Jodi Hills

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


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A berry in the window.

I’m currently reading the book, “Sorrow and Bliss,” by Meg Mason. The main character is remembering a period of time when her mother, a sculptor, would get lost in her work and not want to be disturbed. (Her mother is quite the eccentric character and a delicious read.) During these periods she would put a note on her studio for her two daughters, “Girls, before knocking, ask yourself this, is anything actually on fire?”  I’m still laughing. 

I was still a teenager when my mother started dating. She met a man, we’ll call him Roger, (because that was his name). When she (they) wanted a little alone time, she hung a decorative berry in the window of our garden apartment on Jefferson Street to alert me. It was a small strawberry, made of plaster, with a tiny string. So unassuming. So telling. If, when returning home on my ten-speed bicycle, I saw the berry in the window, I knew to keep riding. And joyfully, I did. 

I knew my mother was human when I saw her cry. Sorrow. It was good to now see her humanness for (forgive me) berry different reasons. Bliss. I can’t see a strawberry now without smiling.

I put up my painted berry today, in hopes that she can feel that girlish heart. In hopes that she will know, I will do anything for her to feel that way again. So I keep riding, round and round the block.


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Heart on my sleeve.

In my small hometown, there was a large department store, named Herberger’s. For those of you unfamiliar, you could call it a Dayton’s, Marshall Field’s, Macy’s, Dillard’s…a rose by any other name. It was the anchor store of our Viking Plaza (or Vikedale as we so lovingly called it). And by my use of the word “was,” I’m sure you can see where this is going. Funny how we didn’t. We assumed it would always be there. For shopping, of course! But more than that. For social interaction. Walking inside on cold and snowy days. Visiting. Encouraging. Living.


The first time my French husband visited Alexandria, we went out to Herberger’s with my mom. We entered near the shoe department. “Hi Ivy!” she said as she handed the shoes to her customer. Sue in the bra department waved. “Hi Ivy!” she said from women’s wear. The manager of the store stopped and said hello as we went to men’s wear. This was a normal day for us. We, my mom and I had grown up together at Herberger’s. Survived lonely Sunday afternoons there. Celebrated grand events there. Tried on clothes after clothes. Complimented each other. Gained our confidence. Grew our audience. Came to life. So it wasn’t strange to me when Claudia at the makeup counter asked my mom if she was feeling dizzy because she knew my mother – knew her history – her health. But my husband had this strange look on his face. “What?” I asked him. Does everyone know your mother here? “Sure,” I smiled. “It’s Herberger’s. She’s probably like the mayor.”


When Herberger’s closed several years ago. It was a shock. We weren’t prepared to say goodbye, but then, I suppose, no one ever is. We had survived so many goodbyes before, and we would survive this one as well.


I was playing “fashion show” yesterday, in our home in France. I try on things in my closet. Put together a capsule wardrobe like I’m a star on Youtube…look in the bedroom mirror, then the bathroom, then the downstairs full length mirror that gets the best lighting… then into the salon to show my husband. When I first introduced him to the playing fashion show, I’m not sure he really understood the game, or that we were even playing… “You have to say lots of nice things about me…” “A little more…” He’s become an excellent player.


With each outfit change I am shouting with glee over the changing room walls, over the music playing on the speakers above us, racing my mother to the best lit mirror (of course she had that figured out!). We weren’t wrong when we assumed that it would always be with us. It is! Herberger’s is alive and well in the south of France.


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Today’s pear.

I woke up to my first sale of 2022. It’s always a good feeling. Of course I like the money, but it is way beyond that. Always has been.

I have painted since I was five years old. I wrote stories. Drew pictures. For myself. For my mom. It wasn’t just something I did, it was me – it is me – who I am. I remember some of my first sales of paintings. I would get so excited. Start talking. Telling the story of the origin. Hands waving. So in the moment, I wouldn’t even see the check written and slid across the table. My mom was with me at this particular sale. As she was so often. I was in full excitement mode. Hugging the buyer as we said goodbye. Hugging my mom. She looked at me with her mothering eyes and said, “Take the money, Pea Brain!” She had a way of snapping me back to reality. We laughed! I picked the check off the table.

It’s still exciting to make a sale. It’s still exciting to connect with people. Read your comments when I post each day. It’s still exciting to have a mother that knows me so well. It’s exciting to make a living — to make a life!!! Every day!

Today I will pack up this pear and send it from Aix en Provence to Pennsylvania. And with it will go a piece of my heart, a bit of my story, and the sweet laughter of gratitude.


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I have to believe.

I graduated high school with a cast on my ankle. I graduated college with a full length cast on one leg and an ankle cast on the other. I had over 20 surgeries. And I never thought of myself as weak. I think if you carry, (sometimes kick) your backpack filled with hardcover books across an icy campus, while on crutches, you can consider yourself strong.

In between the plaster I wore what Fleet Farm would call work boots. I wore them with jeans. I wore them with dresses. If this had happened in today’s fashion world of “the clunkier boot the better,” no one would have noticed, but I was well ahead of my time. And they did get noticed, and people were not always complimentary.

My mother, knee deep in grief during my teenage years, found a way to get herself dressed, and not just dressed, looking good dressed, fashionable well beyond her monetary and emotional means dressed, carrying herself with dignity, with purpose, with strength well ahead of her time. How could I not put on a pair of boots and believe that my feet would take me where I need to go?

Yesterday I wrote in permanent marker all over my Dr. Martens. These boots, I thought, need to tell the story I’ve been writing for years. These boots need to walk in the strength of all the words that have carried me. Remind me of where of where I’ve been. Take me, wherever I need to go. I believe.


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The journey.

It happens with a really good book. I have this urgency to keep reading and this need for it to never end. This push and pull inside my brain and heart – keep reading one tells the other, no, wait, slow down. It’s happening right now with the book, “Our Country Friends.” I read last night until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, then woke up early to continue. My eyes still scratchy with sleep I plowed through each word. Slow down my heart urged, but my brain’s hand kept pointing forward.


We were driving to Chicago, my mom and I. It was winter and the trip was always a gamble, but one we were so willing to take. If we could make it beyond Tomah, Wisconsin, without a snowstorm, we were safe. As we neared this critical halfway point, the snow began. Then harder. We kept singing to the radio as the view got whiter and whiter. “Do you think we’ll be smart enough to pull over if it gets too bad?” my mother asked. Before I, or she, could respond, the barrier across the freeway had been lowered and we were forced to pull off the exit. “I guess not…” we said together.


I don’t remember what we bought on that trip to Chicago – that shopping excursion – but I do remember the journey. The journey together. I suppose that’s everything, isn’t it? I closed my book and went down to make breakfast. I wanted it to last a little longer. I want it all to last a little longer.


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Pillowing.

“Your heart pillows to mine, and I am home.” It is a simple sentence. One I wrote for my book, “Home.” I also made it into a picture that hangs in our upstairs hallway. To take a noun – pillow – make it a verb, and everyone still knows exactly what it means, this is a thrill!


I have always loved words. I grew up with them. They are a living force in my life. An exchange of goods – as my mother read to me before bed. An exchange of goods, as I read to her my blog each day.


This lifeforce – these words – how do I give thanks for them? As the lyrics say in the song “To Sir with Love,” — “How do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?” For that’s what these words have done. They have raised me from a child. From my first visit to the library at Washington Elementary. To today, as I arrange them together, hopefully in a new way, on this page, eagerly trying to lift, to inspire, to connect. So to thank them, in my most humble way, I can only use them to the best of my ability. Use them for good. (Because make no mistake, they are tools – these words – and just as easily as they can build, they can also destroy). I pray that I, we, use them well. Share them with kindness, with as much love as they were first shared with me, by a woman, who I would grow to resemble in looks, who I long to resemble in heart. She laid them so gently in my bed, these words, so softly, so comforting, one might even say she pillowed them.
Don’t spare your words. Share them. Mean them. Thoughtfully, gently, use them well.


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Adelaide!

Adelaide!

The apricot tree in our front yard is letting loose her leaves. She, (because of course I named her — Adelaide) is not bearing fruit, not green with the youth of spring, but golden. So beautifully golden. And never, I think, is she more vibrant. She cries her golden tears, not in sorrow, but gentle tears of tenderness, so loving, such beautiful memories of summer breezes. The pines that surround her, evergreen, never make fun of her…I imagine they marvel at her strength, almost envy her ability to feel the changing seasons — her ability to color her surroundings with her ever adapting heart.

My mother had to shed a few tears on the phone yesterday. It was one of those days. An Adelaide day. She worried that she was letting me down in this moment – that she wasn’t being strong. Impossible, I said. I stand pine-tall beside her, and know that I am witnessing the most beautiful colors of an ever adapting heart. The most golden pool of life itself!

Remember in the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes — when she shouts out “Towanda!” “Towanda” is a reference to the alter-ego of the character Idgie. Idgie refers to Towanda as an “Amazon woman” and introduces herself as “Towanda.” It is the name she uses when she wants to feel strong, empowered. So, too, aging Evelyn shouts out “Towanda!” as she runs her car into the snobby young ladies who take her parking spot. “Towanda!” It became a battle cry for 80’s. Well, today, my Towanda is Adelaide! Adelaide I shout to the sky! Adelaide, I shout for all the beautiful women in their beautiful golden battles! You are strong! You are empowered. You are beautiful! Adelaide!


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Perfection knows no time constraints.

When I focus only on my own tiny heart, I can feel badly that she doesn’t remember me, my mother-in-law. It’s only natural, I suppose. And when I say the words out loud, it is only natural. There is no malice. Only nature. She has done her job. For 96 years. She has cared and nurtured and lived. When I arrived she welcomed me. Learned about me. Clapped for my paintings. Sometimes more than once. Knew me. And that was perfect. In its time. It is now my turn to welcome her, again, for the first time. Welcome this period in her life, not with anger (How could you forget?), not with sadness (Why don’t you remember?) but with grace (I’m happy to see you.)


I have climbed the Sainte Victoire. The mountain doesn’t remember me, but oh, how I remember each step. Each stumble coming down. It is my job, my joy to remember. I remember kissing at the Eiffel Tower. Wandering the relics of Rome. The feel of the Mediterranean washing over me. I remember my grandfather’s overalls. My grandmother’s hands. It is my job to remember. To share the stories. Pass them on. Give them life. Until one, day, in one language or another, someone might carry them for me. Carry each kiss and stumble. Until they can only pass them on again.


And it will all be as it should. Filled with grace, this perfectly imperfect gift of time.


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Being small.

John Prine sings, “I remember everything…every single blade of grass holds a special place for me.” I hear the words in my heart and I’m back on VanDyke Road. It’s a summer day. Bits of green stick to my legs and I’m soaked in sun. Red shoulders. Cheeks. Carrying a plastic bow and arrow from Target. Arrows not strong enough to puncture the ground, but strong enough to make me a cowgirl, a big girl, as my mother told me to be. A big girl that could stay alone during school’s summer vacation and imagine a ranch of hired hands, working cattle and horses, and filling a backyard with “Big Valley” moments, “Bonanza” rescues, and every Disney movie hero. Only until 4:30, then my mom would come home from work. I let the bow drop from my hand into the blades of grass I counted. Each a different color of green. I dropped my arrow. And I was gloriously small. I was saved. She held me close. Every day. My heart beat full. I remember everything.


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First, the field…


I have been commissioned to paint a field of poppies. Looks pretty green for poppies, you’re thinking. Yes, for now. But first the field… my grandfather taught me that, I suppose, on his farm. Each year he would take the browns and turn them into greens, and eventually into gold. “You can’t glamorize the dirt,” he said. It was work. So much work. Rocks needed to be picked. Dirt turned. Seeds planted. Watered. Care. So much care.


And so I paint the same way. I cut the wood. Stretch the canvas. Gesso. Prepare. Underpaint. Start with the field. My hands dirty. My heart full of promise that the flowers will come. Patient. Care. So much care.


Life is very messy. Terribly messy. My Uncle Nick passed away yesterday. I can’t glamorize that. I know he suffered. But I believe in the golden fields. Those of my grandfather. I believe they are there now. Together. Held with care. So much care.


Today, maybe, the poppies…