The history of Buffalo, one story at a time.

The Buffalo Stories Archives is the result of decades’ worth of the passionate collection of Buffalo’s day-to-day Pop Culture history by Steve Cichon.

The online portion of the archive is representative of the thousands of local books, magazines and newspapers, thousands of images and photos, and thousands of tapes and digital files of audio and video recordings contained in just over a thousand square feet of storage space.

Far from the Library of Congress or The Buffalo History Museum, at the heart of our archive is the cast away, in many cases literally garbage-picked collections and items that have often been rejected by everyone else.

It’s Buffalo’s story in a microcosm. What others have cast away; we whip up into something special.

About Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo’s past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News.

He’s a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon’s been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special.

The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives– hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.

While wearing his signature bow tie, Cichon puts his wide range of professional experience—from college professor, to PBS documentary producer, to radio news director, to candidate for countywide elected office—to work in producing meaningful interpretations of the two centuries worth of everything that makes Buffalo the one-of-a-kind place that we love.

When you browse the blog here at Buffalo Stories LLC, you’re bound to not only relive a memory– but also find some context for our pop culture past– and see exciting ways how it might fit into our region’s boundless future.

Why? Western New York’s embedded in his DNA. Steve’s Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.

Categories:

Buffalo’s Pop Culture Heritage
The essence of Buffalo Stories is defining and
celebrating the people, places, and things that make Buffalo… Buffalo. That’s Buffalo’s pop culture heritage-– and that’s what you’ll find here.

Buffalo’s Radio & TV 
Irv. Danny. Van. Carol. The men and women who’ve watched and listened to have become family enough that we only need their first names. Buffalo has a deep and rich broadcasting history.  Here are some of the names, faces, sounds and stories which have been filling Buffalo’s airwaves since 1922.

 Buffalo’s Neighborhoods
North and South Buffalo. The East and West Sides.  But how many neighborhoods can you name that don’t fit any of those descriptions? From the biggest geographical sections, to the dozens of micro-neighborhoods and hundreds of great intersections.

Parkside
There is a category for Buffalo Neighborhoods, but as the historian of Buffalo’s Parkside Neighborhood, and having written two books on the neighborhood’s history, giving the Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Parkside Neighborhood it’s own category makes sense.

Family & Genealogy
My family history is Buffalo history. All eight of my great-grandparents lived in Buffalo, including my Great-Grandma Scurr, who is among the children in this Doyle family photo taken in Glasgow, Scotland. Aside from Scotland, my great-grandparents came from Pennsylvania, Poland, and England. One branch of my family tree stretches back to Buffalo in the 1820s, and a seventh-great aunt was among the first babies baptized at St. Louis Roman Catholic church back in 1829, when the church was still a log cabin.

&c, &c, &C: reflections from Steve’s desk
While my primary focus for this site is sharing about things that make Buffalo wonderful and unique, sometimes I have other thoughts, too. I share those here, along with some of the titles from other categories which I’ve written about in a more personal manner.

Buffalo Stories Bookstore
Buy Steve’s five books and other special offers from Buffalo Stories LLC.

BN Chronicles
Steve’s daily looks back at Buffalo’s past from the archives of The Buffalo News and Buffalo Stories LLC. Weekly features include “Torn Down Tuesday” and “What it looked like Wednesday,” along with decade by decade looks at what Buffalo used to be– and how we got here from there.


Thank you, WNY!

Buffalo Spree’s Best of WNY: Best Blogger

It’s an honor to have my work recognized, especially when it helps call to attention a very important topic.

READ: A brief memoir in depression and anxiety

 

As appeared in Buffalo Spree, August 2018

 


By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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The Coyles, McGees, and Gallaghers of Tullaghobegley Parish, County Donegal (and Pennsylvania mine country)

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

County Donegal, along Ireland’s northern coast, is the ancestral home of my branch of the Coyle Family.

Insulated from the rest of the country by mountains and bogs, the specific Tullaghobegley Parish area near Gweedore where the Coyles come from was the poorest and least fertile districts in all of Ireland.

The Coyles in Ireland

The Paddy Coyle who is the head of household on these 1821 and 1841 census abstracts is the father of the John and Patrick who are listed in the 1857 Griffiths Evaluation. He is also the grandfather of the three Coyles who left County Donegal for Pennsylvania coal country in the mid-1800s. Paddy Coyle and Sheelah McGee-Coyle are my fifth-great grandparents.

Patrick and John Coyle, sons of Paddy Coyle and Sheelah McGee-Coyle, and their cousins, Cormack and John McGee, shared plot 4A in the 1857 Griffiths Valuation in Lunniaghbeg, Parish of Tullaghobegly, in 1857.

This Patrick Coyle was married to Cecilia McGee-Coyle. They are my fourth-great grandparents, and the parents of John Coyle, who later left for America.

This map illustrates the Coyle and McGee plots as recorded in Griffith’s Evaluation, 1857.

Three children of the Patrick Coyle from the Griffith Evaluation left Lunniaghbeg, Tullaghobegley Parish, County Donegal through the mid-1800s, coming to America and winding up in Pennsylvania’s coal mines.

Coyles in America

Each of those three Coyles who emigrated to the US may have eventually married spouses with ties to the families left behind in Lunniagh.

Frances “Fanny” Coyle (c.1847-1916) did for sure. She married John Gallagher at St Mary’s in Tullaghobegly near Gweedore in 1870 before they moved to Jermyn, PA. They had two children, Charles and Margaret. John was crushed to death working as a laborer in the Delaware & Hudson mine. She died in Pennsylvania in 1916.

Bridget Coyle (c.1842-1907) was the second wife of John McGee. They married in Pennsylvania in 1866. There were at least six McGee children. It’s not clear whether McGee was a cousin from Lunniaghbeg, but he did come to Audenreid, PA in the 1850s from Ireland. He died in 1903 from “miner’s asthma.” Bridget died in the mine town of McAdoo, PA in 1907.

John Coyle (c.1849-1908) married Mary Dugan in Pennsylvania in 1865. It’s possible—but it’s unclear whether Mary’s mother, Rose Gallagher-Dugan, was related to the Gallaghers of Lunniaghbeg. John and Mary Coyle had eight children, including my great-great grandfather, Patrick Coyle, who was born in 1872. He moved his family from Scranton, PA to Buffalo, NY following the death of his mother in 1916.

Gweedore

Gweedore was one of the most infamous spots in Ireland in the mid-19th century, and was the next town over from the Coyle home of Lunniagh.

Most of the population there were ethnic Irish Catholics who were displaced from more fertile land that was resettled by British Protestants. The soil around Gweedore is rocky, unforgiving, and very difficult to make yield anything edible for people or livestock—except for the places where it is too soft and boggy.

“Although there are signs of human habitation in the Gweedore area, including the remains of a medieval church at Magheragallan, indicating that  the area has long been inhabited,  the population of this ‘remote and inhospitable area’ probably only began expanding ‘during the seventeenth century as a result of population displacements associated with the Ulster Plantation.’” -History of Gweedore, Tim O’Sullivan, 2002. (This history is posted on a great site about the history of this area, http://donegalgenealogy.com/chapter_one.htm)

A mountainous border surrounding the area and the elsewhere marshy earth made for few roads leading in or out. The Irish language was the only language spoken by many, and the land was occupied according to the medieval Rundale system as late as the mid-1800s. Clachan houses of individual families surrounded the larger rundale plots which they farmed together.

1886 print showing Gweedore from London Illustrated News.

When tax collectors came to Gweedore in the 1830s, they were beaten, their arms confiscated, and they were turned back.

Not only did the people of Gweedore, Lunniagh and surrounding areas not want to pay taxes to the British crown or tithe to the Church of England—they didn’t have much to give.

Patrick McKye, teacher in the National School, wrote a letter to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1837 describing the horrific conditions in the parish that the Coyles called home.

“That the parishioners of this parish of Tullaghobegly… are in the most, needy, hungry, and naked condition of any people that ever came within the precincts of my knowledge, although I have travelled a part of nine counties in Ireland, also a part of England and Scotland, together with a part of British America. I have likewise perambulated 2,253 miles through some of the United States, and never witnessed the tenth part of such hunger, hardships, and nakedness.”

“None of their either married or unmarried women can afford more than one shirt, and the fewest number cannot afford any, and more than half of both men and women cannot afford shoes to their feet; nor can many of them afford a second bed, but whole families of sons and daughters of mature age indiscriminately lying together with their parents, and all in the bare buff.

“Their beds are straw, green and dried rushes, or mountain bent; their bed clothes are either coarse sheets or no sheets, and ragged, filthy blankets.

“And more than all that I have mentioned, there is a general prospect of starvation at the present prevailing among them, and that originating from various causes; but the principal cause is a rot or failure of seed in the last year’s crop, together with a scarcity of winter forage, in consequence of a long continuation of storms since October last in this part of the country.

“So that they, the people, were under the necessity of cutting down their potatoes, and give them to the cattle to keep them alive. All these circumstances connected together have brought hunger to reign among them, in that degree that the generality of the peasantry are on the small allowance of one meal a day, and many families cannot afford more than one meal in two days, and sometimes, one meal in three days. Their children crying and fainting with hunger, and their parents weeping, being full of grief, hunger, debility, and dejection, with glooming aspect looking at their children likely to expire in the pains of starvation.”

Lord George Hill was the British landowner who worked to improve the lives of the people in his care—but at the same time worked to undermine their identity and way of life. He wrote a pamphlet called “Facts from Gweedore,” which made both of those goals easily apparent. He called the people of the area “more deplorable than can well be conceived; famine was periodical, and fever its attendant; wretchedness pervaded the district.”

In the wake of a particularly striking famine in 1858, parish priests in the area wrote an appeal to Queen Victoria and to the people of the world begging for help.

“In the wilds of Donegal, down in the bogs and glens of Gweedore and Cloughaneely, thousands and thousands of human beings, made after the image and likeness of God, are perishing, or next to perishing, amid squalidness and misery, for want of food and clothing, far away from aid and pity. On behalf of these famishing victims of oppression and persecution, we appeal for substantial assistance to enable us to relieve their wretchedness, and rescue them from death and starvation.

“There are at the moment 800 families subsisting on seaweed, crabs, cockles, or any other edible matter they can pick up along the seashore or scrape off the rocks. There are about 600 adults of both sexes, who through sheer poverty are now going barefoot, amid the inclemency of the season, on this bleak northern coast. There are about 700 families that have neither bed nor bedclothes… Thousands of the male population have only one cotton shirt; while thousands have not even one. There are about 600 families who have neither cow, sheep, nor goat and who…hardly know the taste of milk or butter.

“This fine old Celtic race is about being crushed to make room for Scotch and English sheep.”

It was around this time that a teenaged John Coyle left for America to make a new life in coal mines.

The story continues…..

The ancestors of James J. Coyle, Jr.

Friends: The TV show reminds of the real thing

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

On this New Year’s Eve, my wife decided that we should watch hours and hours of Friends since they are taking off of Hulu tonight. (And she’s not feeling well and looking for something easy to take in.)

Image may contain: night

There are so many things to say about this torment, but several hours into the TV marathon, more than anything, I’m struck by the charity and goodness of a friend who had my back at a very young age.

The guy’s 12 years older than me— which is no big deal now that I’m 42, but meant much more when I was 17.

Especially since while I was a smart kid, I still had a lot to learn about just about everything.

He looked out for me— and I’m sure he did so in ways I’ll never know about… but did so in a “cool big brother” sort of way where it never felt that way to me.

I never felt like “the kid,” I was “one of the guys,” which was true up to a point.

Knowing his ball-busting skills, Chris Parker could have crushed the life out of me in half-a-second the time showed up at the radio station dressed to go out, and I said he “looked like he stepped out of an episode of Friends.”

It wasn’t meant as a compliment, and wasn’t received as such. Hahaha.

Anyway, the torrent of terrible, scathing things he could have unleashed on my little suburban punk ass would have left me broken like a mini liquor bottle-filled Rickey Henderson piñata.

Those comebacks are filling my mind even at this moment… but my man let this pup have his day… whenever that was— maybe 26 or 27 years ago.

Now as I sit here rubbing my own nose in it, thinking about the kindness showed to me that day, I know the reason he didn’t bust me into a pile of dust is mostly because he was a good guy who was watching out for the kid.

So mostly because he’s a good guy, but maybe… just maybe… he also knew there was also a smidge of truth in what I said.

Hahaha. Even as I’m subjected to this torturous binge watching penance I still can’t help myself.

And still, I imagine, the worst I’ll raise our of my old pal is an under-his-breath “asshole,” which— even though deserved— will be abated with a chuckle.

So thanks for looking out for me all those years ago, and thanks for always being one of the good guys. Happy New Year.

Van Miller sings “I’ve Got That Phoenix Feeling,” 1995

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Uncle Van was really something special.

For most of the 1995 football season, Van Miller walked around the Channel 4 and WBEN singing “I’ve Got That Phoenix Feeling,” just that one line, over and over again, getting himself and the rest of us excited about a possible fifth Bills Super Bowl trip.

As the playoffs drew near, he wrote the rest of the lyrics and, accompanied by Ken Kaufman, recorded the song.

We played the baloney out of it on WBEN, and they played in on Channel 4 several times, too.

I later worked with Van at Channel 4, where he often worked my name into tennis highlights for reasons known only to him 

 

Cocktail sauce is for shrimps and other supermarket truths

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Image may contain: drink

I’d say I’m pretty harmless looking, and I know I’m tall.

Nearly everywhere I go, the confluence of those two facts leads to diminutive women asking me to get things off of high shelves for them.

It’s always women. A guy— especially a short guy— would never ask for that kind of help.

Anyway, at the grocery store today, twice in less than five minutes, tiny women asked me to reach up to the back of the top shelf.

One was the typical transaction— I was standing nearby and a grandmotherly type asked me to grab a bag of coffee.

Done and done with a smile.

The other instance was a little more strange. I was walking past an aisle when this miniature Edie Falco sounding woman yelled “HEY!”

I looked up, making eye contact.

“COM’ERE!”

Now, I’m always willing to help anyone, anytime, especially with something so silly and easy as grabbing something off a shelf, but I’m getting the vibe here like this woman did me a favor by calling me over to be her stock boy.

She continued to yammer as I reached way back to get the thing she needed— cocktail sauce.

As I handed it to her, the word SHRIMP jumped off the label at me in giant glowing letters.

“I wouldn’t dare mention the irony,” I said, after what felt like an hour of internal deliberation— but it couldn’t have been more than a second.

“What,” she said, curt and dismissive, clearly annoyed and certainly not sure what I meant— maybe not even sure what irony is.

“Just that you couldn’t reach shrimp sauce,” I said.

“Ohh, yeah,” she said, trailing off too absorbed in her own thought to say anything else, and off to find her next victim.

I’m not sure she even realized I called her a shrimp, and I’m not necessarily proud that I did, but sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone for the sake of humanity.

Great old sign uncovered at old Record Theatre

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Since no fewer than 300 friends have called, texted, emailed, and sent telegrams about the cool sign uncovered at the old Record Theatre (thank you all!!), I took a ride over and snapped a couple of pics— featuring the vintage sign as well as the Lenny Silver Way signs.

Record Theatre renovations, 2019
Record Theatre renovations, 2019

The challenges of the holidays

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I share this because I know it’s true for so many of us: Some of life’s challenges made parts of this Christmas holiday muddled and painful in my heart.

The good news is, it just makes me extra thankful for all the great friends, family, and loved ones who keep me going whether they realize it or not.

Most of life’s lessons are impossibly simple (but often feel simply impossible.) I was thinking specifically about: Let it unfold one day at a time, be your brother’s keeper, and allow your brother to be your keeper.

May we all continue to focus on life’s blessings and pray they counterbalance the challenges.

“Maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!”

The Ancestors of June Wargo Coyle

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Jeannette Greiner and Stephen Wargo wedding photo, 1930.

The Wargos

page from Wargo Family Bible.

Julius Wargo was 26 years old when he arrived at the Port of Baltimore in 1904.

He was born Gyula Varga to Janos Varga and Agnes Molnar in Kisbodak, Hungary in 1878.

He married 17 year-old Erszebet Kotis in New York City in 1906. She was born to Istvan Kotis and Maria Revay in Ricsikatanya, Hungary in 1889.

The couple spent the next several years moving from mining job to mining job in Pennsylvania. Their only son, Stephen Julius Wargo, was born in Elizabethtown, PA in 1909.

Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Kotis Wargo and Gyula (Julius) Varga (Wargo) wedding, 1906

The family moved to Abby Street in South Buffalo. It was right behind the Republic Steel plant where Julius worked until he died suddenly in 1919, leaving Elizabeth with six kids between the ages of 10 and four months.

Wargo family after the death of Julius, c.1920

Elizabeth worked as a servant and laundress to support her family. She died in 1962.

Stephen Wargo was 21 when he married 16 year old Jeannette Greiner in 1930.

The Greiners

Grandma Coyle’s mother, Jeannette Greiner-Wargo, belonged to a family which first arrived in Buffalo in 1827.

Casper Greiner was born in Vinningen, Rhineland in 1788. With his wife Maria Anna Goeller and their five children, they boarded the “Catherine” in Le Havre and landed in New York City in 1827.

In the year Buffalo became a city, 1832, the Greiners’ daughter Catherine was among the first children baptized at the original log-hewn St. Louis Church in Buffalo.

Sophie Pirson Greiner

Casper settled in Bush, which is part of the Town of Tonawanda today. He died in 1830, and is buried in the cemetery on Englewood Drive behind St. John’s Church.

Casper’s son Peter was a justice of the peace and Supervisor of the Town of Wheatfield in the 1830s, before he too settled in Tonawanda and married Sophia Pirson in 1837.

The Pirsons
Sophia Pirson-Greiner arrived from France with her parents Johannes and Marie in 1830.

John and Marie Pirson

The Pirsons were one of the major founding families of the Town of Tonawanda, helping to build the chapel that is now the Tonawanda Historical Society. Their graves are prominent just behind the small brick church on Knoche Road.

Peter Greiner briefly served as a Union officer in the Civil War, and then the family moved around— spending time in Ontario and Wisconsin.

Peter Greiner, Company H, 3rd Battalion, US Infantry and son. 1861

Sophia Pirson-Greiner died in Wisconsin in 1879. Peter Greiner died in the Veterans Home in Bath, NY in 1884.

Peter and Sophia’s son Joseph Prentiss Greiner was a sailor and longshoreman, and after several years at sea, made Liverpool, England his home port.

Joseph Prentiss Greiner, Mary Atkinson Greiner and family.

There, he married Mary Atkinson and they had six children. In 1894, they moved from Liverpool to the city Joseph had known as a boy, winding up on Buffalo’s German a East Side in the area today known as the Medical Campus.

Joseph Prentiss Greiner death listing, 1918
Sgt. Fred W. Greiner, US Army Infantry

He was among Bufffalo’s first electricians— a job he learned at sea. He died in 1918, Mary died in 1919.

Joseph and Mary’s son, Fred W. Greiner, was born in Liverpool in 1882. He worked most of his life in Buffalo’s brewing industry as a bottler at Iroquois Brewery.

Fred married Jeanette Loewer in Buffalo in 1905.

The Loewers

The Loewers came to Buffalo from Hesse Cassel Germany in the late 1860s. Jeanette’s grandfather John and her father Conrad were tailors in Germany and then in Buffalo as well.

Conrad Loewer (face obscured) and Josephine Weigand Loewer
Henry Loewer, 1905

Jeanette Loewer was only 10 years old when her father died, and she and her siblings were raised first by their uncle— a Buffalo morning court judge, Henry Loewer, and then by their oldest sister, Kate Loewer Heid.

Fred Greiner and Jeanette Loewer Greiner has seven children, including Jeannette Sarah, in 1914.

Frederick W. Greiner death listing, 1949

Jeannette Sarah Greiner was 16 years old when she married Stephen Julius Wargo in 1930.

They had four children, three survived to adulthood. The only girl, my grandma June, was born in 1931.

June Wargo-Coyle with her grandmothers, Eilzabeth Wargo and Jeanette Greiner, 1944

The ancestors of James J. Coyle, Jr.

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

James Coyle Sr. (center) and Katherine “Sis” Slattery Coyle.

My Grandpa Coyle’s grandparents were all born in North America— two in Pennsylvania, one in Ontario, and one in Buffalo’s First Ward.

All but one of his great-grandparents were born in Ireland, and that one was born to Irish immigrants.

The Coyles

John Coyle was born in utter poverty and landowner-induced famine in County Donegal near Gweedore around 1849.

1841 Irish Census extract for Coyle family in Lunniagh, County Donegal.

He was around 12 years old when he left his parents Paddy Coyle and Cecilia McGee Coyle in Ireland to work in the coal mines of Eastern Pennsylvania.

In 1865, when he was 16, he married Mary Dugan. She was born in the mining camps of Beaver Meadows, PA to Martin Dugan and Rose Gallagher, both of whom came to Pennsylvania from Ireland.

John and Mary Coyle followed mining jobs around Pennsylvania from Janesville near Allentown to Jermyn and Mayfield near Scranton. They had eight children, including Patrick, the oldest.

John Coyle obituary, 1908.

Patrick was probably born around 1869, despite later documents which say 1872. That age change probably came as he left school to work in the mines at a very young age. He married Catherine Kilker at the Sacred Heart Church in Jermyn, PA in 1892.

Patrick Kilker obituary, 1904

Catherine was born in Pennsylvania to Patrick Kilker and Bridget Herrity-Kilker. They were both born in Belmullet, County Mayo, Ireland.

Patrick and Catherine had four children, including James J. Coyle, Sr., in 1897. They lived in the City of Scranton while Patrick was a fireman in the mines.

After the death of Patrick’s parents John Coyle in 1908 and Mary Dugan Coyle in 1916, Patrick’s whole family moved to from Scranton, PA to Wilson Street on Buffalo’s East Side.

Patrick went to work for the Lackawanna (later Bethlehem) Steel Company. The family would move to Lockwood Ave. in South Buffalo, and Patrick would go to work at Maritime Milling on Hopkins St. as a stationary engineer.

Patrick Coyle death listing, Buffalo Courier-Express, 1945.

Catherine died in 1942, Patrick died in 1945.

James J. Coyle’s first job in Buffalo was lineman for the New York Central Railroad. Later, he was an electrician for the Bethlehem Steel plant.

He married Kathryn Slattery in 1927.

The Slatterys 

Captain Thomas J. Slattery

Some time before 1863, Thomas Slattery and his wife Honora Kelley Slattery made the transatlantic voyage from Ireland’s County Tipperary to Prescott, Ontario, along the St. Lawrence River, just south of Ottawa.

Their son Thomas was born in Prescott in 1864. He grew up to be a sailor and worked his way through the ranks to become a Great Lakes captain based in Buffalo.

He married Bridget Norton of Buffalo in 1894. She was the daughter of Miles Norton, a First Ward grain scooper, who emigrated to Buffalo with his wife Catherine Bowe Norton around 1868.

Catherine Bowe Norton, widow of Miles Norton, death listing

Bridget Norton Slattery died suddenly while her husband was on the lakes in 1915. Their daughter Kathryn was only 13 at the time.

Slattery Family, c. 1906

Thomas Slattery died in 1926

Thomas Slattery obituary

Kathryn married James J. Coyle Sr. in 1927. The family moved around North Tonawanda, Seneca-Babcock, and South Buffalo frequently, mostly because of his alcoholism.

They had 5 children, including my grandfather, James J. Coyle, Jr., in 1929.

James Coyle Sr. died in 1957. Kathryn Slattery Coyle died in 1978.

Happy Birthday Number 68 to my ol’man in heaven

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This is my ol’man’s high school senior portrait— it’s the only photo of him that I ever remember him liking.

He was born 68 years ago today, December 10, 1951. He came a couple of months premature, and in 1951, that was usually a death sentence.

In a long gone, old tenement-looking building behind City Hall, Steven Patrick Cichon was delivered in a 4th floor apartment kitchen during a raging snow storm.

This was the fifth of eleven babies for Grandma Cichon. She put her newborn preemie in the oven to keep him warm until an ambulance could take him the few blocks up Niagara Street to Columbus Hospital.

Nurses quickly christened him right on the spot, not expecting the little oven-warmed baby to make it, but the fight was the first of many he’d win.

Although that first birthday was a rough one, Dad loved his birthday. It was his favorite day of the year.

Sometime around mid-September, he’d start reminding us that his birthday was coming up, and that he’d want a BIG PRESENT… the words said with his arms outstretched and his eyes opened wide.

By November, he’d be getting into specifics. Occasionally, he actually needed something, which was great. Otherwise, we’d have to come up with something on our own.

Despite what you might think about someone in your life, rest assured, that my father was indeed, the hardest person ever for whom to buy a present.

Until I turned 21.

The ol’man spent the last decade or so of his life barely ambulatory. He was a diabetic, and went through several unsuccessful surgeries to save his foot; the there were several surgeries to remove his leg right below the knee.

He was greatly weakened by all the surgeries, and laying in hospital beds, and never really got the hang of the prosthetic leg that he only rarely even tried on.

He would have disagreed, but he was wheelchair-bound.

Dad wasn’t a heavy drinker, but he did like the occasional, or slightly-more than occasional whiskey.

It was never straight— he’d mix it with just about anything. Iced tea, Diet 7-up, Diet Ginger Ale. His tastes changed often, but I think Ginger Ale was his favorite.

Even though he’d eat three doughnuts with impunity, he always drank diet pop because of his diabetes.

Ten years ago, at his last birthday dinner at his favorite Danny’s in Orchard Park, he tried to order a whiskey and diet ginger ale, but alas, like any other bar/restaurant in America, they didn’t have diet ginger ale.

He ordered something else, and when the waitress went away, he whispered to us, talking out of the side of his mouth, “No diet ginger ale? In a fancy place like this?!?”

The stuff he’d come up with, being a veritable shut in, is the stuff we remember him by.

Buying dad a bottle was great. He’d take a quick peek and put it right back in the bag… or maybe roll right down to his office and put it in the drawer so my mom wouldn’t know. (Yeah, right.)

Anyway, he couldn’t make it to the liquor store himself anymore to get a little booze. He was reliant on other people to bring him a taste every once in a while. And in what I now look at as my last great gift to my father, I was his hook up.

“Give me a big bottle of the cheap stuff, instead of that little bottle (of the good stuff),” he whisper to me.

I’d get grief for bringing him a little ‘Old Grandad,’ ‘Kesslers,’ ‘Philadelphia,’ or ‘Old Crow,’ because even a little too much would send his blood sugar out of whack. But it was his last joy in life, and I couldn’t deny him.

I’d get him the little bottle, though, with the hope that he’d only have one drink; try to stretch it out a little more. And that usually worked.

Father’s Day, birthday, Christmas. Dad knew what was coming from me, and part of the gift was giving him reason to devise some sort of ruse to make sure my mother “didn’t know” he’d just gotten some booze.

As he was executing said ruse, he’d quietly, but with the tone implying yelling, ask me why the hell I didn’t get him the big bottle.

Just like with most dads, my ol’man took more than his share of good-natured jibes from the family all year.

But none on his birthday. He loved that— it might have been his favorite part of the day.

He loved even more when someone would let one slip, and he was able to remind, “Not on my birthday!”

Though the polka classic reminds that in heaven there is no beer— on December 10, I know there’s cheap, crappy, blended whiskey in heaven.

And Dad’s drinking it by the gallon with plenty of diet ginger ale.

They must have it in a fancy place like heaven.