Jodi Hills

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


Leave a comment

Belong.

To have walked a place is to possess it. I knew this before I even knew what the word meant. 

From my first visit I tried to memorize my grandparent’s farm. The house. The barns. Fences and trees. Knowing that I would need it one day. Not the things inside the rooms. Not the furniture or figurines. Not the rusting tools. Nor the worn clothing. But the security. I suppose that’s all a home is — this feeling that if you went there, they would have to take you in. And if in fact I carried it with me, this feeling, this home, then I could go anywhere. I could have everything, or nothing else at all, and I would have this. And I would be OK. So I memorized the steps. The pictures hanging on the walls. The variety packs of cereals in the cupboard. The smell of damp work from overalls hanging on the wall. Tables and rugs and boots. Desks and doors. Closets. 

My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the For Sale sign in the front lawn of our home on Van Dyke Road. My mother was trying to say the words. I tried to listen as I went through the steps. “We’d find an apartment,” she said. I walked up the gravel driveway to the house. “And we’d be OK.” I opened the front door and clung to the overalls hanging in the entry. “Just the two of us,” she said. I walked up the three steps to the kitchen. Tears fell from her eyes as she tried to convince me. “It wasn’t my fault…” I went up the stairs to the first bedroom, the second, the sewing room. I walked the barn. Even the empty chicken coop. And I returned to her face. My mother’s face. Seeing her. Loving her. Trusting her. It didn’t matter where we were going. If we had everything, or nothing else at all, we had each other.

And I memorized each laugh. Each day. Each struggle. Each adventure. Every trip to every mall. Every pretty dress. Every conversation mixed with coffee and wine. Each moment with my mom. Knowing I would need it one day. And that day has come.

I walk the streets, the gravel paths of Aix en provence. I have filled out the forms. Followed the rules. Applied. Tested. And carry the card that says I belong. But I know the only way for that to be true is to walk it. This place. Gather it all in, step by step, and carry it with me. Scattering along the way, everything that I have collected through the years. Each story. Every pebble on the path that I walk daily is now mixed with my treasures. My memories. Dampened overalls and sparkling dresses. Laughs and loves. I am a part of it all. And I am home.


Leave a comment

Beyond fear.

My mother was in grade school when she hit Arnie Zavadil in the head with her metal lunch box. He was making fun of her younger brother Tom. She was the eldest daughter of Rueben and Elsie. And she took it seriously. She would later drop “eldest” and trade it in for “prettiest,” when describing her familial role, but she never lost her protective spirit.

I counted on that protective swing my whole life as we navigated through the world, often filled with “taunting Arnies.” Even when she traded in her lunch box for white ruffles, dangling earrings and Red Door perfume. I always felt safe. I felt protected. What a gift she gave us all.

Never underestimate the strength of a Hvezda girl armed with love — she is grace beyond fear.


Leave a comment

Comic strips and soap operas.

I started a new book recently. I’m really enjoying it. This is the point where most people ask “What’s it about?” I always think of the quote by the author,
J.R. Moehringer, “I hate when people ask what a book is about. People who read for plot, people who suck out the story like the cream filling in an Oreo, should stick to comic strips and soap operas. . . . Every book worth a damn is about emotions and love and death and pain. It’s about words.”

I don’t know the first thing about farming. I can barely name the machinery. But I do know about farmers — or at least one — my grandfather. I can tell you about a pipe in the top pocket of striped overalls (the stripes carrying each season like the rings of a mighty oak.) Walks from the house to the middle of the field. A foot in each furrow. Rocks picked with roughened hands (hands that we all reached for.) Words of wisdom, scattered like seeds. Faith, that keeps you planting, again and again. Red paint chipping. Hair lines receding. A love that never stops growing. As far as I know, that’s what farming is about. Beautiful!

For me, books, paintings, days, are all meant to be lived. Really lived. Not driven by plot, but by heart. And that heart is meant to be roughened, reached, scattered, and planted. Forever growing.

Today, set aside your daily planner, and really live — that’s when the beauty comes — and maybe, just maybe, that’s what it’s all about.


1 Comment

Welcome to the garden.

I found out yesterday that I have been gardening since the age of five.

I certainly never wanted to get my hands dirty. Some of the neighbor girls made mud pies — the thought of it…. no! I constantly checked to see if the outdoor hose was working, just in case. 

My grandmother made real pies, but still, her hands… deep in the garden, she pulled and cut the rhubarb. You could see it from the dining room window. And I was fascinated that the day before, or even that very morning, it was in the ground, and now, here it sat, round and steaming, crusted, on the table.

I was asked the other day at what age I started to write, to paint. 5 years old. Did you share it? she asked. Oh, yes! With my mother. I would come out of my bedroom, arms straight out – holding it like the steaming pie I imagined it to be, and presented it. Words and paintings, I thought, were meant to be devoured.  

Mid-feast in my newest read, “Our Missing Hearts,” by Celeste Ng, I read that the word “author” means to bring to life, to grow. Like a gardener, I thought. 

She asked me if there were other writers, artists, in the family. No, I said, but there were gardeners, farmers — people with hands and hearts, dirtied by life’s abundance of heartache, challenge and joy. Teaching, inspiring, giving everything, with arms reaching straight out — the authors of living.

Each day, ready or not, we will be asked to grow, to give. The sun comes up, and says, “Welcome to the garden!”


1 Comment

Hello!

I thought about it a lot yesterday while I was painting our front gate — this gift of time.

My grandfather died my first year in college. I was studying creative writing. Words had always saved me, since I was a little girl. When I found out he was ill, I started writing. Reaching out with each letter. To save him. To save myself.

I picked up the community phone in our dorm. It was my Aunt Sandy who called to ask if it could be read at his funeral, this poem. The tears were streaming down my face. The two popular girls from South Dakota, their room adjacent to the community room, stood beside me, trying to catch the tears in their hands.

I was so brand new, in almost every way. The language I was living was filled with hellos, and on his paper, his poem, I was writing his goodbye. In one line I spoke of him wanting to repaint the barn, but he thought he wouldn’t live to see it dry. The words break me, even as I type it. Even as I painted the front gate. But in this cracking of my heart, this opening, it became so clear. I do have the time. Today. And the choice of how to fill it. The choice to live each moment, the best that I can.

I caught the paint drops in my hand and made our front gate just a little more welcoming. I did the same with my heart. This day, this time, this brand new, will not be wasted. It will be lived. And it will be beautiful! With each word I type, I know that I won’t be safe, but I will be saved.


Leave a comment

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!!!


Leave a comment

In close.


I rarely saw my grandmother without an apron. There were so many children. Grandchildren. The kitchen was always in motion. I liked standing next to her. So close. When she wore the embroidered apron – the one with the flowers – I would press my head as close to her hip as I could. This hug, when held for longer than she had time for – (yet she never pushed me away) – this hug could produce an imprint on my cheek of the same flowers. An imprint that didn’t last long on my face, but still remains on my heart.

Dishes clanked. Smells arose. Voices jabbered. And then the whirlwind would stop. She needed something from the basement. She told me to run and get it. The basement. I’ll admit I was afraid. Being only apron high, it wasn’t unusual, but I wanted to be brave. My grandmother canned. There was a whole wall of canned good down there. But to get to what she needed, I would have to go descend the darkened stairs. Past the hooks of overalls that looked like men waiting. I would have to tune out the furnace. The creaks of wood. She pushed the small of my back in the direction of the stairs. Of course I would do it. I held my breath, as if going under water. Raced my bumper tennis shoes down the steps. Grabbed the glass jar filled with what I could only imagine was a science experiment and ran back up the stairs. I handed it to her beaming. She had no idea what I had risked, but she hugged me just the same.

Yesterday, we went to see Dominique’s mother. She clings to the day. Leaving, sad, I heard through the open windows of the house next door, the clanking of the dishes. Silverware. Glass. Stove. A woman singing over the din. The sounds of life. I smiled, feeling the embroidered flowers on my heart.

This love. Knowing your heart, if you’re giving it all, will break and mend and break again. Still, I, we, will risk any darkened stairs to experience it. The sun begins to light today’s path. To this day, this life, I make a promise to feel it – really feel it – and, joyfully, I pull myself in close.


Leave a comment

Another rock on the trailer.

I have told the story before — picking rocks in the field with my grandfather on his farm, but sometimes, I, maybe we, need to hear it again, and again. The following is an excerpt from “Something will grow from all this”:

“Each rock seemed to give birth to another. I was so tired. But Grandpa didn’t seem to be. He just kept picking those rocks, one after the other. He seemed to get stronger. There was precision in each movement. I watched carefully. It was like an oil pump that didn’t have a beginning or an end to its motion, but just kept going. I had been throwing the rocks with anger, but he moved them with purpose…and that was the difference. That’s how he could take such a mess and later make something grow out of it. The black that surrounded us would turn to green and gold. It amazed me and I wanted to be a part of it. It was hard, but that was ok. I did want to stay. My lip stopped quivering and I placed another rock on the trailer.”

There are so many challenges. It’s easy to get angry. And that’s ok if it thrusts us into doing the work, but that’s where we always need to get to – the place of doing the work. I have thrown my share of rocks with anger, but I want to move them now – move them with purpose. Make a difference. Make something grow. Just like my grandfather. 

The sun is coming up. It is not the beginning, it is not the end, it is the time to do the glorious and sometimes unglamorous work. I give thanks for the opportunity, smile, and place another rock on the trailer.



Leave a comment

Family farm.

I don’t remember which pronoun we used. I have to choose one now to write this story, so I will say he, and respectfully hope that that’s correct.

My mother’s cousin was born a female, but lived as a man. Now, see, I’m not even certain that’s the right way to put it, because I’m sure to him, he was born a man, and lived as a man. I want to move beyond my clunky way of describing him and get on to the heart of the story.

This was long before support groups. Long before anyone thought of being politically correct. Long before people spoke of gender. Certainly no one ever heard of fluidity. These were farmers. They spoke of farming.

And he was an excellent farmer. The hardest worker in the family. My mom spoke of how he saved the family farm. I only have one image of him, and that is leaning against the barn. Overalled. Tired — I pray from working.

I was too young to judge, to be unkind. I hope we all were.

I bring it up because it occurs to me, at some point in our lives, we have all found ourselves, leaning against the family farm, tired, wanting only to be accepted for who we are, the work we have done, praying for the kindness of fresh eyes and open hearts.

Tanned and weathered by the heat of so many summer suns, I stop, under today’s and think, what a glorious time to grow.


Leave a comment

The Farm Report.

Maybe it was different. Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe we just didn’t hear about it. But what I remember of the news is this — riding in the front seat of my grandmother’s car. Windows open. The smell of earth. Bare legs stuck to the seat. Grandma’s house-dress waving in the breeze, and the flap of her upper arms. The news we listened to was only this — The Farm Report, and Paul Harvey. The voices melodic. Familiar. Simple. And we were saved.

I was washing the breakfast dishes. Looking out the window. Contemplating, agonizing, over this morning’s news. I opened the window. “Please just drive,” I thought. Drive us in open-earth-smelling air away from all this heartache. This killing.

I looked down below the window. “Uncle Wally” (the baby walnut tree) was standing strong. The tulips, looked dry, a little watering needed. The roses — full bloom, nothing to do but enjoy. My “farm report.” My heart calmed to a simpler time. I wish it for everyone.

I will not take up arms to fight arms. It is not my nature. It is not my belief. I can only offer my humble words. String them together, and possibly you can find some comfort in that. Some release. Some hope. Maybe, if we all could do that for each other — be the voices of common sense, common understanding, maybe we could all be saved. Maybe it’s too simple – but I pray it’s possible.

When Paul Harvey signed off, he always said, “Good day…” Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought his voice raised up a little at the end, as if maybe it were a question. And maybe it was. Maybe he was asking us to be better, to be more human, asking us to please, make it a good day.

Today, I will ask myself, and ask the same of you, “Good day…?”