Memories of My Grandfather, Oscar Cochems

by Chris Cochems

I think my earliest strong memory of Grandpa was at the Cochems Brothers Cabins in Big Bear in 1951. This was Oscar's last big real estate move. He intended purchasing the cabins, and making a fortune renting them out. A bunch of the family went up for a long weekend to see the cabins and do a little work. Unfortunately, the financing fell through shortly after that. At any rate, I was the youngest family member present at 4 years old, and everyone, including Oscar, agreed to play my favorite card game, a Fish variant called Go to the Dump. I kept dropping my cards, as there were too many for my small hands to hold. The next evening, Oscar handed me a card holder he had made from two boards.

Oscar was an expert checker player. I played him a few times, and he showed no mercy at all, giving me a total humiliation. Each Sunday, Grandpa would walk down to a neighborhood store, buy a package of cinnamon rolls, and eat the entire thing by himself, never offering to share. He always had a cigar in his mouth, usually lit. After Grandma died, we found that she had preserved his best suit, including a good supply of cigars in the pocket. My father, Merle (Speed) once won an exploding cigar at the Nupike. Grandma found it in his dresser, and realizing that he didn't smoke cigars, gave it to Oscar. It couldn't have worked out better if he had planned it. He was there when Oscar lit it. Oscar was reading the paper when it went off, blowing the front out of the paper, and scattering sparks all over the front room.

Games were always a part of the Cochems house. Chinese Checkers was a favorite while the kids were up, but get-togethers always ended with the kids being put into one or another of Grandmas beds, and the poker game would begin. The Christmas night poker game always went on well into the morning hours. Grandma remembered every grandkid with a Christmas present, and always had a big tree to put them under. One year, she had decided to get a small tree, and put it on a table, which was a departure from the normal 12 foot tree which barely fit in the house. I was left with grandpa while my parents took grandma to buy the little tree. Oscar was asleep on the sofa when they got home, a little tired after trouncing me at checkers. The front door opened, and Lillian appeared holding the tip of a tree. This woke Oscar up, and as he glanced at the door, he saw my mother, 7 feet behind grandma, and holding the middle of the tree. By the time my father was in the door, Oscar had gone from lying to sitting, with a loud and slow, "Jesus Christ, I'm glad you didn't get a big one." We had to cut the tree to make it fit under the 12 foot ceiling.

I remember Grandpa as quiet and stern, with real authority, but with a twinkle in his eye. Oatmeal was a common breakfast, and Oscar always commented, eat your oatmeal, it good for you -- sticks to your ribs. Once, during the depression, Oscar came home excited, and told my dad that he had just bought two fields of cabbage. My dad was not at all pleased, but decided to take the truck and go with Oscar to survey the damage. The fields, indeed, were full of very nice cabbage ready to harvest. They picked a truck full while they were there, and headed home to sell them at vegetable stands. A stretch limo honked and motioned them to the side of the road. An obviously wealthy woman got out, and said, "Those are the most beautiful cabbages I have every seen. How much are they?" "Two cents each," said Oscar. "Oh, then I'll take two, she said." As she drove off, Oscar said proudly, "See, I told you they would sell like hotcakes." Before the end of the great cabbage sale, the back porch was full of barrels of sauer kraut.

Nobody in the family would have guessed, but, based on some love letters we found in grandma's belongings, Oscar and Lillian had a very passionate relationship their entire life. I only wish Oscar would have lived longer, so I could have known him better.

Sherry (Cochems) McVeigh Adds.

Great memories. One favorite of mine was when I was about 8 and we were staying with some cousins at Grandma and Grandpa's place on a ranch that they rented from a Japanese family (I think) in Clearwater (now part of Paramount). Anyway we were all getting ready for bed when Oscar discovered a skunk outside. He made the unfortunate decision to try to scare it away only to get doused with skunk oil (or whatever it is) and he had to strip down and burn all of his clothes. I doubt he ever chased another one! We kids, however, thought it was extremely funny!!!

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