Jodi Hills

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

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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.

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There’s a small stack of pots resting by the side of the house. A little plastic one on top. I think I used it as a scoop when repotting another plant. I guess some soil was left behind. Were seeds blown in from the wind? Watered by the almost non-existent summer rain? I can’t be sure. And I don’t need to be. Because it’s there. Not a weed — but a real plant. And it’s not similar to the two types we have in the house. No, it’s brand new. Strong. Greening and growing without our help. Without our knowledge or permission. Coming to life. Strong. Through all the madness of this world, it found a way. 

I’m not proud of it, but I can be a worrier. Inventing scenarios in my head that may never happen. But thankfully, I can also see the signs. The beauty all around me that says, “Look. We’re given everything we need.” I smile and carry the image with me. And on the days when I feel no stronger than a seed blowing in the wind, I think, I’m going to find a way. Hope grows mighty.

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Up and farther.

I’m not sure I thought it was so beautiful, when I walked alongside Hugo’s field behind our house. But the song Mr. Iverson taught us at Washington Elementary said so, “Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain…” Neither had lied to me before, so I Iooked long and hopeful, as my sunburned legs brushed against the amber.

I was yet to see the ocean, but for in books. And in those books they spoke of the tide. The magical way it rolled out, rolled back in…and some said, within this magic, you could let go of all your worries, your problems, and the waves would take them out to sea, and return to you, free from them all, freeing you as well.

I was in need of some of that freedom. I walked as closely to the field as I could. Hugo didn’t want us inside. I imagined it was so we didn’t trample on the magic. That made sense. I only let it brush against me. Praying it was enough to latch on. Praying the wind could make the grain actually wave. Praying it could take away the noise of our house. The argument shook walls that creaked late into the night. The noises that worked themselves into fear and then, as if to taunt, lay deep inside my muscles.

I didn’t know how big an ocean was. Was it bigger than Hugo’s field? I could see across it. Maybe it wasn’t big enough. Maybe it wasn’t even real, but I kept walking. I continued my solo prayer. To say the words out loud seemed too dangerous. As if these words might be the final noise to break the last board holding our fragile house together. I walked and whispered.

We moved from VanDyke Road. I like to believe it was the wave that carried us. Again. And again. From the gravel to the tar. The field to the city. From the noise of fear to the sound of possibility. To Lake Michigan. Then the oceans, Atlantic and Pacific. Then across the sea.

Yesterday, I was readying for my afternoon walk, in France. Ear buds. iPhone. Tennis shoes. I am not proud to say that my thighs were heavy with something that was best let go. It can still happen. Then it nudged me – a tiny wave perhaps – and I reached for the book of poetry next to my phone. I read the lines in French. Could that be right? Did I have the French words right in my head?

“Où même les roseaux répétaient leurs prières
Que reprenaient de plus plus fort et plus loin les oiseaux”

I went to the translation poem.

“Where even the reeds repeated their prayers
Which the birds took up louder and farther on”

I smiled. The magic was real. Had been real all along. I walked lighter in the afternoon wave.

When I got back home, I decided to paint this little bird. A little bird that carried my prayer of only this — thank you.

“Thank you.” Up it went, and farther on, into the oh, so beautiful, spacious skies.