Because every town needs to label you with something… I could hear it, we all could hear it – whispers of divorce, trouble, “broken” — and I suppose that’s the one that disturbed me the most – this broken. How dare anyone decide how your home is standing. My home wasn’t broken. It changed, of course, but it stood, and I, we, deserved to wear the colors. So I put them on for volleyball, for basketball, for track. I wore them, fragile, scared, and hopeful. Hopeful that one day, I could call this, not just my home, but my hometown, all of it.

Wearing my Cardinal t-shirt in the south of France, that day has come. Not because “they” chose, but because I did. I claim the streets, paved and graveled. The houses grand and small. The neighbors on porches, waving from car windows. All trying their best, sometimes failing, sometimes winning, bobbing up and down in lakes of red and black. I remember everything. And while the struggles were often real, the treasures are indeed endless.

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Being a cardinal.

We never imagined ourselves as the toughest. We were birds. We played other schools that were tigers, bears, bison, wolves, eagles even… And when I say we played, we really did play. We had fun. I’m not certain if that’s why everyone joined, but I think so. And we were proud to be cardinals. Lovely red birds who played in the afternoons. No one was ever really threatened or intimidated by us, the cardinal girls, but still in the song we sang on the bus, we deemed ourselves mighty — “We are the cardinals, mighty, mighty cardinals, everywhere we go – oh, people wanna know- oh, who we are – so we tell ‘em… (and repeat).

And I think mighty be the exact right word here. Sure, we competed. We even won sometimes. But there was so much more. We did everything together. Dressed together. Hoped together. Sang together. Won and lost. Even cried sometimes. All together. And those years in school, when hope was really all I had — to do it together, was everything. And maybe only a couple of girls knew my story, but it didn’t matter. I don’t think we needed details. They didn’t seem to. I was part of something, and I, we, knew it was way more important than being the best – it was about wanting the best for each other. Being a part of something bigger than ourselves — I guess that, by my definition is mighty.

We were on the radio yesterday. Telling our story. What a delight! How did we fit together? How did we fit in this town? It felt like red and black joy. I was, again, a dancing cardinal!

It’s human nature I suppose to want to know all the details. But when you are welcomed, just for being you, brought into the colors without judgement, oh, what a feeling! People who will laugh with you. Ride with you. Win and lose with you, and still find a reason to sing — surround yourself with these people — people filled with hope, friendship and love — this is one mighty team! Everywhere I go-oh, I want people to know-oh, Yes, I am a cardinal…