Jodi Hills

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


The Painful Blossom.

Nature has it right. Never is it more beautiful than when it is about to grow. Full blossom. And proud! “Look! Things are changing,” the trees say joyfully in pink and yellow and white. If they are afraid, they don’t show it. And the transition can’t be easy. They are awakening from winter. Changing shape. Having to rely on sun. On rain. Fully exposed. 

The obvious teacher of this would have been my grandfather. A farmer. Riding, guiding, nature’s wheel. And he did — teach me. Never shying away from the difficulty. “I can’t glamorize the dirt,” he told me. It was real. Rocks needed to be picked. Hands would be recognizably changed. But each year he too changed the fields from black to green to gold. Fully exposed. Fully beautiful.

But maybe the best teacher was my mother. When her seasons changed abruptly from married to single. From sure to uncertain. Fully exposed, each morning, she willed herself into the light. Smoothing the lines on her face. The seams of her skirt. Allowing the painful blossom. Allowing the beauty of growth.

The petals slowly falling on the trees remind me, it is once again my turn. It’s time to grow. Fully exposed, but never alone. Each petal a sign of those who have gone before me. In perfect harmony I hear them. My mother, my grandfather. “Look,” they say, “things are changing!” My smile blossoms. I am not afraid.

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My mother’s giggle.

She could keep a secret better than anyone I knew, except for presents. For nearly every birthday present, Christmas present, it went something like this: About two weeks before the event, my mom would ask me, “Do you want to open your present?” “No, I’ll wait,” I replied.

“You could unwrap it and then we could wrap it back up so you could open it again…”

“No, I’ll wait.”

“Do you want to just look at it?”


“What if I just told you what it was?” She grinned.

“How is that different?” I smiled.

After about age seven, I knew the routine. But it was never manufactured. She truly was that excited to give me a present. And that was the ultimate gift, I suppose. Two glorious weeks of taunting excitement! Giggles and anticipation. Pure joy and love! That’s why I never wanted to open it early. I relished the time with my mother.

About two weeks ago, on vacation, I bought my favorite candle. The clerk asked if it was a gift. Yes, I smiled. She put it in a box and tied a bow. I still haven’t opened it. I just need a little more time inside my mother’s giggle.

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Red rubber hearted.

We were the first class of six graders to move to Central Junior High School. The only ones really happy about this were the incoming seventh graders – no longer would they be at the bottom of the hierarchy. Leaving Washington Elementary, we left behind our giant playground. Filled with monkey bars, swing sets, tethered balls, a baseball field, a jungle gym, teeter totters — all which we ruled as 5th graders. Central Junior High had none of it. No playground whatsoever.

There was a small nook between building additions. It was covered with tar. It didn’t take us long to claim it. (Not to mention that no one else wanted it.) We took chalk from the art room and outlined the four squares. Kept a red rubber ball after gym class. We were all set. Four-square. We didn’t just play. We became champions. We had moves. Giant arm swings that would indicate a hard ball on the way, only to tap it slightly with fingertips, leaving the person in the next square open-jawed and back to the end of the line. We made alliances. We laughed. We cheered. We ruled that tiny piece of real estate that few even knew existed. 

We heard the rumors. Sure. Parents. Teachers. People of the town. “This part of the school wasn’t safe.” “It shouldn’t be open.” “What will they do?” We couldn’t really be bothered with it all. We simply found a way. We found our own way. The voices in our own heads were so much stronger. Now that I think about it, maybe they weren’t any louder than the voices in our heads today, but maybe we just listened more. I want that. I want to listen to that voice that tells me to color outside of the lines. To laugh until I can’t stand. To embrace my friends openly. To take what I’m given and celebrate! To love and play over the din of doom. To feel the bounce of my red rubber heart! I can hear that joy! You can hear it! I know we can do this! Whatever this day may bring, let’s find a way – our own way – to have a little fun!

What was it all for, if we didn’t have a little fun?

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Pebbles and paths.

It’s unlikely they are Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, but she is my first thought as I pass the sign each day on my walk. It points and reads, “La Petite Maison” — the little house. Surrounded by trees on the gravel path, I am transported from the south of France to the northwest of Minnesota, crouched in the corner of our living room, reading “Little House in the Big Woods,” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

I read all of her books. Each one a safe haven to dream. Moving me forward from place to place. Opening doors. Revealing the possibilities of words, of stories, of living. They were the cars of my underground railroad. 

With each gift comes a responsibility. I, we, were given so much. So easily. And I don’t think it’s enough to just give thanks — thanks for the path. We need to keep digging. Keep paving. Putting up the signs, as small as they may be. Because someone will see them. Will feel them. These small acts of kindness. These words of hope. These gravel roads to possibility. 

I continuously have a rock in my shoe. I think that’s the wink of the universe. A reminder of where I’ve been. A reminder to keep going. That my tiny life, as petite as it may be in this “Big Woods,” has to matter. Has to mean something. So I gather the words and the pebbles and make paths. Walking ahead. Walking behind. Walking beside. Always with you.

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Capturing the poem.

A set of railroad tracks ran through the path I took to walk to town. If you were caught in the train’s path, you could wait up to ten minutes for the train to pass. It doesn’t sound like much, but in summer’s youth, to give up 10 minutes was just too much. The things that could be accomplished were extraordinary. You could climb on the feet of the giant viking statue. Peruse the aisles at Woolworth’s. The penny candy at Ben Franklin. Ride the back of a shopping cart from Olson’s super market. Swing to the sky on the playground. Drag a stick in the empty ballpark’s sand. Balance in the middle of a teeter-totter. Smudge the windows with open face looks into the movie theatre. Smell the books at the public library.  10 minutes could simply not be wasted waiting for a train.  

So if you heard one, a train, rounding the last curve around the lake before the tracks, you ran like hell. (I only said it like that in my head. Outloud, I would have spelled it “h – e – double hockey sticks.” Nevertheless, I ran!  With everything I had, I ran to beat this train. To capture a part of my life that I knew I would never get back. I wasn’t going to miss it.

Much later, I would learn of the poet Ruth Stone. Growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming . . . ‘cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.

The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Knowing full well, that if she didn’t catch it, it would “continue on across the landscape looking for another poet.”

I suppose we are all only vessels. Life is a series of moments floating, racing around the universe, and we have to be open, ready, willing to catch them. I don’t want want to miss out. In this life, I want to be the one who beats the train into town. I want to be the poet who captures the poem. 

The morning sun is rising, as sure as a whistle blowing down the tracks. I hear it. Getting louder. I’m ready!


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.

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Not going to miss it.

They warned us about it – our permanent record – nearly from day one at Washington Elementary. We laughed. We were too young for anything to last beyond recess. I’m not even sure if there was such a thing, for school that is. But they weren’t wrong though. Things did last. Good and Bad. The things we did or didn’t do. The things we said, or didn’t say. Every day. They all mattered. Still do. Permanently.

Maybe we have this false security of time. They give it to us at the airport. A million things can go wrong pre-flight. Mistakes can be made. Time wasted. You can sit on the tarmac, and the pilot will always come on the speaker and say, “Don’t worry, we’ll make it up in the air.” And they often do. Would that it were so on land. With each other. But it isn’t. Moments missed are just gone. I don’t mean to say that in a doom-filled way, but more of a reminder. I need, want, to keep myself aware of the time. Each precious moment. It’s easy to fill them with things. With stuff. But I want my time filled with experience. With meaning.

Cindy Lanigan told me in the first grade that friends don’t let their friends be lonesome. She let my mom come pick me up from my first sleep over. She didn’t tell anyone. That has stayed with me. Permanently. When my parents divorced, Colleen Abrahamson cried with me in the back seat of our volleyball bus. Moments. In the time. I have a million of them. And I am grateful for each one.

We are not planes. We have to make the most of right here. Right now. This is our moment. I’m not going to miss it.

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If wishes were fishes…

He was probably just big for his age. I could see him by the side of the pool while I was running on the treadmill. When he turned around I could see the soft timidity of his face. He was still young. He looked at his father sitting in a chair beside the pool. Maybe for assurance before he entered the pool. He lowered himself into the water. His father lowered his face to his cellphone. He hopped around at first. The initial excitement of the water itself. But then it became clear. He was alone. It’s hard to splash yourself. Flip yourself. I kept running. I was smiling. I didn’t want to make him more self conscious if he looked up, but I wanted him to know it was ok. That he was ok. He was free to make his own splash!  

I did. I had for years. I threw the softball against the garage door. I hit the tennis ball against the brick wall. Rode my bike alone. Walked to town alone. Made parades with only stuffed animals. Picnicked with dolls. Splashed in Lake Latoka, then set out to make bigger splashes in bigger ponds. Even across one of the biggest.

I saw two in the pool the next day. Probably a brother and a sister. They had such fun together. But they too, will one day have to make their own way. We all do. Some just start earlier. 

I’m sending out my smile today. You are not alone. Someone has felt it, survived it, struggled through it, even splashed beyond it. Maybe we can all just offer that smile today, to each other, as a reminder. My grandma used to say, “If wishes were fishes, we’d all be in the pool!” We can make that happen you know…that’s my wish, that we can all be there for each other.


All set.

We were exchanging airport stories. She was traveling with her big family. They had made plans and lists. Organization was attempted. Even still, the best laid plans of travelers… They unloaded and reloaded, resembling more of a comedy than a dance. Nearing the end, she thought she heard the security guard say, “You’re awesome.” All smiles, giddy with delight that they had navigated through this maze unscathed, and apparently quite remarkably, she replied, “Oh, thank you!!  Thank you!  You’re AWESOME too!” He hadn’t said “awesome.”  “No,” he replied stoically, “You’re all set.” We hear what we want to hear. 

I suppose we do this a million times a day, try to translate what is said by others, even what we tell ourselves. People ask me all the time, how do you write every day. Saying they could never do it. Really, we all do it, I just happen to put it down on the page. We are in a constant state of listening and telling our stories. What is said and what is heard are often so different. This is why I love my friend’s story so much! In all the chaos around her, the story she was hearing in her head was that she, they, were awesome!  What if we all told ourselves that today? What if the voices in our head told us we were doing great? That we looked fabulous! That we were really something!  Then we would, in fact, be “all set!” 

Have a great day, my friends!  You ARE awesome!

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Shoe horned.

From the outside it looked like any other shoe store. The shoes were brightly lit against the wall. So many choices. I had a pair in mind. In the past few days I had searched for them. Rifled through the stores with boxes all in a row. Never matching the right color with the right size. I wasn’t all that hopeful, but I asked the man for my size in a few possibilities. He went in the back and returned, behind a stack. He kneeled down in front of me. And started unlacing the shoes. I reached down, but he said, “I’ve got this.” Suddenly I was 6 years old at Iverson’s shoes. He opened the laces around the tongue. I pointed my toes and he shoehorned my foot inside. All I wanted to do was run around the store to see if they were fast. He went in the back to grab a few more, and I did. And they were. I loved them.

I placed them in the “probably” chair next to me, and tried on the rest. It was always the first pair. That first perfect pair. I tried them on three times in between the others, just to be sure, just to return to my first love. 

I said I hoped I wasn’t wasting his time. It’s funny that we are conditioned to go there. “Absolutely not,” he said. He was cheerful and kind. Offered to spray the shoes to protect from the elements. I joyfully agreed, even knowing the whole while I would never expose these beauties to such things.  

Some might say it is only nostalgia. Maybe a little. And I don’t think it’s just about service. It’s about being seen. Having an interaction with another human. An exchange of kindness. This is now. Forever. 

It took years to grow into my size nines. To stand on my own. But I didn’t get there by myself. No one does. And if we can offer it from both sides, this grace of giving, this grace of receiving, then maybe life will be a little sweeter, always fast, but a little more joyful, as we slip gently against the smooth path, easing ourselves into the journey.