Jodi Hills

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


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Hall of fame.

I must admit when I got the call, I laughed – nervous – not sure that it was real. But she kept repeating it – that I was voted into the Hall of Fame for my high school. And laughter’s tears turned into tears of joy. Not prideful in the way of look at me — but prideful in the way that I felt a part of something. A part of something that I had been too frightened for too many years to admit how important it actually was to me. But it mattered. School was everything to me. A safe port. A home. But it is terrifying when something means that much to you, to admit it. It leaves you so vulnerable. Wide open. But it is there, as they say, when all the love can get in. And it did. Still does.

A friend of mine is being voted in at the end of the month. My only advice is to let it all matter. Let it mean everything. Wave from the parade. Smile. Laugh. Let the tears and the tenderness flow. I think it might be the truest form of gratitude — to show other’s that you are willing to risk it all. To be vulnerable.

And I suppose it’s the same for everything. Work. Friends. Love. To snort when you laugh — bent over in a language that most can’t even comprehend. To let tears fall without saying a word. To wave joyfully, and rapidly and scream to the world, these people are in my parade! And I am a part of it all! No embarrassment. Only joy. Only love.

I was timid in school for years. I refuse to be timid in life — it all matters too much. Congratulations, Terry Quist! Thank you, Sue Quist!


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There was a ballpark.


If it did have a name then, we didn’t know it – Knute Nelson ballpark. It was the only real baseball field we had. Groomed. Green and reddish brown, just like on tv.

Central Junior High was only a few short blocks away. Summer was sneaking in before it’s scheduled arrival, and it was hot in the classrooms. The afternoon sun shone directly into Mrs. Lehman’s English class. We were restless and noisy. Stirring in our seats. Eager. Boys poking. Girls teasing. Kevin Bielke raised his hands and told us all to “Maintain.” (If we did know what he meant, we didn’t act like it.)

I had always had a healthy respect for Mrs. Lehman, mixed with a tiny bit of fear. I loved English class. I loved to read. So I suppose I wanted her to see it – and maybe see me. It all felt so important. She seemed more serious than our other teachers. Good posture – physically and mentally – always “dressed” for class. And when she spoke, it was never casual — and I suppose, when it came to books, neither was I.

So it came as quite a surprise when she was the first teacher to “break” in the summer heat. She said we were all going for a walk. A walk? Outside? It was unprecedented. Between laughter and shoves, we made our way down the street. Where were we going. She stopped us in front of the ball field. Play? We were all going to play? The boys with the girls? Baseball? In English class? Had she planned the whole thing? There were bats and balls and gloves to pick from. It was all so disorienting, I don’t remember how we picked teams. But I was up. I had played softball, of course, but never baseball. The balls were hard. The boys threw hard. I stood my ground at the plate. I swung with all my might. I hit it hard. Really hard. Line drive. Straight into the third baseman’s glove. And it was the first time I think she had ever spoken to me — “You hit that really hard,” Mrs. Lehman said. I smiled.

I got an A in her class. I only remember it because I got straight A’s back then. It was only an hour this day. Only one hour out of our 7th grade year, but it stayed with me. This unexpected gift. I don’t mean a moment off of schoolwork, which was nice of course, but the gift was for these 60 minutes she showed us her humanity – she wasn’t our teacher, but maybe, just maybe, our friend. From that day on, I was a little less afraid.

I write the stories, not just because I was given all the tools. Grammar. Composition. But maybe because for one sunny hour, amid all the rules, there was a ballpark.


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Fumbling toward grace.

The pond was frozen in Noonan’s park. It was the best place for skating (or the closest to our school). We all walked over, single file for a moment, until our teacher turned her head around to watch the road. It was exciting, this release from the normal school day. Mittens dangled from pockets. Jackets unzipped. We were too free to feel the cold. 

I can’t say that any of us were good skaters. I can’t say that any of us cared. We played on the ice. Pushing. Pulling. Gliding. Then eventually, it always ended in “Crack the whip.” I was at the end, and indeed the whip was cracked – I was flung, and landed on my wrist. Broken. Everyone kept playing. Our teacher knew she had to stay – there were 30 other kids to think about. I don’t remember if she volunteered or if she was asked, but selfless either way, Melissa Fristedt agreed to walk back to Washington Elementary with me to see the school nurse. 

We weren’t friends really. It seemed as though we had just met, maybe playing the clarinets for the first time together in the gymnasium. She was tall and kind. I could walk completely fine on my own, but she held my opposite elbow as we walked the sidewalks slowly, that now felt so cold. I was happy it was her — that she was there. It seemed she was born to do this — the lifting. 

Last night we went to young Margaux’s dance recital. Some glided along, as if on ice, others pushed, pulled and played. All of it beautiful. It’s easy to spot the ones that were born to dance. It seems as though the music flows from their every muscle. There was one girl, just a little larger than the rest, that was called on to do the lifting. And she did! She smiled so gracefully as she held the girls up, pointing them to the spotlight. How beautiful. As beautiful as those that posed to the sky. 

I suppose we are all in this ballet of untimely movement. Fumbling towards grace. Some days lifted, other days we will be asked to do the lifting. I hope we can all see the beauty in both.


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No abandonings

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When I was little, small enough to carry, my grandma (as she told it) would put me in a chair, and I would stay there. Watching her do the kitchen work. If she had to change rooms, she would put me in another chair. And I stayed. Watching. Watching her make the beds. Sweep the floor. Watching her watch Days of our Lives (or, her “story” as she called it). Even when she called her friends on the telephone’s party line after the show, she still reached out a hand to me. Oh, it would wave in the air, as I watched her go on and on about the Horton’s, Ma Horton and Pa Horton as she called them, but every few minutes, she would reach her hand down in my direction, wiggle her fingers, saying everything was fine, don’t worry.

She thought I was so good. I’m not sure that’s what I was thinking. If I know myself at all, I was both fascinated by her, and constantly making sure that she didn’t leave. And she never did.

I don’t know the characters, the plot line, or even if it still airs, but I can hear the opening, “Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.” And I can feel her, right beside me.

My mother has the same hands of my grandma. Maybe not exact in size in shape, but the same in the reaching out, the always there. No abandonings.

They say nothing lasts forever. I’m not so sure about that. I’m still carrying the stories with me. The love. And perhaps I write them, each day, with the hands that someone is waiting for, counting on, to never leave.


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Covered in dough.

A few years ago I received a mixer as a present. It’s a nice mixer. I took it out of the box. My husband looked at it, and asked, “What does it make?”

I smiled. “Well, it doesn’t “make” anything. I can use it when I’m making bread, or a cake, but by itself, it really doesn’t do anything.” 

People ask me all the time, “What inspires you?” I suppose it’s the same answer. Nothing. If you are looking for something else, someone else, to do the work of inspiring, then you’re going to be very disappointed, and well, uninspired. You have to participate. It’s not enough to find inspiration, you have to “be inspired.” Gather if from within. A book on its own is only paper. But if you pick it up, read it, feel it, look up the words, trace them with your fingers, really live inside the pages – you, my friend, will be beyond inspired. Now, you might say, “Well, it has to be a good book.” Again, I disagree. When I’m reading something fantastic, something I adore, I think, “Wow, I want to be this good! I want to be better. I want to work harder!”  When I read something that I don’t think is very good, say – I can see the ending coming for miles, then I think, “I can do better than this!” So I write some more. 

Paintings. Music. Nature. It’s all out there. Just waiting for you to look, listen, explore. Eat the candy. Drink the coffee. Light the candles. Sip the wine. Take the walks. Have the conversations. Be inspired!

It’s messy, for sure, but delightfully so! Get your mind, heart and hands, covered in dough.


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Little bruises.

I had no helmet. No pads. Just an impatient brother, a hill, and a generic used bicycle. He gave me a push. Yelled “Pedal!” Half way down the hill I flew off. Landed knuckle first. I still have the scars. 

One of my favorite quotes is from the book, “All the Pretty Horses,” by Cormac McCarthy. After falling off the horse repeatedly, the lead actor is asked, “Don’t you ride?” He replied, “I was ridin’ when I fell off…”  That’s how I learned to ride a bicycle. Perhaps that’s how we learn to do everything. 

If only bravery were accumulative. But it doesn’t seem to be. For me, I have to summon the courage each time. For each new thing. Every day. I imagine we all do. If we want to really live. Hearts as fragile as pears, we have to summon the courage each day to say, “I’m here!” Summon the courage to laugh and cry. To ask for help. To love. And we will get cut and bruised, on hands and hearts and egos, but Oh, the ride! The glorious ride! And we are ridin! Even when we fall. I have to believe – always worth it!


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Songs of thunder.

Nothing really has changed from yesterday to today, I mean weatherwise. You would be hard pressed to differentiate the two. But they feel different. And I suppose that’s everything. Yesterday, spring began, and with its arrival came hope, freshness, anticipation, curiosity…. life!  Perhaps you saw a Robin, or the date on the calendar, but I know you felt something, heard something, I did too. 

I did a little Google dive on why Robin’s are the sign of spring. And there was so much more. So many “myths” attached to this beautiful bird. But are they myths? If you believe them, and they make you feel better, isn’t that just truth? 

Poets and philosophers, religious leaders, and songwriters, try to define what nature already knows – that love is eternal, continuous, ever renewing. It makes you think all things are possible. That you, and I, with each passing season, still have the chance to grow. Nothing could be more springlike than that!

And so it arrives with sun and wind, and robins in trees, and songs of thunder, all telling us to “Bloom! Bloom! – this is your spring!”


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The line.

We stood in the long line. I didn’t want to be there. I glued myself to my mother’s leg. We got closer and closer. There was a long table of food. An indecipherable melange of flavor. I peaked around my mother’s hip. All I wanted was to find her dish. I knew if I could find it, I would be saved. I didn’t want something from another kitchen, another mother. “What did you make?” I asked. “What color is the bowl again?” We were taught not to hate, especially in this place, this church, but I strongly disliked the occasional pot-luck lunch. I didn’t have words for it then, but I knew there was something about “the making.” To know the maker meant something. It was important. I knew the maker, my mother. I knew her hands. And that was love. And that’s what I wanted. The only thing I would stand in line for. 

After visiting the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I walked around the gift shop. So many beautiful things. It was hard to focus. And then it caught my eye. So small, almost indecipherable, but oh, so familiar. I moved immediately across the aisle. I held it in my hand. “Made in France,” it said. It was a magnet of the skyline of New York, including the Statue of LIberty. A line. A connection. It was familiar. It was mine. This maker, this France, I knew it. It was as warm, as familiar, as the dish my mother made, and I was saved.

Trust the line that connects from hand to heart to others. These are the makers. This is the love worth standing for.


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Confirmation.


I can’t explain exactly what makes one town charming, and another, not so much…. “Je ne sais quoi.” But when it is, charming, I can see it, almost immediately…I mean, I can feel it. And I feel it in Breaux Bridge, LA.


We crossed the bridge into the main part of the city. One or two streets really. But the life can be felt. People were dressed up. A young man, maybe six years old – pink collared shirt with bow tie. Girls in dresses. Something must be happening on this Saturday nearing mid day. We walked toward the small crowd. They were leaving the one church in the city center. Warming in February’s sun, they laughed and visited on the lawn. We just kept walking toward it, until we were in it. We asked the priest the occasion — confirmation he said. We asked, did he know of a good place to have lunch. Yes, he said without hesitation. One of my favorite things. I love it when people are sure of their city – their home. And that doesn’t always happen. We always ask, everywhere we go, because we want to eat what the locals eat. And there is such beauty when they are certain, when they say with confidence and pride — go here. Confirmation.


We went as directed. As we walked we could here Zydeco music coming from different buildings. They celebrate Saturday mornings here, with music and food and coffee and drink. And why not? We all should! We stepped into the restaurant. Seated at the table, she came over to greet us – the owner. She was proud of her place – with good reason. She was welcoming – asked us where we were from – so happy we were there. The food was sure to be good, we were already enchanted. And it was. Crawfish Etoufee. Shrimp. Delightful. We walked the shops. The woman at the antique store gave us her phone number. “You call if you need anything. I don’t know everyone, but I can help.” People being people.
With full bellies and hearts, we saw the haunting beauty of the swamps and the lakes and the trees. This is Breaux Bridge. It is not New Orleans. I have often written that France is not the Eiffel Tower — it is so much more. And so it is with Louisiana.


The world is a magical place. Filled with beautiful things to see. But I encourage you to look beyond the landmarks. Beyond the popular. Search for the humanity. When you find it, you will never be disappointed. The charm of humanity — beauty confirmed.


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We might be giants.


My grandma made coffee on the stove. My mom started drinking at 13. With one older brother and seven younger siblings, I guess she needed it. Someone told her it was going to stunt your growth. She grew to almost 5’9”, traveled to Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, dressed to the nines, (or five nines) — never stunted.


We all begin somewhere, but that doesn’t have to dictate where we go. This is all up to us to decide. Every day. Every. Day.


Today we drink our Caribou coffee at the airport. Awaiting our next journey, wearing my mother’s turtleneck and a big portion of her heart. Gathered in her never stunted spirit, I travel tall! I travel on!


Enjoy today’s journey!