Joe Hugo Kojola, 1908-1994

Joe Hugo Kojola

My grandpa, Hugo “Joe” Kojola was born on this day in 1908. He died in 1994 at 86.

As a kid, I thought he was Santa Claus because of his white beard, jolly laugh and round belly. He gave me shiny stones that he polished in his rock polishing machine. Many are still on my altar. They have been sacred touchstones of love and warmth for a long time.

Speedway, Indianapolis, where Grandpa Joe lived with my Grandma Norma, seemed exotic to me. Fireflies, humidity, race cars, linoleum, a lazy Susan on the table, a cool motor home… it was all so different than my life in California.

Grandpa Joe taught me how to play songs on his banjo. I used his walker as a climbing gym. I borrowed his cane to do a dance routine. He had a shoe horn and a back scratcher…I didn’t even understand why anyone would need such things, but they were cool to me.

Once he crafted a solid steel handle for my plastic suitcase because it broke at the airport. He was always making things in his basement workshop. It was dark, mysterious, and had a very specific scent.

It’s been almost 29 years since I last saw him. When he came across the country for my sister’s wedding, he was in such good spirits. He died of undiagnosed leukemia shortly afterwards.

I’ve come to understand that some humans can hold on to their lives for a long time before they are ready to let go. We don’t all get the gift of making the choice consciously, but I think sometimes death might be a softening, an allowing, and opening to the unknown. It must require such courage to let go when our bodies are expired or expiring. A different kind of courage than is required for living.

The older I get the more loved ones I feel when reach out for ancestral wisdom and support. I’ve had dreams of the vast resource of my ancestors that is always available to me when I call for it. I imagine thousands of beams of light, thousands of cords connecting me to all of their love and prayers. I don’t know anything for sure, but that’s what makes me feel warm, supported, held, seen, and safe. I do feel sure that they all had or have that prayer for me, and for all of us.

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