Jodi Hills

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


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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…?”


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She’s here!

I was at the New York library last night (in my dream). It is so rare that I have a good dream, I must tell you about it. To put it in perspective, if I don’t wake up screaming, it’s a good night. And those bad dreams, they can linger, not just through the morning, but for days. So this dream — this rare and glorious good dream — I put it to words, with hopes that it will linger.

I could smell the wood. And the paper. For me, libraries have always carried the scent of permanence and possibility. In the library was the perfect place for this dream to occur, amid the realm of all things possible. Dominique and I were donating our old books to the librarian. She was kind and grateful and wanted to visit. I told her of my love for books, and that, humbly, I too, was an author. She smiled and said she knew, and pulled out my most recent book, Pulling Nails. I beamed. She asked if I would mind signing a copy for the library. Of course! And maybe one for a fan, she asked. A fan? And then she stepped into the room — this beautiful woman — my grandma! My Grandma Elsie. And she was holding my book. (Tears of tenderness roll down my face as I type.) I was so happy to see her! Dominique look! It’s my Grandma! She held out my book and said, It’s gorgeous! (It’s gorgeous — you have no idea what those words will forever do to my heart!) And in my dream, I knew it was a dream, and I said out loud, …But she’s here! And she was. I can still feel her smiling.

I don’t know what dreams really are. I’m not sure that anyone does. The so-called experts say it means “this”, or “that”, but perhaps they are only as accurate as our local weather reporters making educated guesses. All I know for sure is that this morning the sun is shining and my heart is full — and it is as real as anything could be. I choose to call that love. Love that fills the air with the scent of permanence and possibility — and it IS gorgeous!

Good morning!


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Something to give.

It’s no accident, I suppose, that in the morning I wrote about what a gift it was to be introduced to the world of art at Washington Elementary — and then spent the afternoon passing it on to Margaux. 

She absorbs the information as quickly as the tile she is painting on. Eager to learn of texture and mixing and brushes. Knowledge that I’m so eager to share. Because this I understand. This becomes our language. Our connection. And when she completes the painting she is proud of herself. As she should be. And this is the gift that she can continue to give to herself, and some day to others.

They say it’s not enough to just survive something. Once you do, make it out of the depths of hell, you have to go back and help the others. Or if you reach the glorious summit, you have to go back down and help the others climb. Our best days and our worst days, all gifts to pass on. And that’s something! To be given! To have something to give.


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My mom thinks I’m pretty.

I made a magnet of that years ago. It made me laugh. I used to say it, when I made a mistake, or did something stupid…”My mom thinks I’m pretty.”  (as if to say, well, sure I did this, but nevertheless…)

It still makes me laugh, but I suppose, there’s a lot of truth behind it. I knew, I know, always, even in my lowest moments, in her lowest moments, she loves me. And that tickles my heart in the most glorious way.

And to think she knew how to do it, when her mother (bless her heart) wasn’t fast and loose with the compliments (it just wasn’t the time, nor the way.) But if I think again, maybe that’s exactly why she knew how to do it. 

It isn’t because they’ve never been knocked down, these people who stand so tall — I think it’s probably because they have. Surround yourself with these people, these unexpected beauties! They will have a story to tell and a heart to share. They will make you laugh, and help you cry. Not much more beautiful than that!


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Lemonade.

It never occurred to me to have a lemonade stand. I don’t remember that anyone did when I lived on VanDyke Road. There were garage sales – sure. My grandma loved those. She loved chance. The possibility of finding a treasure. She ordered from Publisher’s Clearing House – which would explain that one year for Christmas when I received a pair of red lace women’s undergarments (I was maybe seven.) She walked the streets of “Crazy Days” – purchasing anything in a brown paper “grab bag.” This is where I got the idea to have my own “Crazy Days.” I had a few old broken toys to put in school lunch sacks. (This will tell you how well we did when my grandma purchased similar grab bags at the Ben Franklin.) I priced them at 10 cents and a quarter. Kathy and Renee Norton combined their allowances and each bought one. I was sitting on our front steps when they came walking back to our house, heads hung low. Mrs. Norton told them to get their money back. “Oh, Grandma,” I thought. Of course I gave them their money back. We never spoke of it again. I suppose that was the real treasure. I guess we were making “lemonade” all along.


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A pretty big deal.

We have a dessert here called Café gourmand. It varies from restaurant to restaurant, but usually consists of an espresso and a small selection of tiny little delicacies. Perhaps a Crème brûlée, fondant au chocolat, tart, or a biscuit. It is so satisfying, so delicious, so delightful, proving once again, it takes so little.

I had just gotten my first job. For Christmas each employee got a box of fancy chocolates and nuts. I didn’t have the money to indulge in something like that. Nor did I have the money to give such fancy gifts. I enjoyed the beautiful packaging for just a moment, then sent it off to my grandmother for her Christmas gift. She sent a note back in the mail. I knew it was from her immediately, without looking at the return address. I recognized her handwriting. (Proof of something so much bigger.) She thanked me for the gift, and said, “I will only share these with a select group of people. And when you come to visit, I will share them with you, and then you will know how special you are.”


I had spent nothing, and got everything in return. Let’s do the small things for each other — offering petite tastes of kindness, joy and love. So filling. So delicious. So delightful!


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What remains.

I admit that I was a little envious of the Pertermeier children, Erin and Shawn. They got to spend a lot of time with my grandma. Just the two of them, when she worked for them at Petermeier’s Funeral Home. Alone time with my grandma was hard to come by – she had so many grandchildren! 

I was sick with a bad cold and needed to stay home from school. My mother worked, so I spent the day with grandma at the Funeral Home. It may surprise you, but it was glorious. Despite the location, and my ailments, I was alone with her. She was all mine. 

The attention she gave me was as thick as the red velvet curtains that hung in the parlor. We played cards at the kitchen table. I didn’t know the rules to any of them. She said I’d pick it up as we played. I didn’t. And I’d lose every game. But she’d laugh, and I felt like I was winning. I knew I was winning. I walked beside her, step by step as she vacuumed (I know I was sick, but honestly, she didn’t work at it that hard.) We crossed the street to Jerry’s Jack and Jill and got treats. Hand in hand.  What’s most surprising to me, as quickly as this day passed, it has stayed with me for decades.

Years later, visiting my home town, I saw the empty space where the funeral home stood. For a moment, my heart stopped. Just a building some would say, but not for me. It was a day where I was everything. 

I went home and painted the picture, “What remains may only be in the heart.” Ironically, I guess, I sold that painting almost immediately, and my representation was gone, but just as predicted, the feeling still remained, remains still.

We came home yesterday from traveling. I brought with me a cold. Awake throughout the night, blowing my nose, coughing, it was still there, that feeling. I would be ok. No longer jealous of the Petermeiers, but so grateful! What a gift they gave me. Time alone with my grandmother. An afternoon of red velvet love that I will carry with me forever. The remains of the day.


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Grandma’s dance.

My grandmother loved root beer floats. Oh how she loved them! She kept an old A & W root beer mug in the freezer, chilled and ready. Every visit to her house, after lunch, after Days of our Lives, she would ask, “Would you like a root beer float?” “No thanks, Grandma,” I would reply. I didn’t like root beer, and ice cream made me ill. Not my treat. “I could make them for us, no problem,” she continued. “No thanks,” I said, both smiling for different reasons. She smiled because she could almost taste her favorite treat. I smiled, because we had danced this dance so many times before. I knew I would eventually say yes, she would make two root beer floats, and she would eat them both.

What a pleasure it was to see her as a human. It’s rare, I suppose, that we get that. She was an aproned grandma, and so often we can get lost in that, forget that she was once a young girl, with her hair down, falling in love with a soon to be farmer. She was a woman of this world, not just grandma. She was a woman who had nine children, 27 grandchildren and so many more greats… but in a few rare moments, alone with her on a quiet afternoon, I got to see her, when she smiled, for the simplest of things, and it was beautiful.

Yesterday, in Baton Rouge, I asked Dominique to pull the car over. I had to take a picture. It was a giant root beer mug. I danced with my grandma again.


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Tremble.

I learned a new word yesterday, and not in French, but Latin. Spolia. Spolia is now an art historical term for the recycling of architectural fragments. A fragment of an old building is taken from its original context and reused in a different context. This has happened throughout history. Usually these pieces are not taken at random. It first began perhaps to symbolize a new ruler to rulers of the past, for example in the Arch of Constantine, fragments of sculptures honoring Marcus Aurelius and Trajan were added to symbolize the equal greatness of Constantine. The first time I saw this was in Chicago at the Tribune Tower. I thought it was beautiful, but I didn’t have the word for it then.

I suppose, as humans, we do the same. I hope we are doing the same. Giving honor to the best of those that have come before us. When my Grandmother passed away, I wrote a poem for her. My way of adding a piece of her to my heart. It still holds me. These pieces of her, my mother — what a foundation! I stand strong today because of them, for them, forever with them.