Jodi Hills

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


2 Comments

Open.

Bracing her hands against her knees, still looking up at the painting, smiling, joyful tears filled her eyes. I stepped closer in, wanting too, to be caught in her moment of happiness.

It isn’t often that I get to finish the sale in person. Normally it’s online, and then I ship it out. The grateful emails are nice, but nothing like being face to face. Yesterday, I got to witness her reaction. In real life. In real time. Of course the money is always nice. There is validation to the dollar amount. But to see the reaction. To know that this painting brings her and her husband home, this is priceless. This is why I keep painting.

There is an intimacy to this life, that should never be missed. When people allow you into their moments, be it tears of joy, or sorrow, go all the way in. Stand beside the raised arms or bent knees and feel the moment. It is the most precious gift we have to give. We have to receive. It takes courage, for sure, to do both, but the rewards are immeasurable.

I hope you see these words each day as doors. As windows. Come in, you and your heart sit down.


Leave a comment

Security and Surprise

I don’t know who it belonged to. It certainly wasn’t my grandma — even though we found it, my cousins and I, in her upstairs closet. Digging beneath the sombrero, the military uniform and the extra bedding, we jumped back, toppling over each other on the hardwood floor. Was it alive? It had eyes! Fur! What was it??? With a pool cue from the corner of the closet, we moved it into view. A dead fox. Long straight, headed and tailed. Did it crawl in from the field for a siesta (under the sombrero on this Minnesota farm)? And then died? We kicked it down the stairs beside my grandma standing in front of the kitchen sink. (She was always in front of the sink, yet the dishes were never done — but that’s another story.) 

“It’s just a stole,” she said, “a fox stole.” Not understanding the word, we assumed the dead fox was now some sort of robber. “No, to wear around your neck,” she said. The explanations kept getting worse. It was unimaginable. We threw it at each other. Maybe she said who it belonged to, but I don’t think so. We soon grew tired of it. We would have left it on the kitchen floor, but she told us to put it back, never asking why she wanted to keep it. We loved her. So we did. 

The only accessory we knew Grandma Elsie to wear was an apron. And that was enough for us. She donned what some called sensible shoes and house dresses, which made it easy, I suppose, for us to forget that she was not just a grandma, but a woman of this world. 

Pardon the reference, but it’s hard to see “everything, everywhere, all at once.” We get bits of people, glimpses really. We grab onto the parts that serve us best, and a lot remains, well, in the closet. This is not to say we need to know everything about everyone. But I think it’s good to realize that we don’t know everything. People have riches and reasons that we will never realize. And instead of being afraid of that, we should respect it, celebrate it even. 

I don’t know if my grandma was ever in Mexico. But in my head she was. Possibly even wearing a fox stole. Or maybe it was just Great Aunt Ellen’s. Maybe she bought it at Tvrdik’s garage sale, just up the road. It doesn’t really matter. What I love is that there was a world to discover in her home. A home where we were allowed to run free. To become exactly who we wanted to be. This beautiful farmhouse, with security and surprise, that grew so much, grew so many.


Leave a comment

At any measure.

In the seventh grade at Central Junior High School, for approximately one week, it was decided that all students would learn the metric system. This foreign secret of measure, based in 10s and 100s, was brought out like a dirty, family secret on a Monday afternoon, and by bus time on Friday, we never spoke of it again. 

I’m not sure why we gave up, but as I struggle to convert grams to cups and kilos to pounds, I think it may have been useful. I never imagined that I would take pride in being able to weigh myself in another country, but here I am.

Through the years, the metric system became very low on the scale of “I wonder why we never talked about it.” There are so many things that got brushed under the rug. So many hurts. So many feelings. Confusions. As I stand here smiling before the scale, I imagine how many other things could have been so much easier had we only talked about them. I don’t say this in regret, but as a prompt, to keep things out in the open. Feel them as I feel them. A reminder to wear my heart on my sleeve and my face, giving it away at any measure.

Adding the flour to the bread dough this morning, I don’t use cups, nor grams. I have done it so often, I go by feel. A mixture of farine complète and farine de blé, my own special recipe. And it feels right. It feels like me. Heart wide open — this is where life becomes delicious!


2 Comments

Of wind and wave.

I suppose it’s impossible to find out right away. We make our friends, from the start, in the most joyous of times. We gravitate to the laughter on summer vacation beaches. Buoyed by the play. And between the giggles and the hands held in the sand that we skip upon, we shout to all the blue above, “This is my friend!!!!” And we can’t, for one second, imagine that the moment is not eternal. Until it isn’t.

Perhaps it is here where real friends are made. When the skies darken and the path can no longer be skipped, but only trudged. When the only sound that can break the noise of wind and wave is the close whisper of “I’m still here…and it’s still beautiful.” Maybe the skies can’t hear it then, and maybe they don’t need to, but my heart shouts with eternal joy, “This is my friend!”


2 Comments

A place at the table.

I asked him if he wanted to draw with me. He was still in his overalls, tired, needing to wash up before dinner. I open my Big Chief notebook wide. Folded the crease of the binding so it lay flat and spread before the two of us on the card table my grandma had set up for me. “I don’t know how to draw,” he said. “Yes, you do,” I said. “I couldn’t even draw a straight line,” he said. “But I don’t need a straight line,” I said, holding up my ruler. He laughed and picked up one of my crayons. I knew he was tired from a day of farming under the sun. I just needed to know he wasn’t too tired. For me. He wasn’t. Soon I told him it was ok, that he didn’t have to draw anymore. I would finish the picture. He smiled and went to wash for dinner.

I drew a picture of him on his tractor. I had watched him earlier in the day. Moving with precision up and down the seeded field. The rows were perfect. Straight. Beautiful. I replicated them with my ruler. 

When he returned to the table I handed him the picture. “It’s you,” I said proudly. He smiled. “See,” I said, “you CAN draw a straight line, only you use a tractor.” He gently held the proof in his hand. 

There is always a way to connect. A way to find a place at the table.


Leave a comment

No end in sight.

There was always a kid in our class that seemed to be without fear. The boy who walked across the top of the monkey bars — stepping wildly over our hands that gripped the rungs. I was never one to be reckless. I had my own formula. My goal was to keep curiousity one step ahead of fear. This would be my definition of brave. 

That is how I walked into the North End of VanDyke Road. Curiosity leading. Fear nipping at my heels. I was a rung gripper, but I wasn’t going to miss out. There was an entire world of unknowns in this undeveloped area. Pathless woods. Untamed waters. Daring. Waiting. Luring. Years later I would learn that each neighborhood has one. Each life.

As a whole, it seemed capable of swallowing a young school girl. So I took it bit by bit. Plant by plant. Sound by sound. Step by step. Slipping up sandy hills. Slugging in muddy waters. Unclenching my white knuckles. Pocketing each ribbit. Each grain. Each scent. Each time a little deeper into the North. Never giving in to the End. 

I am pleased and terrified that the world can still surprise me. That I can still surprise myself. That I can outrun the constant nips, and keep moving forward. Daily offered a new North, I set out looking to fill my curious pocket with a handful of brave. No End in sight.


Leave a comment

A proper reflection.

To earn my weekly fifty cents allowance, every Thursday afternoon when I got off the school bus, I had chores to do. It was my job to clean the mirrors, wipe down any surfaces in reach, dust and vacuum. To clean the mirrors, I used the off-brand Windex that my mother purchased, and wiped them down with newspapers, because, as my mother explained, that’s how you achieved that no-streak shine. I don’t know how she knew. I never saw my grandma do it. There certainly wasn’t Google. And it wasn’t offered information in the Encyclopedia Britannica. But I never questioned her. When it came to creating a proper reflection, I knew my mother was the champion. So each Thursday afternoon, I took the pages from the last week of the Alexandria Echo, and gave us both a fresh start.

Maybe it’s too simple to say, but it seems I learned very early on that it was how you looked at things. Giving yourself the opportunity to see it all, even yourself, in the best of situations. It never occured to me that we didn’t have much. I was proud of our home. I was proud of my Thursday work. When my mom arrived around 5pm, I stood, blackened hands by my side, heart filled with breath and anticipation. She walked me into the bathroom light. Put her arm around my shoulder, and we smiled at each other in the streakless reflection. We were together. Shining. I had everything. The world was possible, well beyond last week’s news.


Leave a comment

Green-footed

I received a pair of green rain boots for my 7th birthday. We lived in green house on Van Dyke road. It being spring, I vowed to wear them, rain or shine, every day until the grass was the same color. I didn’t know the word palette then, but I knew what I felt, and “how glorious,” I thought, if I could run green-footed in the green grass in front of our green house. 

Spring came as promised, and I, feet blistered, and perhaps a little smelly, was a part of it all. I belonged.

I suppose that’s what we all want — to be a natural part of things. Without the need for invitation, to just belong. And it was, glorious! Glorious to find out that this wasn’t a place at all, but a feeling. A feeling I could not only create, but carry with me, anywhere. 

You can wait your whole life and not receive an invitation. You have to give that to yourself. Step into your own palette. Wake up and say, “I’m here.” Wake up and know that it all matters. That you matter!  

My husband asked me yesterday why I was bringing in his old green rain boots from the garage. “Because you’re part of my palette,” I said. He smiled. We are home. Glorious!


Leave a comment

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. 

Softly.


Leave a comment

From rack to mirror.

I often tell the story of the first time Dominique went with my mom and I to Herberger’s. Upon entering the back door, it started — the meet and greet. There’s Jessica from shoes. Hi Jessica! Sue in bras. “The last one fits great!” Oh there’s Carol. “Thanks for the boxes!” “This is the manager,” my mom pointed out. “Oh, hi Claudia — we’ll need to pre-order the Clinique.” Dominique seemed dazed and confused. He whispered in my ear, “I don’t understand?” What? I said – it all seeming so normal. “Is your mom the mayor?” He asked. “Of Herberger’s,” I said, “Yes!”

Some of my best memories are in dressing rooms. Whether it was me, or a complete stranger (of course only upon their urging), my mother was there to help. She would stand just behind your shoulder. Look with you in the three way mirror. And with your very best interests at heart, she would say, “I think we can do better.” And then she was with you – to the very end – from rack to mirror and back again. Until it was just right. No abandonings. Only truth. Only support. Until it was completely beautiful.

I have been told that these sweet memories will someday turn from pain to comfort, and then to complete joy. And I believe it. I have to believe it because I’ve seen it from every angle. This three-way reflection of truth, support and beauty.

I look in this morning’s mirror and smile because I can hear it…I can hear her… “We can do better. We will do better.” She is with me. And it is beautiful!