Jodi Hills

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


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This orchestra.

I came up the staircase and lifted the telephone cord over my head so I could enter the kitchen. My mother had the 8′ cord stretched to its limit. She was talking on the phone while doing the dishes. I could tell she was talking about me. Why was she talking about me? Something about Washington school. A teacher? Was it a teacher? I tugged at her blouse. She nudged me with her hip. She said goodbye and motioned with her eyes for me to catch the phone as she lifted her chin. I caught it and climbed onto the chair to hang the receiver back on the wall.

Who was that? I asked.
Mr. Iverson.
Mr. Iverson? What did he want?
He said you have good hands.
Good hands?
Yes.
That’s it?
He said you’d be good at the vio- something.
Violin?
No, the other one.
Viola?
Yes, that’s it.
He called to tell you that?
He said you can join the orchestra if you want.

I was in the fifth grade. I had just gotten a clarinet from Carlson’s music store. No small purchase for our family. My hands were already invested. But I liked that he noticed them – my hands. Imagine that! A teacher paying that much attention. What gifts we were given daily at Washington Elementary.

I played the clarinet through my senior year. I still have it. But my hands had different ideas. They are daily covered in words and paint. They are good hands. And I am grateful for them every day. I wonder if I would have believed in them though, if people hadn’t believed in them first. If I hadn’t had teachers who invested their time. A mother who invested her heart.

I believe in myself, because they believed in me first. So I use them, these hands. Once more, again, still, ever, to give thanks, and to tell you, you can join the “orchestra” if you want.


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“I’ll take that in mauve.”

I was reminded of a story yesterday. It seems as though I’ve told it so many times, but it was fresh to her — this woman purchasing my original painting of Brittany. Brand new. And as she got more excited to hear, I became more excited to tell. She had saved some of the first cards that I had ever sold, for over twenty years, one being “Mother’s Cloud.”

This particular poem I had written as a birthday gift for my mom. I wrote the words of my heart, and hers. Typeset them artistically. Printed. Framed. And it hung in her dining room. It was Rose Virnig who came into my mother’s dining room, looked at the picture, and said, “I’ll take that in mauve.” (As if I had some stock room filled with many colors.) I looked at my mom, and asked, without moving my lips, “Can I actually sell your birthday present?” Her response, in these exact words, “Take the money, Pea Brain.” It still makes me laugh these decades later.

It’s always been personal. Every sale. Every card. Every magnet. Every book. It’s my story. And yesterday, as I was sharing with this new customer (connection sounds better) some of the stories, they weren’t just fresh for her, they were fresh for me. And I shared them again with my mother, and they were fresh for her. Our stories are as real, as new, as powerful, as we allow them to be. They can transport us in time and space, and heart. They keep us living. They keep us alive.

The conversation with my mother switched from art to shopping, (as it often does.) What was the name of that store? The one where I bought that outfit? With shoulder pads? Oh, I got so many compliments on that outfit. You know the store – at Ridgedale – all the jewelry in front…It starts with a G. My brain kicked in after we ended the conversation and I had to call back immediately. It was Gantos. Oh, yes! Gantos. And we were young and in a dressing room in Minnetonka.

I will finish packing up the original painting today and send it off to California. It will carry with it a bit of France, a bit of my mother, a bit of Minnesota, a great deal of my heart. And it will gather in her stories, of why she saved the cards that she bought in Omaha. Why they gave her the courage to move to California. Why she bought the new painting. And the story will grow. Continue. Connecting us all.

As I look out the morning window, everything seems fresh, brand new, with just a hint of mauve.