Jodi Hills

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


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Something close to hope.

I battled my French lesson this morning, word by word, accent by accent. And “they” know when you are struggling — a little prompt comes up — “Even when you make mistakes, you’re still learning.” I smile and pray it is true, with everything I do.

Sometimes I’ll say a few words to a stranger in French, and they will answer in English. “Wow,” I think, “it’s really that obvious?”…as if the crutch of my broken language is dangling from under my arm. If only the real struggles of everyone were that easy to see.

It’s so easy to be unkind. To be impatient. I know it is a lesson, I, we, must work on daily. It’s impossible to see what everyone is going through. The “how are you”s and the “fines” just don’t tell the whole story. The limps of the heart go undetected. So I guess the answer is to just keep trying. Trying each day to be more kind. More empathetic. And even on the days we fail, when others fail, to understand that we are all still learning. Arriving at something close to hope, and beginning our journey again.


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Fashion show.

“To be well dressed is a little like being in love.” Oleg Cassini

I found that quote. White print on turquoise paper (her favorite color). She probably cut it out of a magazine. It was paperclipped inside my mother’s journal.

And if you knew her, really knew her, you could see it. It wasn’t just fashion. It was self-care. It was a beautifully hand stitched dream. It was love.

No one took better care of her clothes. You know when you buy a white blouse, and you bring it home, it almost shines. But inevitably, it begins to dull. Never the same as the first wear. That wasn’t the case with my mom. She had the whitest blouses. Always. And they didn’t dull with the dinge of time passing. No! Hers seemed to get even whiter.

And so it was with her heart. Her love was pure. Never-ending.

I was wearing one of those white blouses the other day. (Playing “fashion show” always cheers me.) My daughter-in-law came over. Seeing her for the first time, since my mother’s passing, wearing her clothes, the tears of tenderness began to flow. I immediately bent over so the tears fell to the floor. I was not about to stain the pureness of this white blouse. I started to laugh. Who would do such a thing? Bend over… My mother. That’s who. My heart was full. Well dressed. Forever in love.

Maybe it’s a good time to tell someone….


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Joie de vivre.

Someone was assigned to pull down the 8′ black shades and the white screen at the front of the class. Another student was assigned to wheel in the projector. The rest of us squirmed in our seats with hearts beating like gerbils on a wheel. Movie day at Washington Elementary was like no other. Nearly two hours of no memorizing. No reciting. No confusion. No pressure.

The sound of the wheel clicking into place. Then the film snaking into position. The projection light coming cn. It was almost unbearable. We had watched the same film for years. First grade. Second grade. Again in 3rd, 4th and 5th. It didn’t matter. It was the memory of pure and uncomplicated joy.

It has been decades since I sat at those desks. But I can feel it as though it were yesterday. Today, memories of my mother turn round and round on my heart’s movie reel. This joy is almost unbearable, but I know I will carry it with me, forever — for that’s what she was, pure and uncomplicated joy.


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Bagels and napkins.

She called me at work. It was my first real job out of college. We didn’t really celebrate the holidays then. My mother didn’t like to cook. So it was a big surprise when she said she was going to defrost the turkey she found in the freezer. I said I would come home and we would celebrate Thanksgiving. A couple hours later she called and said it turned out to be just a bag of ice. “Do you remember buying a turkey?” I asked. She said, “I don’t remember buying the bag of ice.”

We laughed. Hard! We knew what a gift this was! She drove to Minneapolis instead. We had wine and toasted bagels and made our plans for the next day of shopping. I will be forever grateful for these times! Our only traditions were love and joy!!!

My friend sent me home with napkins of orange and yellow – adorned with the word “thankful.” I was tired yesterday, and no one gets Thursday off here – of course Thanksgiving is an American holiday — so it was just Dominique and I. We could have eaten left-overs, but I had those napkins. I had that friend. I had those memories. So I made some chicken and mushroom risotto. Poured the wine. Lit the candles, and we gave thanks in our own special way, with love and joy. My mother had taught me just how to do it.

Let me always see the gift.


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Plentiful.

My first Thanksgiving in France, I wanted to create a traditional American meal. There were no turkeys available – that’s a Christmas thing for French. Even if we would have found a turkey, it wouldn’t have fit in our small European oven. There are no stuffing mixes. No cranberries. I stood in front of our empty cart in the grocery store and cried. 

Dominique, forever my cheerleader, said we (I) could still do this. We got turkey parts. Some berries that were bright red. I made stuffing from scratch. Cornbread from scratch. Potatoes. Vegetables. We had more than plenty for our Saturday Thanksgiving (no one gets that Thursday off).  And it was beautiful. Delicious. We gave thanks for this new family – this freshly carved tradition.

It all comes down to thanks. Thanks, not for what you think you need, but for what you have. I guess what I’m saying is don’t laminate your gratitude list. It should have pencil marks, pen crossings, exclamation points added, edit after edit, thanks after thanks.

Let’s all be grateful for the ever changing journey. For those who walk beside us. For those carried within. Happy Thanksgiving.


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Beside still waters.

“If wishes were fishes, we’d all be in the brook.” My grandma used to tell me that. Maybe that’s one reason why I like the water so much.

We closed the pool down for the season. It’s a process. One that I never dreamed I would ever have to learn. Coming from the land of 10,000 lakes, nature took care of all that on her own.  We vacuumed and brushed. Swept. Scooped. Added the extra chemicals. Covered it. Then placed a net on top of the cover. I got a little dizzy, bending over, putting the stakes in the ground to hold the net. I leaned against the pool house, gave thanks, and said goodbye to the season. I know another will come. I believe in it. 

And in this new season, I will wish new wishes, and be buoyed by all the ones that have come true. And there have been so many. Pools and pools and lakes upon lakes filled with blessings. Oceans have been crossed and filled. I know how lucky I am. When I stop to lean against the sturdy of gratitude, beside still waters, I am saved.


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Possibility

I was thrilled when I heard that all the girls had to take shop class — thrilled, that is, until I learned that it wasn’t going to be at the mall, but in the lower level of Central Junior High, with the saws, sanders, wood, and the three-fingered instructor.

Looking back, it was quite progressive. At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky we were. Everyone took everything – no question of gender. We had the funds, not only for these courses — woods, plastics, metals, drafting, cooking, sewing — but we also had band and choir and gym and swimming! Exposing us to a world beyond the brick walls. (Even beyond the mall.)

I suppose it was the smell that I first fell in love with – the smell of cut wood. It had the air of possibility. Week by week our projects progressed. “It has to be flush,” he said. So we sanded again and again. We built small bookshelves. Carrying it home on the bus, was one of my proudest days. It trophies in my hands and lap. The younger kids brushed their hands along the wood, to see if what I was telling them was true, that we had spun the wood like magic into these silky smooth creations. I have been in love with wood ever since.

Yesterday, a friend of ours drove two hours from the mountains to our house. He handed me a stack of wood. Freshly cut. Freshly sanded. Spun magic. I placed them on the work bench, like the trophies they were. I asked Dominique later in the evening, what else was he doing in town. Nothing. He had driven four hours just to give me this gift. My seemingly full heart swelled a bit more. I brushed my hands along the wood to see if what he was telling me was true. It was. We have the magic of such a friend. On a day, perhaps when I needed it most, I was given the air of possibility.


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This understanding.

Within the poems I wrote things like — “as I go through life…” — I was eleven years old.

I found a journal that my friend Cindy gave to me for my birthday. It is filled with my poems — words that I was confident enough to feel and to write, in ink. I guess I knew right from the start that they would save me. These words. There is a Chinese proverb, “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand.” I suppose that’s all I’ve ever wanted – this understanding.

I need some of that understanding, every day. I suppose we all do. So I continue to write. And I don’t mean that it all ends up making perfect sense. When does that ever happen? But the understanding of a heart, a heart that sees, smiles with lips curled inside, nodding in the agreement that “you are going to be ok,” –calming to this beat of understanding.

She had the assuredness to write on the inside cover, in red ink, “friends always, Cindy.” She was right. We still are. Always will be.

Knowing my mother for those first 11 years, I wrote:

“She’s like the sun,
going in and out,
waiting for someone to notice her.
I’m so glad that I did.”

I type the words. They are all still true. And my heart nods in agreement — We’re all going to be ok.


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Down a gravel road.

There was a simplicity to friendship, growing up on a gravel road. An afternoon could be filled with one stone and a one mile walk to town. Out of the driveway a mere few steps, I would begin kicking a stone down the road. Small kicks at first. Just in front of me. Then maybe a little harder as confidence increased. Avoiding the ditches. Making bargains with the stone itself — if I make it to Lee’s house without losing the stone, then this will happen, or if I make it to the Lake, for sure this — or maybe even to town, then I could really choose my fate. 

On the best of these days, I would hear running footsteps behind me. A neighbor. Maybe a Norton. A Holte. But always friendly steps. And without question, they would begin helping me kick the stone down the road. They never asked where we were going, or for how long. They never asked why. Just walked beside me. 

To have that clarity is a pure gift. If you have that now, and I can joyfully say that I do, then you have more than a friend, more than even family — perhaps we need a new word for these people — these glorious humans that will just help you get your stone down the road. 

My shoes are dusty. There are no more bargains to be made. Only the journey. The beautiful journey of this gravel road. And I give thanks every day, that I, we, don’t have to make it alone.


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The twirl.

Some mothers make a path. Mine made a runway.

It was my first job out of university. Just sixty miles from my hometown, but it was a huge step – maybe all first steps are. I was to make a fashion show for wives of clients. I had never done anything like it before, but Crossroads mall was just down the road, and I had indeed been training there, with my mother since I was a little girl.

I don’t remember her first response. I wasn’t even really asking. We both knew she was going to be in it. She had loved fashion her whole life. She was made for this – the runway. Even if others in her small town didn’t always see it, I could. So clearly. What a joy. A privilege. To see someone.

We went to the mall for fittings. Confidence grew from giggles to twirls. It all went so fast. Soon the music was playing and the lights were shining. Her outfit was ahead of mine. My heart was beating so quickly. And then I saw her. At the end of the runway. Everything was in slow motion. I saw her twirl. And in that moment, I knew I could do anything.

The music, that seemed now to be coming directly from my mom, carried me down the runway.

There’s a song that asks the question, “How do we keep the music playing?” I just smile, and know, for me, it will never end.