Jodi Hills

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


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How it should be.

It was at the State Theatre in Minneapolis that I first heard the Indigo Girls. Dayton’s used to put on an extreme fashion show each year for charity. Oh, just saying Dayton’s does something to my heart.) The theatre was dark and suddenly they blasted the intro for Fugitive by the Indigo girls, and the first model stepped out. It was a mixture of clothes and music, and city and night, art and diversity, and they sang, “Remember this as how it should be.” Oh, how I wanted to remember. 

My mother and I loved Dayton’s. Saturday mornings. Always before lunch. Trying on clothes at our thinnest. No need for food. We were fueled. Hands gently touching racks. Filling dressing rooms. Mirrors admired. Compliments given. Hearts full. Then with hands bagged it was off to lunch. To sip at the wine, and pull out each item, tell the story, live it with laughter and praise, and before I knew the words to the song I thought, “Remember this as how it should be.”

I was mowing the lawn yesterday. Listening to a podcast. They were interviewing the Indigo Girls. I couldn’t hear every word over the hum of the motor, but my heart… I can’t tell you what the models were wearing that beautiful evening, but I can recreate the feeling of hope and desire and pure excitement for a life recognized. I don’t recall every garment tried on or purchased with my mother, but as I sit here in my new Saturday morning, my heart is filled with laughter and praise. 

I suppose that’s the way it is for everything. And that’s how it should be — the experience. Today we plan to go visit a vineyard. I know I will forget the wine. Probably even the place. But the time…my heart is already singing.


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Nothing else would I trade for this.

I heard a familiar voice in the dressing room next to me. I had met my mother at the Macy’s in St. Cloud to do a little shopping for the upcoming launch of my book, Friend. As I lived in Minneapolis, and she in Alexandria, it was half way for us both. I opened the door a crack to see who belonged to the voice. A short, blonde woman passed by – oh, Kari Ness – I had gone to high school with her. My mom popped in. I think I saw Kari Ness, I said. We both stepped out. No one was there. We continued through the racks of clothes. And there she was. She introduced us to her mother-in-law. And it began. I heard something about fashion, and she owned a store, San Francisco I think, it was all happening so quickly. What are you here for? she asked. Before I answered, “What are you shopping for? What do you need? A black and white event, I said. For my new book. She grabbed me by the hand. Took me to dresses. Put this on. I’m sure I said yes – who knew at this point? What’s happening? my mom asked. I didn’t know, but we were both smiling from ear to ear. And you’ll need shoes, she said, and started instructing the clerks in the shoe department. I don’t even remember trying on the dress, but I was wearing it. Three clerks were running to get shoes for me. Kari’s mother in law was directing the Macy’s orchestra and all we could do was dance along. It was glorious! Within minutes I had a fabulous dress, and hosiery and shoes and a handbag. There, she said. I’m not certain that I even spoke to Kari. I hope I thanked her. It was spectacular. For a few minutes in the St. Cloud Macy’s, I was a princess! I was a model! And it was a ride I will never forget.


My mom and I went to Ciatti’s restaurant afterward. Bags in tow. Ordered two glasses of wine, and relived it again and again with each sip.


Bobby Darin sang a song, “And the curtain falls.” It plays in my head as I remember these moments:


Your cheers and laughter
will linger after
They’ve torn down these dusty walls
If I had this to do again
And the evening were new again
I would spend it with you again
But now the curtain falls.
Your cheers and laughter
will linger after
They’ve torn down these dusty walls
People say I was made for this
Nothin’ else would I trade for this…


Life happens where and when you allow it. People and places will take you on unforgettable rides – I only encourage you to take them. Hop on! Your cheers and laughter will forever linger after. I hear them now!


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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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Dress Designer.

We were shopping the City Center Mall in Downtown Minneapolis, my mom and I. The shops were magnificent. Such beautiful things. Could we afford them? No, of course not, but the real question was, could we afford not to look? We were dreamers. We had to see.

We dressed up to go shopping. (I suppose like one used to dress up to be on a plane.) We stopped at the Lillie Rubin store window. Such elegance. We began to enter the store when the longest legged clerk I had ever seen asked if we had an appointment. An appointment? “You need an appointment to enter,” she said, as if words could be an eye roll. My mom, without missing a beat replied, “Are the clothes busy?” I laughed out loud. Long legs turned and walked away. We laughed all the way to Dayton’s.

We had already survived much bigger rejections than a Saturday afternoon store clerk. This would never stop us. Life gives you the opportunity to decide. People can’t hurt you unless you give them the power. City Center is long gone. But we’re still here. Still shopping. Still dreaming. Still looking. Still laughing. Through everything, still deciding to make it a good day.

My mother was a dress designer. Not for Lillie Rubin, but for us. I give thanks for that, every day.


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Go higher.

We almost past by this store yesterday, until we saw the sign, “This store voted number one in Midway, by owner.” We turned around and went inside. A store with a little pride and a big sense of humor, we couldn’t miss that! It was a delightful store. And we almost missed it. The people inside were welcoming. Funny. And they had great merchandise. And we saw it all because they presented themselves in the best manner. Maybe we could all do that.

Even at our most poor, my mother always looked like a star. She dressed well. Put on her make-up. Put on a smile, sometimes gutted there by pure will, but it was always there. She looked great! Still does. Because she cared. We were at the downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s store. It had many levels. The levels got more expensive with each escalator ride. She didn’t even look at the first level. At the second, she glanced around and said, “Ewwww, this looks like stuff we could afford…”. We laughed and went higher.

Through the years she found the sales. Put things on lay-a-way. Saved. Wished. Styled. And always looked wonderful. She taught me that. What a gift. It’s never about money. It’s about style. And if that style can include a little pride, self-esteem, and a great sense of humor, that will take you pretty far, and you’ll look good along the way.

She will always be voted #1 mother, (by her daughter.)


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Chicago

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.


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A rose, by any other name…

In my late teens, I had to have surgery on my jaws.  The only place that was doing this procedure was in Fargo, North Dakota.  We lived two hours away, in Alexandria, Minnesota.  My mom drove a light blue mini station wagon. We had no GPS, no cell phone, and no real sense of direction, on the road, and barely in our daily lives.  
My mom set out to find the hospital. We had an address and the light of day, but soon lost both.  As the sun was setting, we drove around block after block. Nothing familiar. Nothing welcoming. The sun kept sinking and so did our spirits. “We’re never going to find it,” my mother said.  “We’re lost.” She kept driving. Slowly. “They’re never going to find us.” Still driving. “We’re going to die in North Dak… “and she stopped. Suddenly beaming.  “Oh, look!” she shouted, “there’s Herbergers!”  And we were saved.  
Herberger’s was our familiar. Our welcome.  To those of you who didn’t grow up in the midwest, it was the Department Store. The gathering place. The anchor of the mall.  It was home.  I am not ashamed to admit that it saved us so many times. It was a distraction. A diversion. A place to go behind a dressing room curtain and be whomever you wanted to be.
Now this retail therapy may be more American than I knew. Here in France, you have to anticipate what you need on Thursday, get it Friday, because Saturday is crazy busy, Sunday is closed, and Monday is closed.  Yes, Monday.  I remember being disoriented when the American stores were closed on Easter Sunday, so this was a radical change.  
It took a minute to detox, but certainly I have. Things are slower. Not better or worse, just different. I have learned a different patience (because it comes in all forms). I have found a different perspective. Closed on Mondays was not going to change, so I had to adapt. Now I look at it as a relief – “Well, we don’t have to go anywhere today, because we can’t.  What will I focus on? I should make something.”  And so I do.  Not just art, not just stories, anything. Here is my chance to make anything. Let’s make cookies. Oh, dear, we have to refrigerate for an hour? I can’t possibly wait that long. That’s how I first started. Still in a rush. Now I bake croissants. They take two days. Two days, imagine that. And worth every roll of the pin.  
Time really is nothing. It is what we do with the time. We are offered, once again a new perpective in this Covid time. It is different. It is challenging. But in this time, if we look hard enough, we will find what truly matters, we will see something, the light, and we will be saved.  

**The logo for Herberger’s was a rose – hence the title.