Monday, January 10, 2011


Errol, Reuel, Ezell, and Joe in Vinita, Oklahoma, 2006
Not many people in this world are lucky enough to have a mother-in-law as wonderful as Ezell Cochrane. When I first met her, almost 40 years ago, I was immediately struck by her gracious warmth and bright smile. When I last talked to her on the phone, on December 29, I again remarked on her warmth and upbeat manner. Ezell was a person who made everybody feel better; her last words to us were, “I love you bushels and bushels and bushels and bushels ...”

Ezell was born in 1918, in Glendale, Arizona. By all accounts, she had a wonderful childhood. Her family was not rich, but as the youngest of four sisters, she was treasured, and her mother, whom she adored, was able to raise all four Huff girls with a strong sense of self-confidence and self-possession. Ezell used to say she was raised to believe there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do.  She often talked about growing up in the Great Depression and said their family never felt poor ... I think her family was her treasure. The addition of her nephew, Caughey, who was raised as her younger brother just added more joy to her life ... as did the addition of each new niece or nephew. Ezellie didn’t need money to be happy. She often said how lucky they were that her father was a butcher and their family always had enough bacon for gravy when many of her classmates did not have even that much.

Ezell was a high school senior when she married Reuel Cochrane. He had been her family’s paper boy and she always said he fell in love with her mother and then with her. She said her momma made the best pies and would let them cool on the kitchen window ledge and that she often gave a piece of pie to ‘that cute paper boy’. Pie notwithstanding, on Christmas Day in 1935 she and Reuel married; it was to be a very happy union that lasted 72 years. After graduation Ezell started a career as a journalist, following in her older sister Maxine’s footsteps. However, soon thereafter Reuel got a job in Ajo, Arizona at the Phelps Dodge New Cornelia Mine working in the blasting department. Reuel soon landed his and Ezell’s fathers jobs at the mines and the families were able to live close to each other for a number of years. Errol and his brothers. Reuel II and Joe, were born during this time, although Ezell went to Phoenix to have her babies delivered there. This is where I first heard of her love of the colour red ... she refused to go into the labour room to deliver Joe until she had bright red polish on her toenails.  Although she did not use much make-up, she did love to put on bright red lipstick and wore red whenever she could ... or felt like it!

After a few years at Phelps Dodge, Reuel went to work at ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia. Ezell and their three boys lived in California during this time while Reuel established himself, but eventually everyone moved to Saudi Arabia (Dahran and Ras Tanura), where they lived for approximately 5 years. I don’t think Ezell liked the life of an expat with its fancy airs; she disliked cocktail parties and formal dinners, but she loved Arab culture and made some lifelong friends and appreciated having a chance to visit Egypt, Rome, and London. When Cait and I were going to London a few years ago, Ezell was so excited for us ... “Oh, London is such fun!” she said.

Travel came at a price, however, as she proved to be a poor sailor in the age of transatlantic voyages. I think she would take to her bed and pray her boys didn’t destroy the ship. What she liked best about travelling was getting off the boat or plane in New York, buying a car and driving home to Arizona. She could never wait to see her mother and sisters and trips back to her beloved Arizona were the highlight of her year. She just loved the desert and the independence of picnicking, camping, bird watching, or just watching the sun go down were activities she just loved. I am not sure when Ezell, acquired her nickname of Skeet or Skeeter ... she was so light and fast-moving and never settled long in one place, sort of like a mosquito, I guess ...

The family continued to be nomadic for a number of years and Ezell made homes for her brood in such places as Michigan, Florida, Virginia, and Libya. Whether they lived in trailers, cottages, farmhouses, apartments, or homemade houses, Ezell and Reuel always created homes where people felt welcome and comfortable. They were gracious hosts.

When I first met Ezell, she and Reuel were living in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, in a house they had built after a fire had destroyed their previous farmhouse. Along with the house, many treasures from their travels in the Mid East went up in flames. But Ezell didn’t dwell on losses too much; she was a very resilient and strong person underneath her warm and gracious manner. She and Reuel bought an Airstream trailer at this point and had lots of fun travelling in their ‘aluminum cocoon’. Later on in life, Ezell sold her Limoges china and bought yet another Airstream ... I think it was one of the happiest things she ever did. She didn’t like the trappings or airs of the grand life. She would much rather have a tuna fish on whole wheat sandwich while camping in the woods. "Hot zigs, this is so much fun," she would say.

When our daughter Cait was born in 1977 (their only grandchild) Ezell and Reuel were delighted. Enchanted. Enamoured. Thrilled beyond words. We were fortunate to be able to spend lots of time with them, living with them for short periods and visiting them almost yearly ... even more often more recently.

When Cait was three or so, Reuel, Ezell, and Joe (Errol’s youngest brother) decided to move back to Arizona (Sunsites and Sunizona), which was not a small undertaking for folks in their 60’s. But they were able to do it and Ezell was extremely contented in Arizona. She loved visiting her sisters ... Maurine in Phoenix and Bootsie (and brother-in-law Cecil) in Payson. She loved having her extended family ... sisters-in-law, cousins, nieces and nephews from Oklahoma, Virginia, and California come and visit. She loved looking at the Chiricahua Mountains and watching the wind blow the tumbleweeds across the desert. She loved going to Bisbee and poking about the shops there and looking at the Phelps Dodge open pit copper mine that dominates that town. She loved visiting the Nature Conservancy at Hummingbird Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains. She loved going to Mexico to buy pottery and glassware and visiting Mr and Mrs Castellano. She loved going to Douglas to eat lunch at the historic Gadsden Hotel and she loved their favourite waitress, Brenda. She loved taking Caitie down the road to give the donkey, Happy Jack, an apple or a carrot. Many things in this world brought Ezell joy, and her joy of life was certainly contagious ...

Although very positive in her outlook, of course, Ezellie knew grief and loss. She was very saddened by the deaths of her mother and sisters, Brucie and Maurine, and other precious family members, especially her dear niece, Brenda. I think it was a comfort to all their family members that Ezell and Reuel were able to be with them and help them during their last days. I know shortly before she died Brenda (whose daughter was named Katie Ezell) made a trip to Sunizona in order to see Ezell and hike a bit in the Chiricahuas with her Aunt Skeet.

It was Ezell’s lifelong dream to visit Alaska and she and Reuel were on a camping trip there with nieces, Jerre Price (and Ted) and Laurel Dawn Smith (and Dale) when they got the word that their eldest son Reuel II had been killed in a plane crash. Although in 80 years Ezell had experienced a lot of loss, losing a child is devastating at any age. I believe this is when I saw Ezell at her strongest; she was steadfast throughout the whole ordeal. She was very proud of her son and was grateful that he had been with them as long as he had.

I think Reuel II’s death brought home realities and inevitabilities to Reuel Senior and he wanted to return to his roots, Oklahoma, to be near his family. So, in their 80’s, amazingly, the intrepid Cochranes relocated to Big Cabin, Oklahoma, where they were heartily embraced by their favourite Okies ... who all loved their Aunt Skeet and Uncle Reuel. As is inevitable, however, age brings infirmity and decline. Nephews and nieces passed away and Reuel suffered several small strokes. Ezell’s heart, which was never physically strong, suffered several heart attacks and she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Four or five years ago, she suffered a heart attack and when we called her in the hospital in Tulsa, she sounded great. If it had to be, she was ready to go ... she had had a wonderful life, she told us, but she wasn’t quite ready to leave us yet.

What an amazing tree ... everyone loved it.  It suffered a lot of damage in an ice storm the following winter.
Both Reuel and Ezell began to suffer memory problems and they became less and less active. They were both devastated by the death of their niece, Jerre, who was a frequent visitor and a ray of sunshine in anybody’s day. Thank goodness they had Joe, who cared for his parents with loving kindness and patience. When Reuel died in 2007, it took Ezell a long time to come to grips with it. But she loved living and she said she wasn’t ready to leave. She and Joe were best buddies and he looked after her so well; they usually went out to the Hi-Way Cafe for dinner, as Ezell told me she had given up cooking one day and just never did it again. Gabriel and all the folks at the cafe loved seeing Joe and Ezell come in for dinner and they cried to hear of her passing. Sweet folks. When we got the message that Ezell was in the hospital, we had no idea it was so serious ... she had bounced back from heart problems so many times before. But in retrospect, she was panting for breath and I am sure it was both scary and exhausting to have to fight that hard for air. However, we had a chance to talk to her twice in the hospital before she died and each time she was mentally alert and sounded just like herself.

Joe is desolate that he was not with his Mom when she died; he had just gotten home from the hospital when the nurses called to say Ezell had passed away. That was the message we also received when Errol and I arrived back from Saigon. While the loss of our beloved Ezell is very sad, I also believe that she had a wonderful life, which should be celebrated. Joe says, as she was a somewhat sickly child, nobody would have expected Ezell to live to be 92 ... far older than her sisters. We are so grateful to have had her for so long ... sweet, sassy, smart, strong, stubborn, sensible, silly, sensitive ... she was one of a kind. And we love her bushels and bushels and bushels and bushels ...


Anonymous said...

You are so fortunate to have known and loved (and been loved by) her, Shee. What a wonderful, strong, sassy lady. My sincerest condolences to Errol and you and all of Ezell's family and friends. I can see that she will be very missed.


Lois said...

This is a lovely story, Sheila. I know you and Errol will miss Ezell.

Caitie said...

Hi, Mummy, this is very nice. Dad said, "Your mom, she sure knows how to do it right," when he read it. <3

Tad Callin said...

Thank you for posting this!

Ezell would have been my grandmother's 1st cousin. Nancy Callin nee Witter was Hannah Merle Huff's daughter, and "Merly" was Albert Burton Huff's youngest sister.

I've been slowly digging through for several years now, and just got around to looking at their document hints for Ezell this morning. When I saw Reuell and Ezell on passenger lists from 1951, arriving in New York from Beirut, it prompted me to Google for them, and I found this!

I always enjoy swapping stories with new found cousins, so please shoot me an email if you like. (callintad at gmail dot com)