Jodi Hills

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

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A passing moo!It was the first language I ever tried to learn — cow. 

Of course the car windows weren’t automatic. We had never even heard of such a thing. You had to turn the handle round and round to make the window go down. (I think I still make the cranking motion to indicate opening a car window.) 

There were lots of fields en route to my grandparent’s farm. Sitting in the back seat of the chevy Impala, I waited to see them — the giant black and white beasts. If I caught a glimpse at 55mph, I cranked the window and urged my mother to slow down. I sucked in a giant breath and mooed out the window. They stopped chewing for one brief moment. Staring at me with such confusion. Almost bewildered by what was coming out of my mouth. 

I stare into that same look quite often here in France. With deep breathed delivery, I converse in what sounds to me like perfect French, but I understand what they are hearing — a passing moo. 

Some days, I really have to crank to return to that childlike confidence. That willingness to open myself to the world around me. To be brave. Vulnerable. Present. 

I suppose we all have to do that for varying reasons. Every day. 

The sun is up. I crank my arm round and round with youthful vigor! I am ready! I am here! Mooooooo!

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By name.

Maybe it was because of the pink nose. Maybe my name selection was limited to cartoons. I named him Bozo – the first cow that wasn’t afraid to come to the fence where I stood with fallen green apples.

No cow had come on his own before. I had stood by that electric fence so many times. Afraid one would never come. Afraid one would. And on this day, this beautiful clown came toward me. Lumbering. My heart beat so quickly. My eyes moved from my hand, to the fence, to his face. Then I started to call him by name. “Come, Bozo, come…” The pink of his nose came closer. My hand reached over the fence. I was terrified, or excited – sometimes I think they are the same. I may have closed my eyes when I felt it, the roughness of his tongue that slurped the apple from my hand. “Bozo!” I screamed in delight.

I have always named everything. And everyone. I still do. The trees in our yard. The plants in our house. If I feel the connection, I name it. To be named is to be seen. And we all want that. I can hear Mrs. Bergstrom, my first grade teacher, call out my name — perhaps the first non-family member to do so. I was seen in the world. From that day on, I suppose, I wanted to hear it – my name, again and again. I want to give that gift in return.

So I dare reach over today’s fence, and call to you. I am terrified and excited. It means something. To be vulnerable. Willing. To put ourselves out there. To call each other by name. To really see each other, and connect! To give each other this gift – again and again.

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Rock solid.

We always raced toward the stillness. We began at the stairs of my grandparents’ house — 4 or 5 cement steps that led to the door that no one ever used. On your marks, get set… Go! And we were off, my cousins and I, wheeling and willing ourselves to the first base – the giant rock at the end (or beginning) of their driveway. The stone had to be touched, then we made a sharp right to the first apple tree, touching the boards that were hammered into the trunk for stairs . Then came the field. The cow field. We were supposed to touch the nearest cow. This meant you would have to duck under the electric fence, avoid the cow “pies” and dare to get get close enough to touch one of those giant beasts. They, not wanting to play, looked at us with faces that said, move on to the next base. We slightly bent down as we ran near the fence and waved in the direction of a moo, and this satisfied us all. We ran around the back of the house, past the rhubarb in the garden, touched the garage, ran to the barn, touched a tractor, then raced back to the front steps.

The rules were loose. The laughter was free. The races were never won or lost. Perhaps we were just gathering it all in. Each touch preserved in time. I can feel it — all — still. Sometimes I think, how smart we were — to take it all in. I have to will myself to be that smart now. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily race. But I remind myself to take the time to touch it – the stillness around me. I suppose it is there, in this stillness, that we gather in the meaning — the laughter, the love, the rock solid joy of being alive.

Summer is racing towards autumn. I can feel the slight change in the air. We sit on the front steps for a moment. Talk about what a run we had! The slips on corners, and grass stained knees, and we laugh from the lowest parts of our bellies. We look through the corners of eyes and feel the sun… “You wanna go one more time?” Yes! The answer was, and always will be — yes!!!

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A cow’s shoes.

My grandfather had cows. The herd had to be moved often. He explained that if he didn’t move them out of the grassy field, they would eat until their stomachs exploded. I don’t know if that’s true, or something he told us to keep us quietly watching the herd for hours, just for the chance to see one of them rocket into space.

I remember judging them. How stupid could they be, I thought. I still sometimes do, until mornings like this one. Mornings when I cross the line of just enough lavender honey to make the toast delicious — cross the line into wow, my racing heart and sleeping brain. That was a lot of honey!

It’s these humbling repeated lessons that keep my judgements at bay. (Not as much as I’d like, but I’m working on it.) We never know what the others are going through. And why they are going through it. Why something that is so easy for you is hard for them, and vice versa. I guess the only thing we can do is remember to be kind, to them, and to ourselves, because the roles will continue to reverse from day to day.

I won’t pretend to know what you are going through today. But I will tell you, whatever it is, I care. From the bottom of my honey-filled heart, I do care. And I’ll walk with you to the next field.

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Before Fleet Farm was cool.

For this to work, one must agree that Fleet Farm is cool now, and I do. But that wasn’t always the case. In its early days, and mine, Fleet Farm was not the megastore that it is today. It was small. Crowded. Dark. Clothes, the few they had, were not displayed, but crammed closet style. They weren’t bought ironically. No hipsters sported Carhart – did we even have hipsters? Fleet Farm looked more like an enclosed garage sale, and people went as far as changing tags on items, as if it were.

Visiting from France, my husband loves Fleet Farm. We have spent hours walking through the aisles. Fishing rods and overalls. Candy. Space to browse. And people ARE browsing. It is a real store.

Perhaps everything looks different from a distance. Oh, things change for sure, but so do our perspectives. I hope they change.

When I was in high school, my mom bought a pair of painter’s pants for me from that very uncool Fleet Farm. Today, most of my pants are “painter’s pants” – in one way or another. I wish I could say I knew Fleet Farm was cool then, but I don’t think I did. I had to learn a lot of things. Still do – by trying to see them. With new eyes. I paint my grandfather, wearing overalls he no doubt bought at that very uncool Fleet Farm. I paint with respect, and an apology for not seeing it, him, sooner. I paint the cows that he raised, the cows that the unpopular kids in FFA (Future Farmers of America) too raised in their fields that no one visited.

I browse this world with new eyes. A new heart. Not to be cool, but to recognize that they are, and really, always were.