Old Polish document brings generational family peace

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Just got this today– I wish Gramps was around to share this with him. It’s his dad’s 1893 baptismal record from Obrazow, Poland.

Says Jan Stanislaw Cichon was born in Glazow, Radom, Poland to Jozef and Agnieszka (nee Korona.) Like all the records from Poland at this time, it’s written in Russian.

My dad lived his life hating this man– his grandfather– who treated him poorly for a variety of reasons. Because of some genealogical research I was doing and questions I was asking, my dad talked to my grandpa about this guy only days before Dad died… and Dad made some peace– which I know gave my grandpa peace, too.

They both had tears in their eyes, as Gramps said, “Pa really was good, son. He was just sick.”

Jan Cichon spent the last decade of his life mostly drunk, self-medicating after cancer of the jaw and throat saw the lower half of his face horribly pained and disfigured.

He spent a lot of time sitting on the porch of his house, which directly across the street from the home where my dad spent most of his childhood.

Dad’s memory of his grandfather was a mean and ugly man who spat and threw empty liquor bottles at him.

But literally days before he died, Dad came to peace with the fact that this wasn’t the whole story. (It rarely is. Ya know?)

Finding this record, even a few months after Gramps’ death, closes some kind of loop for me.

Much of who I am traces back to my dad and his dad… and the way Gramps talked about his dad– It goes back to him, too. I’m really proud of the part of me which was born to a couple of Polish peasants in Southeast Poland in 1893. I’m glad to know the history of it. I know Gramps would have loved to know, and I think my ol’man would have found some satisfaction in it, too.

Searching Cyrillic documents for Cichon ancestors

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I’ve recently come across two great Polish websites to do Polish genealogy research– to find stuff not on ancestry or familysearch.

Broken down by provinces, http://www.geneteka.genealodzy.pl/ has a lot of easily searchable information. It almost acts as an index for http://metryki.genbaza.pl/, which has scanned thousands of Polish church records.

I’ve found what I can on the first, and now I’m staring at Polish documents written in Russian.

That first line is CICHON in Cyrillic.

The next line is Jan Cichon… The final line is Jan Cichon in Roman letters.

I just keep looking for Чехойнь until I go blind or find my great grandfather, whichever comes first.

As serious as kielbasy: Discovering what drew out the serious in Gramps

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Anyone who knew my Grandpa Cichon knew there was a certain joyfulness in his voice– always. His heart was always smiling, and that showed through in his voice. I might count on one hand the exceptions in the 36 years I knew him.

Gramps trying to look serious in a photo for his Harness Racing Commission license.
Gramps trying to look serious in a photo for his Harness Racing Commission license.

One notable time was when the full service gas station guy screwed him on the amount of gas he pumped into Gramps’ car. Gramps probably asked for $5, which he figured should have about filled up the tank. We barely got a block up Seneca Street when Gramps threw on the brakes and made a hard u-turn back towards Petro USA.

“You goddamn horseball!,” Gramps screamed out the window, as my brother and I barely contained our laughter, sitting on the red plush seats in the back of the black 1985 Pontiac Bonneville. We’d never seen Gramps like that, and I think that’s pretty much the only time I ever saw Gramps really mad. Again, it was also one of the few times I saw him more serious than filled with joy.

Now gramps was blind, and didn’t around well for the last few years of his life. Some men in that situation would want, say, booze snuck into the nursing home. Not Gramps. Donuts or hot dogs with slivered onions and sweet relish were all he wanted. I’d usually bring him one or the other, sometimes both.

Over the course of 90 minutes, I’d hand him 3 or 4 timbits. Once I made a joke or said something stupid about donuts. Again, one of the few times I ever heard him this serious. “Son,” he told me with the tone of life and death at stake, “Donuts are as good as gold.” I was satisfied there was nothing greater I could do for him than visit and bring chocolate timbits.

The “beautiful” food they served was always a topic of conversation. Food was Gramps’ all-time favorite subject, perhaps a left over affect of growing up in the Depression when there was never enough to eat. The last time I visited with Gramps, he was talking about how they’d served kielbasy that afternoon. Kielbasy is the Polish plural of kielbasa, and we’ve always called Polish sausage (ka-BAAS-ee) in my family.

I wasn’t sure what to think, though, when Gramps’ tone turned a bit hushed and he got somewhat serious, maybe as serious as I had heard him since he bawled out the South Buffalo gas station guy almost 30 years earlier.

“Now son,” he started, with a gravity which set me on the edge of me chair, straining to get close and make sure I didn’t miss anything. “Son, what’s your favorite? Do you like the smoked or the not smoked?”

The most serious conversation I’d ever have with my beloved grandfather, the man who my Uncle Tom called “the best polack who ever lived,” was about “kielbasy.” Polish sausage. Good ol’ Edziu wanted to know my freaking Polish sausage preference. It’s really about the most marvelous thing ever, really.

“I usually take one of each, Gramps,” I said, telling the truth, but also not wanting to really show my hand and potentially disappoint Gramps in something that was obviously so important to him. But then I gave up the goods. “If I had to choose one though, I’d probably take the smoked.”

“Me too,” Gramps said to my relief. “Know how I like it? Burned up a l’il bit, with horseradish mustard on rye bread. My ma used to make it the big pan with the lard for the pierogi. She made the pierogi big, and cooked ’em in lard, not butter.”

With Easter upon us, there’s been plenty of social media talk of Polish sausage. All I can think about is Gramps’ favorite– kielbasa on rye bread with Weber’s mustard. I’m doing it this Easter. I’m bringing the rye bread and Weber’s just to make sure.

I’ll bite into that Old World combination of flavor, and think happily of Gramps. The hunk of kielbasy won’t be fried up in lard, but that sounds like something maybe to look forward to sometime soon.

Remembering Aunt May, and the Coyles of Jermyn, PA and Mayfield, PA

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Aunt May was Grandpa Coyle’s aunt, making her my great-great aunt. (I don;t subscribe to this “grand aunt” nonsense the genealogy industry tries to sell.)

Aunt May on the steps of the Coyle’s home at 424 Wilson Street on Buffalo’s East Side. The home no longer stands, and the site is now home of The Wilson Street Farm, an urban farm.

The Coyles moved from PA coal country to Buffalo’s East Side in the 1910s.

Aunt May’s baptismal certificate. She was born Mary Coyle in 1899 in Jermyn, PA. My grandpa’s brother, my great-uncle Pat Coyle, gave me piles of information about the Coyle, Kilker, Slattery and Norton families from whom we descend.

Sadly, I don’t really remember Aunt May. But her legacy lives on… in of all things, her furniture.

These are my Grandpa Coyle’s aunts. Aunt May and Aunt Clare at May’s baptism in Pennsylvania in 1899. The family moved to Buffalo in the 1910s. My great-great grandfather went from working in a coal mine in PA to working at Bethlehem (then Lackawanna) Steel, before eventually working as an engineer at Maritime Milling on Hopkins Street.

Aunt May’s hinged, drop-leaf dining room table is in our dining room and has become a place where we gather for big family meals, where we work when we “work from home,” and where I’ve written at least one book.

There’s a Coyle Street in Mayfield, PA, named after my mom’s family. Mayfield is the next borough over from Jermyn. Both places grew around the mining industry.

Death is never what It seems: Gramps, Dad, and how their passings changed things…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – With Ralph Wilson in the news, today I was talking with a few co-workers about death and dying.

The Ol'Man (my dad, Steve Cichon), Me, and Gramps (dad's dad, Edward Cichon). Just hanging out at the Msgr. Nash K of C Hall, South Legion Dr, 2008.
The Ol’Man (my dad, Steve Cichon), Me, and Gramps (dad’s dad, Edward Cichon). Just hanging out at the Msgr. Nash K of C Hall, South Legion Dr, 2008.

I’d found myself in the same situation as Mr. Wilson’s family over the last few weeks. While I had hoped that my grandfather would live forever, or at least til he hit a birthday worthy of a Willard Scott mention; the truth is, Gramps was 88, and had been in slowly declining health for over a decade. It was a mix of great hope and sad acceptance in thinking about Gramps for a long time, until he did pass away March 4th.

I grieve the loss of a simply beautiful man, but equally feel some satisfaction in accepting the simply beautiful long life he lived.

As is often the case with death, it’s not quite that simple. We’ll all be attending a service for Gramps on Friday, which is also the anniversary of my Dad’s death a few years ago.

In our little conversation around the coffee pot about Ralph Wilson and death, I was about to mention something about about Dad’s death, when I realized I didn’t know without thinking how long it had been.

I just barely controlled myself, with the thunderpunch of a thought that Dad died so long ago I can’t immediately remember.

It was four years ago. And four years later, that thought that I had to do math in order to remember how long it had been since I sat with dad, laughed with dad, talking with dad, yelled at dad… It was as if he’d just right now died all over again.

But having a Mass for Gramps on the anniversary of dad’s death is somehow appropriate for me.

Losing a father is a complicated, awful, inward, outward emotional mess. Dad was very sick, and for a long time, I had tried to steel myself for the inevitable– but there’s no way to prepare. Especially when the most difficult part of it all was completely outside of me and my control.

Gramps. Spending 3 years and 11 months talking with Gramps about my dad and the fact that he’s gone while trying to keep it all together was emotionally difficult beyond words. My dad was more than Gramps’ son, they were best friends. In his own illness, my dad thought more about Gramps’ well-being than his own. He called him 3 or 4 times a day. They kept each other smiling, and kept each other in line.

My dad’s last mission in life was doing what he could to take care of his dad. My dad never asked for much for himself, but I know if we would have had the opportunity to talk heart-to-heart with me before he died, dad would have told me to take care of Gramps. I did my best, which sometimes wasn’t good enough. A call to Gramps could be crushing, and frankly, I wasn’t always up to it.

It was generally heart breaking talking with Gramps. Four or five times in the course of a 90 minute visit, he’d talk about how much he missed my dad. I sat through it, discussed it, even encouraged it– despite those thoughts ripping the heart out of my chest and leaving me drowning in emotion every time. But of course, what ever pain I have dealing in the death of a father, I can’t even imagine the pain and emptiness of dealing with the death of a son.

Once I mentioned that I had some recordings of my dad. Gramps almost started to cry, his voice shaky. “I’d love to hear his voice again, Son.” I have not and cannot listen to the hours and hours of Dad I taped through the years. I just can’t bear it. I found a short conversation I recorded when my dad called me at work one time to wish me a happy birthday. It’s dad happy and full of life… which in his last few years wasn’t always the case. Still, most of the dozens of times I played the one minute phone message for Gramps, tears uncontrollably streamed down my face. A few times I felt nauseous. Gramps often cried too, but it was therapy he relished.

Despite being blind and practically immobile, I’m sure Gramps knew until his last breath exactly how long he’d been without my dad. If Gramps was still here, I’d have called him on Friday, the anniversary of Dad’s death. “Hi Gramps, It’s Stevie.” “Hello, son. You know your dad died 4 years ago today?” “Yep, I know,” I’d have said, trying not to sound too sad. “Wanna hear the tape?”

For four years, my mourning has been wrapped in the context of completing Dad’s last mission and being there for Gramps in sharing his pain and loss.

Right after he died, I wrote about what a perfect grandfather Gramps was to us when we were little. Now that he’s gone, I’m realizing pretty strikingly that once again, Gramps was helping me far more than I could have ever helped him in talking about and thinking about my ol’man.

 

Remembering the Everyday with Gramps: The perfect grandfather because in his heart he was one of the kids

Edward Valentine Cichon 1926- 2014

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Valentines Day was the perfect day for him to be born, as he was in 1926.

Gramps and me, standing on Fairview Place, in front of my parents 1977 Mercury Monarch, 1978. Gramps always had a baby in his arms or a kid's hand in his hand whenever possible. He spent a lifetime working hard, usually 3 or 4 jobs to provide for his brothers and sisters, his own ten kids, and his 16 grandkids (and now untold numbers of great grandkids.)
Gramps and me, standing on Fairview Place, in front of my parents 1977 Mercury Monarch, 1978. He always had a baby in his arms or a kid’s hand in his hand whenever possible, and spent a lifetime working hard– usually 3 or 4 jobs to provide for his brothers and sisters, his own ten kids, and his 16 grandkids (and now untold numbers of great grandkids.)

To say Gramps had a big heart isn’t telling the whole story. Nor is it enough to say his heart was pure.

Edward Valentine Cichon had a childlike heart. He was filled with goodness and optimism. He was filled with giving and generosity. He was filled with happiness to know that you were happy.

He was the perfect grandpa. He’d walk us over to Caz Park, getting us jazzed up about “the swings… And the slides…. And the horseys…” It was the same sing-song order he’d mention them every time.

But first we’d walk through the park. Occasionally, that meant filling our pockets with chestnuts from the trees just past the St. John’s parking lot.

Sometimes that meant sitting for an inning of softball or baseball. Gramps usually had a couple of apples in his pocket for us, sometimes a banana. He taught us how to shine up the apple on our pant legs.

Also in his pocket was the handkerchief, which kept our noses in check when it was chilly. To keep our bladders in check, if it was just us men, we’d be pointed to some trees. If we had ladies with us, we were told not to touch anything in the Caz bathrooms, unless you were using your foot to flush.

Then we’d cross the bridge, throw a few of those chestnuts in the creek, and continue on through “the jungle,” as Gramps called the path on the Abbott Rd side of the path along the creek.

We’d look for “the lions… The tigers… The monkeys…” The same list every time, said with the same cadence as the other list, except this one was often enhanced with Tarzan noises. OoOoAaaahah.

“I saw a monkey in that one last time,” he’d say pointing at the same tree every time.

Finally, we’d get to the playground, and Gramps would sit on the bench until we were done. Sometimes longer, if he didn’t feel like moving yet.

“Go catch grandpa a bird,” he’d say, encouraging us to sneak up quietly behind a robin or a swallow so we could scoop ’em up. I don’t remember ever catching one.

Not every time, but sometimes, we’d stop by the deli at the corner of Seneca and Duerstein for a nutty buddy or an ice cream sandwich, so long as we remembered, “Don’t tell grandma.”

Almost every time we’d stop at Quality Food Mart, Gramps’ explanation to grandma would start “But Huns! The kids were hungry…” but it would quickly trail off.

We didn’t tell, but our ice cream smeared faces and shirts did all the talking necessary.

Good ol’Gramps. I bet there is monkey in his tree right now, and he’s happily pointing it out to all the kids.

The cars of our childhood

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I saw a pristine 1990 Chevy Lumina over the weekend. I actually drove a Lumina for a while, but my thoughts turned to a great friend who drove a Lumina, too. Radio newsman Ed Little looked classy behind the wheel of his always well-maintained, respectable mid-sized General Motors sedan. The hipster who was driving it on Sunday was more ironic than classy.
My dad loved cars– looking at them and driving them. He’d always excitedly point out cars that he or someone he knew once owned. As a young man, he drove sports cars like an MG and muscle cars like an AMC Javelin. Of course, I now point out old cars to anyone who will listen.

Just like with my ol’man, seeing an old car that reminds me of a car from my past is one of those instant mood changers for me. I’ve owned a few interesting cars through the years, like a white 1971 Mercedes. Very eye catching, but not too comfortable to drive. I love my ’86 VW Golf, ’95 Plymouth Neon, and ’97 Honda Civic. Those cars weren’t spectacular, but they were comfortable and easy to drive. When I see one, I want to drive it.

But the real memories come from those cars my dad and my grandpas had long before I could drive.

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First- Here’s that Lumina, like the one Ed Little had. I’d wait to see this car pull up to fine restaurants like Alice’s Kitchen, Your Host, Grandma’s Pancakes, and the Four Seasons.

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In the Cichon house, we had this exact car: a Dodge Aries station wagon with faux wood paneling and tan Naugahyde seats. We also had a black one, with red velvet seats. Nice.

spirit
There were also 2 AMC Spirits in our family. Grandpa Cichon had a white one with a big blue pinstripe, my family had a brown one.

spirit-interior
This is the exact interior of our 1981 Spirit. I hurt myself on the steering wheel playing Dukes of Hazzard, climbing in and out of the windows.

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Grandpa Cichon traded in the Spirit for a Pontiac Bonneville. It was in this car, my brother and I witnessed one of the great events in our lives up until that point. Usually calm Gramps got hosed at a full-service gas station. He unleashed a torrent of Polish-American cursing that remains with me nearly 30 years later. We i see this car, I think, “You G-dd-mmed horseball!!”

econoline-pickup

Grandpa Coyle would get a new Oldsmobile every year or two… But all though my childhood, he has this odd, pea green Ford pickup– Which was actually van without an enclosed back. There were only two seats, and I can remember fighting with my brother over which one of us would get to ride on the hump where the stick shift was… on the way to the hardware store.

greeg-ford-maverick
Finally my Great-Grandpa Wargo drove this beautiful pea green Ford Maverick. It was a car that was old and mysterious, just like Great-Grandpa. I especially liked that the old yellow NY plates had three numbers then BUX. I liked -BUX on a license plate. Our plates were boring by comparison.

What did your grandpa drive? I’d love to see it, tweet me @SteveBuffalo.

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

Dad knows best, so shut the eff up

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I did something great yesterday. I told myself to shut the f*** up, and I really meant it.

For a very long time, I’ve been doing an exaggerated impression of my dad, saying with disgust, “Just… shut… the f*** … up–”

He was not a fan of people annoying him by going “chirp, chirp, chirp” as he’d say while doing the blah, blah, blah hand motion.

Dad, 1984. He’d have preferred you just have an Old Milwaukee tall boy and shut up.
Dad, 1984. He’d have preferred you just have an Old Milwaukee tall boy and shut up.

Now, my dad was a great father and fantastic in many ways. In this case, though, he was fantastically lacking in patience, and fantastically succinct in his expression of that lack of patience.

That phrase, an exasperated, “Just… shut… the f*** … uuUUP–” came out of his mouth when he was at the end of his rope, but more “tired of it” than angry. Of course, that made it an expression commonly uttered by the ol’man, in that exact peculiar way. That strong suggestion would be offered to us kids, to my mother, to the dog, and to the TV when Don Paul was talking about something that didn’t have to do with whether it was going to rain tomorrow.

“Just… shut… the f*** … uuUUP–”

When I first started saying this phrase in this way in the company of my wife, she no doubt recognized the dramatic style as a nod to the Master of the cranky curse-riddled tirade. As time went on though, and as more and more of my personality (d)evolved into something closer to that of my ol’man’s– I think that phrase has become mine.

We are at a point where my wife knows I’m thinking it even before I do most of the time. She’ll smile, and say, “C’mon, say it.” Honestly, we both know I say it mostly for comedic effect. But as time wears on, that little kernel of truth which makes comedy funny– my actual living, breathing desire for that person to STFU… well, that little kernel seems to be growing into a greater desire for clamped mouths every time I say it. Soon, I too will be swearing at TV weathermen.

But yesterday, I was talking things over with myself, mostly being a whiny bitch, when out of nowhere, I realized what I sounded like in my own head, and had enough. I told myself to just… shut… the f*** … up. Dad would have been proud, because I meant it just as much as the ol’man meant it when Don Paul started cracking jokes about Thanksgiving leftovers one time in 1991 or so.

We all have problems, and even those of us who try to maintain a steely exterior, might sometimes get a little whiny in the doubts that share with ourselves about those problems. I know it’s not the solution for everything, but wow– realizing you’re always a loser when you play the self-pity game, and figuratively punching yourself in the face is really a great feeling.

So, the next time you start to feel all “woe is me,” remind yourself to just… shut… the f*** … up. Or call me to complain. I’ll be happy to channel the ol’man and tell you exactly what I think you should do.

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

JFK in WNY

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – JFK was important to the people of Buffalo, maybe even more so than the rest of the country. In 1962, 400,000 people came to see him here. Four-hundred thousand. Even if that is exaggerated by double, when is the last time 200,000 Buffalonians were measured doing anything together at the same time– aside from sitting on our collective well-padded ass watching sports on TV?

LOGO-JFK-Aud-172x300The truth is, I’m on Kennedy overload right now, but I know I have no right to complain about it. For the people who remember, 50 years later, it remains one of the saddest days of their lives, a sadness shared with an entire grieving nation. For most, it felt as if a member of the family had been shot and killed. Not anger, just sadness and grief.

As a little kid in the late 70s/early 80s, the Kennedy assassination seemed to me like the biggest thing that had ever happened in American History.

Everyone knew where they were when it happened. Msgr. Toomey came into my mom’s classroom at St. Teresa’s on Seneca Street.

But it wasn’t just the assassination, it’s who Kennedy was, and what he represented to the people in my family. My dad’s whole school– St. Stephen’s on Elk Street– got to leave class when President Kennedy’s limo came the wrong way down the 190 and got off at Smith Street… Then got right back on again. Kennedy got off the Thruway… so people could see his car and wave. There may have been some other technical reason, but technicality be damned for my 10 year old dad.

Kennedy came to Buffalo twice– as President, he paraded down Broadway and spoke in Niagara Square on Pulaski Day in 1962. There are great photos and memories from this day all over the web, including here http://www.forgottenbuffalo.com/buffalospoloniahistory/pulaskiparade1962.html

But somewhat forgotten, was his swing through Western New York as Senator Kennedy, running for President in 1960, only a week after the famous televised debate against Richard Nixon.

These are some photos from when the dynamic young Massachusetts Senator spent the day our backyard, from the archives of Buffalo Stories LLC and staffannouncer.com, as seen in the pages of the Courier-Express in 1960.

 

LOGO-JFK-Sedita
Buffalo Mayor Frank Sedita with JFK at the Aud.

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LOGO-Collegekids

JFK with Niagara Falls Mayor Keller

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JFK motorcade on Pine Avenue in the Falls

JFK speaks outside North Tonawanda City Hall
JFK speaks outside North Tonawanda City Hall

An impromptu JFK speech in Wheatfield
An impromptu JFK speech in Wheatfield

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All images from the Buffalo Courier-Express and the BuffaloStories.com/Staffannouncer.com archives. This story originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

Learning to listen

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My grandfather is 87 years old. His body is failing him, but his mind is a steel trap.

steveandgramps

I used to like to ask him questions about things I’d like to know about, but now mostly I listen when we visit. It’s just another one of the many things I’ve learned from good ol’ Gramps.

Listening is a powerful, underutilized gift. People don’t like to listen, even when they think they are listening. For example, I used to think I loved listening to Gramps’ stories, but I was always asking about specific things. Once I gave up the steering wheel, I really started to enjoy the ride.

Gramps’ mind goes all over time and space. He has a nearly photographic memory for things that happened before he lost his sight a decade ago. He’s starting to lose names of people and places, but he remembers when you give him a little help. That’s not really a new problem either– for as long as I can remember, gramps has called me “AhhhChuckieTommyJimmyEddieAhhGregAhhStevie.”

I stopped by yesterday, and Gramps told me a few great stories about days gone by, as well as his analysis of the world today.

  • His $600 winner on a $2 ticket at the track.
  • Chinese nuclear reactors.
  • As a kid, swiping rejected boxes of Cheerios from the loading docks at General Mills (those were different times.)
  • How the Bills should have won every game so far.
  • All the different places he and his brothers and sisters served during the war. Aunt Olga was with Patton.
  • Bringing pennies to Father Baker.
  • Polish and Russian history.
  • How at 15 he had a mustache, and would go drink at Tippy Toes, and pick up chicks in his 1933 Plymouth.

Listening to Gramps, and knowing how much he enjoys having someone listen, has made me a better listener. I love to tell stories, but I’d rather hear a good story well told, by someone who is enjoying the telling. Even if I’ve heard the story 38 times before. The story is the selfish part for the listener.

Enjoying the joy with which the story is being told, now there’s a skill we all need to practice, with someone who could really use an ear.

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com