Jodi Hills

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

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The scent of story.

I was only six when I was walked into the library of Washington Elementary. The door opened and it hit me immediately, the familiar scent. I didn’t have the words for it then. The knowledge. Certainly it could have been explained away with paper, and time. The aging, a slight dampness to it all. But I had smelled this before, this comforting familiar. And I needed no explanation, because I was home.

This welcoming scent – it was the same as the entryway to my grandparents’ home. Coats lined the wall. Dampened with work and story, they welcomed anyone who opened the door. They said, come in, you and your heart sit down. It was there I learned to trust. Trust in those who made the effort. Trust in those who worked hard to create something. Create a life.This library of coats. Of living.

When Mrs. Bergstrom, my first grade teacher, let go of my hand, I wasn’t afraid. She set me free in this open and beautiful world. There was life all around me. Book after book. Page after page. The words brushed against my arm, warm and worn, as the sleeve of my grandfather’s coat.

Some might say it is only nostalgia. But what is nostalgia? For me, it is not wanting to live in the past. No, for me, I see it as proof. A living and palpable proof of how it feels to be open. It is a reminder of how glorious life can be. A documentation of the extraordinary doors — the doors that let you in, the ones that set you free.

I don’t know what today will bring. But I know what it feels like to be open. I need no explanation. I brush against the familiar, and walk into the sun.



Walking through airport security the uniformed guard waved her hand from my head to toes, as if to encompass my ensemble of jewelry and clothing, mid-wave she said, “What’s this all about?” What’s this all about? Did I have the time to explain it was my heart, my soul, my mother, my identity, my journey from the Christmas catalogs of youth to the malls of Minneapolis, to the streets of Chicago and New York and Paris? Well, she maybe didn’t need to hear all that, nor the line behind me… so I simply said, “Fashion…?” She passed me through.

But it was more than fashion. This I knew for sure. My mother had always taught me that. It was a healer. It was get up and get dressed, even when you had strep throat. It was a motivator, get dressed and go to work, even if your husband has left you. It was possibility – a look in the mirror and maybe, just maybe I could be this person I dressed to be. It was all those things. It was the secret my mother shared with me, knowing that it would save her, save me.

My mother and I often went to Chicago. Our first trip opened a whole new world. Entering this city with the freedom of no one knowing you, and the comfort of knowing you belong. Sure it started with Michigan Avenue. Of course, because it is, well, magnificent. The stores are lovely, proven, and grand. We beat the pavement, ate the food, tried on the clothes, carried the sacks until the handles made ridges in our wrists. It was glorious.

The more familiar we became with the city, the more we began to wander off the magnificent mile. One day we turned onto Oak Street. It sounded like a name out of a school play. An intimate place. So welcoming. Almost quiet. It didn’t have the shout of Michigan Ave, it had a whisper. A secret. The street smiled as we walked. It knew we were going to find our way there. It opened the little boutique doors, and said, we’ve been expecting you. Beautiful clothes, that only a select group had tried on, viewed, bothered to admire. And we were part of the few, the familiar, the welcomed and it was more than magnificent, it was glorious.

Maybe it’s because that’s how we knew each other. It is easy to show people the Michigan Avenue of your life, but the few that know your Oak Street, now that is something! Gather yourself there.

Yesterday, I was viewing a new store online. I knew my mom would like these fashions. I know her. I can wave my hand in front of her and tell you “what this is all about.” So I checked the store locator to see if there was one near her. The nearest was in Chicago… on Oak Street. I smiled and traveled back immediately.

Last, my husband and I looked at the website together. He knows my Oak Street. I am gathered in.