Milestone: no more colorful glass in the window across from Ken West

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Bottles had been displayed for decades in the window of this Delaware Rd. home.

For as long as I can remember, stopping at the light next to Kenmore West High School has made me smile.

When you were stopped on Highland, you were looking straight into a picture window which, forever, had a lovely glass collection displayed in it.

Driving by the other day, I was a little sad to see the house was up for sale and the colored glass bottles were gone.

Watching men land on the moon at Jenss Twin-Ton, 1969

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When I was a general assignment reporter, I always loved the angle that when something big happens, anything that anyone is doing becomes a story. “How did you ride out the storm?” “How did you celebrate the big win?” “Where were you when the tornado hit?”

No matter what your answer is…it’s part of the larger story and worth celebrating. As a researcher and historian who combs through other writers’ and journalists’ archived works to re-tell their stories in the light of present day life, I love finding those little bits of everyday life set against the backdrop of big stories.

That’s why these ladies watching TV at a City of Tonawanda department store is my favorite image from the lunar landing. A million people are telling Neil Armstrong’s story– But we here care just as much about what was going on in the Twin-Ton Department store as he was making that giant leap.

The crew at Jenss Twin-Ton in the City of Tonawanda gathered around the TV set to watch live broadcasts from the moon fifty years ago this month.

Watching TV rarely gets you on the front page of the paper, but it seems appropriate that it did for the staff at Jenss Twin-Ton Department store 50 years ago next week.

That man would step foot on the moon is an unimaginable, superlative, epoch-defining feat in human history. But that more than half a billion would watch it happen live on their television sets made it a definitive moment in a broadcast television industry that was barely 20 years old at the time.

Gathered around the TV “to catch a few glimpses of the Apollo 11 events” were Mrs. James Tait, Margaret Robinson, Marian Feldt, Jack Dautch, Grace Hughes, Dorothy Wiegand, Rose Sugden and Rose Ann Fiala.

By the time of the 1969 moon landing, Jenss Twin-Ton’s future was already in doubt as city fathers in the Tonawandas were looking to expand already present Urban Renewal efforts to include the store at Main and Niagara.

Founded in 1877 as Zuckmaier Bros., the department store was sold in 1946 and became Twin-Ton in 1946. Jenss Twin-Ton closed in 1976 when the building was bulldozed as urban renewal caught up. Plans for the department store to rebuild on the site never materialized and the Tonawandas’ only downtown department store was gone for good.

The Twin-Ton Department store is seen on the left of this 1950s postcard. That side of the block was demolished in 1976.

When children are murdered, the answer is already in your heart

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I don’t even want to talk about today. I took this photo of a smiling, happy, really good kid a few months ago.

Today, I saw him, murdered, lifeless, forever 17 years old, wearing this same jersey laying in a casket. I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m heartbroken. For the senselessness of it all. For the life lost. For the pain. For his family. For all our Timon boys, with broken hearts and broken innocence.

Like anyone who has ever set eyes upon a teenager they’ve known murdered in a casket, I feel helpless, I feel the ground shifting. What am I supposed to do? What the hell can any of us do?

There’s one simple way make all of this bullshit stop, all of it– from immediate death from violence with guns on the street to slow death from violence with words on social media– stop looking for reasons to hate and look for reasons to love.

Be loving. Be kind. Be courteous. Be understanding. Find a way to build a bridge, not burn it. Bring a smile to someone’s face. Put a smile on your own face.

It’s gotta start somewhere, man… let it start here.

But really, I still don’t know what the hell to do.

There’s no sweeping big thing, no grand gesture, even though every bone in my body wants to find one. Still again, the thing I can do and WE can all do is make the world around us more loving and peaceful and happy.

Today at 7-Eleven, two little dudes were trying to figure out what they could buy with a couple of dollar bills and some change. It was a losing battle. I bought the two little dudes ice cream, watched them smile, and tried not to weep thinking about Paul and his smile.

Saturday’s gunfire robbed the world of a lot of smiles, a lot of friendliness, a lot of good. I’m so helpless in so many ways… but I know one thing I can do, is to try to bring those numbers of smiles back up, even if it’s only one or two ice creams at a time.

Looking at Joe McCarthy in the age of Trump

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

In 2019, the Joseph McCarthy era is universally remembered as a shameful time in American history when the Wisconsin Senator wielded “his sensational but unproven charges of communist (and homosexual) subversion in high government circles,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

As it was happening, it wasn’t as clear cut. When our own Buffalo Courier-Express wrote about him at the height of “McCarthyism” in 1953, they invited everyone to read the paper’s story on McCarthy’s private life, “whether you curse Joe McCarthy as a demagogue and character assassin or cheer him as a patriotic crusader against Communism.”

A year later, in 1954, the Senate voted to condemn him on the charges that he disobeyed Senate rules and leveled unfounded charges against members of a Senate panel investigating his behavior.

Even longtime friend and Senate ally William Jenner, who stood with McCarthy as he ruined lives, eventually soured on his colleague and called him “the kid who came to the party and peed in the lemonade.”

Pissing in lemonade isn’t funny or clever.. and watching someone piss in lemonade is just as bad (maybe worse?) as doing it yourself.

#StopPeeingInTheLemonade

The July 4th Birthdays of Grandpa Coyle and Grandma Cichon

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandpa Coyle was born 90 years ago today. This is him on the diving board on his 57th or so birthday.

He was born on the 4th of July and created for himself the American dream: He was raised in utter poverty in a broken alcoholic home, but persevered to learn a trade, become a professional, and along with my grandmother, create a beautiful family that honors his story by our very existence.

Of course, if he was here with us, I’d have to sum that all up with, “Happy Birthday, Gramps… can I get you a beer?”

Can’t say for sure this is her birthday, but we spent quite a few of Grandma Cichon’s birthdays at the cottage she’d rent every year at Sunset Bay.
(L to R that’s me, my ol’man, cousin Tracy, Aunt Sue, and Grandma.)

Grandma Cichon was born on July 4, 1928– which was a shock to my dad to hear after she died… he always thought she was born in 1926.

She was only 16 when my uncle Mike was born, and apparently what you did then was make yourself older to make it less scandalous (or to get a better job to help feed your kids).

I think a lot about what had to have been a beaten up heart behind a tough as nails exterior. I think about the personal sacrifices she swallowed for her 11 children, including putting the second of those kids up for adoption and keeping that pain and sacrifice alone inside her heart.

I used to think it was funny or weird that she would refuse to say goodbye– it was always happy, and it was always , “Toodleoo!” and, of course, she was right. She knew the people you loved never leave you, so there’s no reason to ever say goodbye.

Lessons from Grandma Cichon in life and in death

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandma Cichon died 23 years ago today.

Cancer had been cruel in the horrifically painful way the vitality and dignity of this strong, larger-than-life woman was slowly drained from her… as if it melted drip by drip undetected into the couch she’d spent her last few months barley living on.

I can feel every tear and recite each prayer I offered the last time I visited with her. It ruined my guts, but I prayed for God to end her suffering.

I was blinded by tears and a twist in my stomach as I went over the bridge next to the old Seneca Mall, driving back home.

She died a couple of days later, and the pain was even worse that my prayers had come to pass. I was 18. I didn’t know what to do with myself, especially with everyone else despondent… with Grandpa refusing to let go of her hand.

The only thing that made sense to me in the moment was leaving to go to work. It didn’t necessarily feel right, but nothing really did. So in I went.

There aren’t many things I’d do differently in life, but that’s one. In that moment, I don’t think I knew that I family that I could lean on.

In that moment, I don’t think I knew I had family that leaned on me.

I felt unimportant and isolated and left to figure it all out of myself, which I did– for a very long time– by just ignoring whatever it was, and soldiering on.

It was a great life lesson, one of many grandma taught me. I can hear her laugh and her telling us, “tootle-oo,” but never goodbye… it can’t have been that long.

More and more, I hear her laugh in mine, and feel the same unbridled joy she did when expressing it.

And this just writing this proves that I’ve caught on to what Grandma knew with her salutations- there are no goodbyes when you live in someone’s heart.

Like each of my grandparents, she’s so much of who I am. It isn’t possible to be any more grateful. Each of them so full of love, and each so different and different in the way their love was shown.

The only right thing to do is to continue to turn out and offer up that same love to the world in their honor… especially today, for this beautiful, tough, artsy, survivor mother of 11.

Dad made candy taste better with “And don’t tell your mother.”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My ol’man loved giving a kid a candy bar or a buck or an ice cream. Sure, us kids, but really any kid– especially if they weren’t expecting it.

“Don’t tell your mother,” he’d say, sneaking it to you on the backhand no matter who your mother was, and even if there was no need to sneak it– just because it seemed to be more fun that way.

The exuberant joys of his own childhood are what carried him through a more cloudy adulthood. The memories would come alive in those wide-eyed gaping smiles that were smeared with drippy vanilla or glossy with dreams of what “a green dollar!” could bring on the next visit to B-kwik or Wilson Farms.

Some of the same clouds that hung over my ol’man’s days now hang over mine, too… but in two different ways I’m double blessed for his example.

I have those chest swelling memories of my own rogue ice creams, packs of Luden’s Cherry cough drops, cans of diet Squirt, packs of M&Ms from the tiny stands inside big downtown buildings, and Birch Beers sitting at anyone of a dozen different bars.

All those memories are great, but even better, dad showed me the best way to recapture that joy is to light it in another life, and that might be the best gift of all.

So com’ere buddy… take this 20 and don’t tell your mom. Just use it for something good.


My ol’man drank whiskey & Ginger Ale from peanut butter jars and ate cereal in old margarine tubs. Remembering him this Father’s Day with a to-go coffee in an old strawberry jam jar from JAM Parkside.

By the way, my dad referred to himself as “your ol’man” to us kids. If I called him “Father,”  as one reader intimated I should, he probably would have slugged me.

 

Sparking joy and anxiety on “Bulk Trash Day”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s big garbage week in my neighborhood, so I’m cleaning out the basement a little.

The new trend, I guess, is to ask yourself if something sparks joy.

The problem is, I’ve owned this really great piece of foam rubber for more than 20 years because seeing it sparks joy and makes me happy that someday I’ll put it to good use.

The truth is, it’s a piece of garbage and I’ve known that truth from the moment I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out more than two decades ago.

Garbage brings me great joy, but so will a clean(er) basement.

I hope this wonderful cushion brings some garbage picker all the joy it has brought me since the 90s.

Hearing Buffalo’s accent feels like home

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

After more than a week away from everything Buffalo…

Nothing says welcome home like sitting in an airport waiting for the second leg of a flight to BUF, and listening to the loud flip phone conversation of a 60-something woman with a third-generation Buffalo/Polish accent– ya know– naaht too baayd— but just enough to know that if she doesn’t live in Chicktawaga now, she probably did at some point in her life.

I can’t really believe how the sound makes my heart full. Other places are great to visit, but I just can’t imagine coming home to anywhere else…

Uncle Phil: RIP Earl Rothfus

He was always “Uncle Phil” to us growing up, and of my 30 or so uncles and great-uncles, he always stood out. There was no one else like him in my huge family.
Uncle Phil and Aunt Elaine
A large strong man, he was imposing physically– but carried himself in such a way that whether or not you were intimidated was pretty much up to you.
As a master in the art of conversation, he was brilliant but humble, and listened as well as he opined.
He knew hard work– as a young man, he’d spent time working in grain elevators and he brought that work ethic and appreciation of physical labor to his white collar job at IBM.
Going to visit Aunt Elaine and Uncle Phil was something special. It seemed like it was the only time we’d leave South Buffalo. We drove past car dealers with shiny fringy streamers all over the lot, and past the drive-in, too, on the long ride out to the country which was really only to Union & Michael Rd at the West Seneca/Orchard Park border.
Those 20 minute rides, face excitedly planted against the window, were the only time as a kid I got to see big mailboxes on posts at the ends of driveways, usually with either a green Courier-Express or blue Evening News box attached to the poll. The only mailboxes I was used to were attached to the house and newspapers were thrown in the screen door.
In the same way I marveled at the slight differences in mailboxes and big lawns and ranch-style houses, I appreciated the difference in Uncle Phil.
He seemed like a movie star or a college professor or something apart, but also very much one of us at the same time. He was fully all of that. I’ll miss his smile and big handshake that was always a firm indication that things were well with the world.