Jodi Hills

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

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Our story.

Perhaps it was in the first grade that I was taught how precious time was. Mrs. Bergstrom stood from her desk and smoothed the lines in her pencil skirt. We wriggled in our seats. It was Wednesday afternoon, and we knew what was coming. She lined us up by the door. She waited for us to get rid of our squirms, opened the port to our freedom, and told us to go to our respective lavatories. Oh, the bathroom. Our shoulders sank. We always forgot about the bathroom. We elbowed each other under the flowing sinks. Hurry. Hurry. Then back in line. We walked on tip toes of excitement. Up the stairs. She turned to us with one last warning. She cocked her head and looked down with raised eyebrows that meant, “Respect this place.” And for the most part, we did. Maybe not to the extent that I revered it, with all my heart and soul and wiggling fingers that tried so hard to choose the right book, but it was the library after all.

Every Tuesday night. Snuggled with worry and anticipation, my mother and I read, and reread that week’s choice. I pulled on each letter. Each word. Each sentence. Gathered them in. Promising to never let go. And I didn’t. Even when I returned it the next day, I knew it would always be with me.

They tried to prepare us, I suppose. But I’m not sure it’s possible.

I slowed down my reading last night. Nearing the end of this book. Not quite ready to give in to the “Wednesday” that was approaching. I snuggled into the prayers said under my grandmother’s quilt, the sound of my mother reading, and I promised the words — promised us all — this was our story, and I would never let it go.

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Home town.

In Kindergarten, Mrs. Strand had the audacity to leave us mid year to give birth to twins. In the first grade, Mrs. Bergstrom, hair pulled back in a bun, wore her long pencil skirt and wool sweater all the way until summer break. We knew she would never leave. She taught us the meaning of the word trust, and then taught us how to spell it. She was opening our worlds. Then one day, she lined us up, single file, and quietly led us up the stairs, turned us to the left, opened the big wooden door. All was silent but for the singing of my heart’s choir! The library! All those books. A conversation from wall to wall. Information. Entertainment. Belonging. Yes, most of all the belonging. I knew I would be both comforted and launched — I suppose the perfect definition of home.

And I was home. Here in the words.

Yesterday we arrived in Laurel, Mississippi. Being an HGTV fan, I wanted to see it all. Where they filmed. What they made. The houses they transformed. People have told me, oh, you’ll be disappointed – it’s only make believe.

We pulled into town and the first thing I saw were the giant books painted on the side of the building. I smiled. I have always been one made to believe — the very day I stepped through the big wooden door at Washington Elementary. I know all is not always as it seems. But it is always what you choose to see. Today I choose to see the magic of it all — from the giant books on the side of a building to the promise of a small home town. It’s hard to hear the doubters over the singing of my heart.