The quest for the perfect cup of coffee

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – America has been breathlessly anticipating every move I make in my quest for the perfect cup of coffee.

I’ve been drinking coffee regularly since second grade. That’s when, for maybe six months, my brother, sister and I would get up really early to drive my dad to work, so that my mom would have the car so she could drive to work. The early wake-up wasn’t the problem. It was winter, and the heat was broken on the ol’fudge brown 1980 AMC Spirit. The coffee kept us warm for the drive.

shufflebowling-wax-300x300

This is not coffee creamer. Or maybe it is.

Since then, coffee has kept me warm and sane. I used to drink it with cream, but the two pots a day I’d drink at the radio station to keep me going when I was working full-time and going to school full-time eventually started to become black cups. That powered creamer always reminds me of the can of wax stuff we’d sprinkle on the shuffle bowling game at my dad’s bar when I was little. (He sold the bar to get that job we were driving him to…)

So I like black coffee. Coffee, not a bunch of syrupy flavors and whipped cream. I like coffee flavored coffee. Not Starbucks. Their “Pike’s Peak” blend makes me less homicidal than most, but usually if circumstance lands me at Starbucks, I’ll get tea.

Good Tim Hortons coffee is really good, but through the years, as the franchise has exploded, you get more and more skunkers. I think the skunkers come most from the practice of topping off a cup from a different pot. It’s worth the roll of the dice for a good one, though, on most days, and Tim Hortons is where I buy most coffee on the road.

I think I might like the robust, consistent taste of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee even better than Hortons, but those styrofoam cups taste pretty assy. Especially if the coffee is really hot, I mostly taste the mouthful of chemicals that just leached from the cup.

Since I began my own business and working from home a few months ago and lost access to endless free coffee in the work kitchen, I’ve been working on the easiest, cheapest, tastiest way to capture what’s good about a cup of coffee at home.

We have a Keurig, and I have to say, perhaps my all-time favorite cup of coffee comes from the Coffee Shop K-cup. The problem is the cost, which is 60¢-68¢ per cup. Fine for one, but if I have 4 or 5 cups, and it starts becoming a silly cost. There are cheaper K-cups, but I don’t like most of them, and I hate the rest.

I’ve tried the reusable Keurig baskets, but they taste plasticky pretty quick, and make an OK at best cup of coffee. I even tried cutting open a K-cup and putting the grounds in the reusable basket. Not even close. Next.

The standard Mr. Coffee type drip maker has been a part of my life since second grade. Bleech. That’s the taste I’m trying to avoid. Next.

I tried the French press, which makes a rich cup of coffee, but it lacks any bite. Great flavor, but no punch. Next.

Here I am perking at 5:50am.
Here I am perking at 5:50am.

But what’s next? We’ve had this old percolator which we last used during the October storm, and the coffee we made was terrible. Apparently, though, boiling the living hell out of the coffee for 10 or 15 minutes isn’t the way to do it.

Medium heat until it starts to perc, then low for 5 minutes. I found a cheap grinder that does the coarse grind needed for a percolator, and it turns out the cup that came with our rice cooker is just the right about of beans to be ground for 4 cups in the percolator. I’ve settled on Eight O’Clock 100% Colombian whole bean. 6¢ or so a cup.

So Van Miller was right when he used to read those Perkins spots with zeal, and he’d say, “Perk it up!” So that’s what I’m doing, Uncle Van.

It’s delicious, but there are drawbacks. It takes a while to brew, and with a stovetop percolator you have to watch it. You can’t heat the water too quickly, or it burns the coffee. And other people in the house all the sudden find your coffee delicious, which means you’re brewing more of it, more often.

But the percolator is it for now. Am I missing anything?  What say you?

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

It was 20 Years Ago Today: Two Decades in Radio Goes By in a Flash

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s nearly inconceivable to me, but it was twenty years ago today. The letter that started my career at WBEN.

wbenletter1993

Update, April 20, 2018: marks the start of my 25th year in radio, and I’m so happy that it’s at WECK… what we do there feels a lot like the old full-service radio I grew up with… good music, straight forward news, and happy on the radio.As a 15 year old high school sophomore, I would have been happy getting a job at Tops.

Running the board at WBEN, 1994.

But neither Tops nor Bells would hire someone under 16. My birthday wouldn’t come until the end of summer. I needed something to do for the vacation.

I’d been earning money for years already. Helping out at a used book shop. Helping a farmer down the street pick potatoes. Cleaning up cigarette butts and cutting curly fries at a nearby hot dog stand.

I liked working and I liked earning money.

But radio? Why not, I guess I thought.

I had always loved radio, and for the few years my dad’s job took us to Massachusetts, I had a friend whose dad worked in radio. We used to go to work with him when he was the Saturday morning jock on a big station in Boston.

As an 8 year old, my first real taste of living a life in radio came when I had to be ready for Mr. Bob to pick me up at 5am to head into WHDH. No problem. Loved every minute of it.

On those Saturday mornings, My friend Jarin and I would “do production” for the “station” we ran in his basement, made up of real, but cast-away decades-old radio equipment.

When my family moved back to Buffalo, and Jarin’s moved to Maryland, he gave me some of the castaway equipment, and I built a “radio station” of my own in my bedroom.

We’d each “do shows” on cassette and mail them back and forth to one another.

I was 7 or 8 years into that “radio career” when, during my “job search,” I was struck with an idea.

WBEN Control Room, 2004.

I have no idea from whence the thought of an internship came, but I loved radio, and wanted to work in radio, and that’s what I set out to do.

I opened the phone book, and called every radio station listed, asking for the station manager’s name.

When I say every radio station, I mean every single one. Buffalo. Springville. Lockport. Niagara Falls. Batavia. I just wanted to get in. Anywhere.

With those names in hand, I knew to whom I should address the letters I was about to write on our Tandy 1000EX computer. The one with 256k of memory.

It was quite a few 29 cent stamps.

The letter I wrote had to have been a classic 10th grader essay on my love for radio, and my knowledge of radio equipment, with, of course, some big words thrown in for good measure (because that’s how I’ve rolled for years now.)

So, somewhere between 15 and 20 of these letters went out. And I waited.

And waited.

At the mail box everyday, I’m sure I looked like Ralphie looking for that Little Orphan Annie decoder ring.

If you think about that scene in a Christmas Story, when Ralphie excitedly says “My ring!!” and runs in the house, syrupy violin music comes in to set the scene.

In my mind, that same hokey musical accompaniment plays when I opened the mailbox to find that gleaming white WBEN stationery staring at me, with my own name typewritten on the front.

It was providence. The station I listened to, the station I loved, was the only station to respond. At all. The only letter I got.

Its really almost unfathomable.

Think of some bad sitcom where a kid has a dream about pitching for the Yankees.

The focus is soft and fuzzy around the edges.

The kid’s sitting on the bench when Billy Martin, wearing a blue hat (but without a Yankees emblem) points at him and hands him the ball.

But, instead of the Yankees manager saying, “You’re in, kid!” in a dream, I got the real deal.

There really couldn’t have been anything better than getting a letter from Kevin Keenan inviting me to WBEN. And there was that letter, right there in my hands.

I’ll never forget that first day. Kevin looked like a 1993 radio newsman from central casting; white shirt, tie, suspenders.

We talked about WBEN, and I can’t imagine how hilarious it was to have a 15 year old know your programming inside out, talking about how my alarm clock was set for 6:23am, so I could wake up to the Osgood File.

He loved that I had called “Ask the Mayor” only a few days before, and had talked to him and Mayor Griffin about one of the big issues of the day: The debate over whether Jay Leno or David Letterman should replace Johnny Carson.

I showed him I knew how to put up a reel of tape, and how to bulk erase a cart.

On the tour around the station, I met sports man Rick Maloney, and sat in to watch a Craig Nigrelli/Helen Tederous newscast.

I was floored when Kevin offered me the chance to intern during the summer.

What a summer of triple bus transfers from Orchard Park to North Buffalo… And my dad acting as my radio chauffeur.

Eight or nine hour days, every day, all summer. I learned from everyone I met. Busted my hump with a smile. Loved every minute of it.

When I went to help set up WBEN’s remote at the Fair, Kevin gave me a WBEN t-shirt. I had earned it, and I loved it. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud to receive anything.

As I headed back to school, now a well-heeled Orchard Park High School junior, I was offered a weekend board operator job. Best of Limbaugh on Sundays.

Screw Tops. I was pulling in my $4.25 an hour working in radio. My heart is racing right now, thinking about the pride and satisfaction I felt.

I was living the Doogie Howser dream. And it’s continued from there.

That day in Kevin Keenan’s office 20 years ago today was my last job interview.

I’ve been tremendously blessed to have had so many mentors who’ve looked out for me, taught me their secrets, looked out for me, and allowed me to coattail along on their rides.

I feel a lot like a kid who went to bed waiting for one of those radio stations to respond to my letter, and woke up News Director at the radio station I really hoped would answer.

Everything I know about broadcasting, about radio, about TV, about journalism: I was taught either by direct instruction or by example from the tremendous people I’ve worked with at WBEN, Channel 4, and the Empire Sports Network.

Steve and Howard Simon, Empire Sports Network’s “Simoncast,” 2003.

I’d love to write about a few of the people, but it just wouldn;t be fair, because the list really has hundreds of names on it. I’m not sure how or why I’ve been so blessed, so lucky, to have so many amazing, talented people take an interest in my life and my career.

There’s not a single task I do every day that doesn’t carry along with it the embedded lessons of those people who’ve taken me in as an apprentice and son.

I’m like an orphan that was raised by the community. So much of any success I’ve had is because so many people own a piece of my success, but it couldn’t have happened without each on of them.

Twenty years of incredible luck and love. I’m not sure it’s fair that one person should be so blessed… But for two full decades now, I’ve been indescribably thankful, and mindful to never waste even a little bit of it.

Update, April 20, 2018: Today marks the start of my 25th year in radio, and I’m so happy that it’s at WECK… what we do here feels a lot like the old full-service radio I grew up with– good music, straight forward news, and happy on the radio. I wrote this five years ago about how lucky I’ve been to be able to live a dream… and it’s all still true.

Wow. Three Years Already: Thinking About Dad Today

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s definitely a different feeling, but I’m not sure I can quantify how.
Dad died Palm Sunday, 2010. Three years ago today.

Today’s a different day, though. I’m writing this in an attempt to figure out how or why it’s different. It just is.

Time just brings up different feelings, is all. I haven’t accidentally thought, “I’ve gotta go tell Dad” something for a while. Thinking about that makes me sad. Even the deepest recesses of my brain and being know I won’t be conversing with the ol’man til the other side.

Of course, I can never forget my dad. But every once in a while, I’ll think of a phrase or an action that I hadn’t thought of in years– something that was in the ol’man’s repertoire.

This, too, leaves a painful hurt. I think of these usually silly, often violent sounding things, and I can’t stop myself from repeating them… because I just don’t want to forget anything about my dad. It’s not even something I do on purpose. It’s deeply embedded.

A few of the ones I’ve forgotten and remembered lately:

“Get over here and let me put a dent in your face,” was a typical way dad might tell you he didn’t like what you were saying or doing. It could have been one of the variants like “break your head,” “bust your face,” or “I’ll punch your lights out if you don’t stop fighting with your brother!”

If he was in a particularly playful mood, sometimes he’d just ball up his big meaty fist, point it at you with an onomatopoeic crashing sound,”DUHSHJZ!” As I write this, and try to figure out how to spell “duhshjz!” that I don’t think I’ve ever head that anywhere else. It sounds kind of “Polishy.”Is that sound familiar to anyone?

Anyway, as far as the ol’man was concerned, there was really no threat or even thought of actual roundhouse punches to be thrown. It was just the way he talked. And, being programmed that way, it’s how I talk. I forgot the “dent” line, but often what starts in my mind as, “Boy, I really dislike that you are doing that,” comes out of my mouth as, “You deserve a punch in the face.” I really have no desire to inflict violence on anyone, but it does seem like a perfectly reasonable way to explain myself if my guard is down. Sometimes I want to punch myself in the face.

“You look like nobody owns you,” was usually immediately followed by grabbing of a shoulder, jerking one of us into the bathroom, and soaking our head in Vitalis Hair Tonic before we went somewhere important, like to church. I don’t remember what made this one pop into my head, but it seems to be stuck there for the time being.

Dad really was something else. If I was writing a cartoon or a sitcom, Dad could be a character just as is. No changes. But he was more than that. He was a beautifully complex sonavabitch. At least I hope “beautifully.” Because it looks like in more ways daily, I’m heading in the same direction.

I’m still not sure why it feels different now, but about now dad would be calling me a lemon, and threatening to dent my head.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

Gnarled Roots of a Family Tree: But its Great To Be in Contact with Extended Family

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

What a week in family history.

After last week’s blog post, my dad’s first cousin, Karen, wrote to reinforce the story I’d read in an earlier email:

As my mom, Olga, and her twin sister, Mary, related the family story to me about their dad’s arrival in the United States, the history unfolds thusly….John Cichon came from Poland on a ship that landed in Portland, Maine, and he entered the country through the Custom House (which still stands there today on Commercial Street. Wikipedia has a nice picture of it). Aunt Mary told me he was befriended on the ship by a Jewish man, who offered him garlic to ease the nausea of the voyage! In Maine, they were unable to find work, so they decided to go to Canada. From Toronto, John eventually made his way to Buffalo where there was a large Polish immigrant population. That’s the story as the Cichon twins told it.

The ship immigration manifests make it pretty clear that Jan was heading to the Niagara Region of Canada, and he pretty quickly made it down to Buffalo. By the 1915 New York State Census was taken, he was living a block away from what would become the family homestead on Fulton Street. He was single on the boat, married to Mary in the 1915 census.

korona
Further genealogical research has turned up the fact that Mike Korona and Jan Cichon were likely first cousins. Korona is Cichon’s mother’s maiden name.

Also interesting, on the boat, Jan Cichon traveled with Maciej Korona, from the village of Zawierzbe, only a few miles from his home in Milczany. In 1915, John Cichon had a boarder named Martin Korona at 43 Van Rensselaer St. The census document shows both men had been in the country for two years. While not certain, it looks like these two stuck together from Poland to Germany, where the boat left from, and then on to Maine. Then from Maine through Ontario, and into Buffalo. Martin Korona (sometimes Mike) lived with his wife Sally on Oneida Street on Buffalo’s East Side into the 1940s.

Armed with all this new information, I asked a friend for some ideas for a next move. He sent me to a wonderful East Side genealogist, who sent me a big long list of places to research around town and maybe pump some more information out of resources that I’d been using all along.

One idea was the to go back and double check marriage license lists at the downtown library. Now I had searched several times for a Jan Cichon/ Mary Pochec wedding. I had even paid the city clerk’s office to run a check for me, and called several churches where the wedding might have happened. I wasn’t confident, but went through the library materials again with a fine-tooth comb.

In casting a wider net, I hauled in the fish I’d been chasing for a long, long time. John and Mary Cichon were married August 19, 1914 by Fr. Peter Pitass. A quick web search shows that Fr. Pitass, the nephew of the founder of St. Stanislaus Church, was at that time, the pastor of Holy Apostles Ss Peter and Paul Church, on the corner of Clinton and Smith.

CichonMarriageLic1914

What made this marriage certificate so hard to find? First, the groom was listed as Jan Cikon, a misspelling, no doubt. He’s listed as 21, from Russia (Poland was split between Germans and Russia then), a laborer, and living on Fulton Street. Sounds perfect. The bride’s first name is listed as Maryjana. My great Aunt Mary said that her first name was Marianna in the old country. Great. From Russia, 21 years old. Dead on. Everything on the certificate, even the nearby church, is perfect, except one whopper.

The problem comes with her last name. Pochec is Mary’s maiden name according to all family knowledge. It’s listed that way in her Buffalo News death notice. John Cichon’s bride that day, however, was listed as Mary Ganaboska.

CichonObits

I’ve always felt there was something fishy about my great-grandmother’s background. She completely disappears before 1914, under the name Pochec or Ganaboska (or any close spelling variants of those two.) No ship manifests, no immigration lists, no address for the time she lived here before meeting her future husband. (UPDATE: More has been found on Babcia Cichon… More to come.)

The marriage license says she did shop work, and lived at 1013 Broadway before getting married. The Broadway Market is 999 Broadway. She lived literally next door to the market.

That is, of course, if any of this is true. I’ll have to do some more research to see what I can find as far as how Mary lists her name on other legal and church documents, like her older children’s birth and baptism certificates, and maybe the death certificate of son Czeczlaw, who died at only a few months old.

I have a few theories about why all the secrets, but I’d like to research them each a bit more.

The other great part of doing this research early Saturday morning, was going to the downtown library, and running into my great uncle Pat. He’s my Grandpa Coyle’s brother. Talking to him was eerie, because not only does he look like my grandpa and have many of the same facial characteristics, the cadence of his speech and the way he talks is very similar.grandmacoyleElkSt

Uncle Pat was doing family research there, too, and we exchanged e-mail addresses to share some of the information we have with one another. I’m very excited to have sent him copies of scans I made a long time ago, of some of my grandfather’s snapshots. Here’s a photo of Uncle Pat and my great Grandmother standing on Elk Street in the late 40s or early 50s. I’m sure he’ll enjoy this photo (right) he hasn’t likely seen in 60 years… of him with his mother, who died 35 years ago.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

Watching My Family Tree Grow: Finding More Ways To Reach into My Family’s Past

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s been just about two full months since I’ve had DNA test results from Ancestry.com, and I may have had my first useful hit.I’ve had 4 or 5 different “matches” that Ancestry.com says are 96% certain to be 4th or 5th cousins. But either there’s no good lead in the family tree they have posted, or their family tree is private, and they haven’t responded to messages. That’s a bit crazy to me. Unless you’re adopted and don’t know your roots, why else would you take this test other than to grow your family tree…

So the “certain” cousins are already taking family-like liberties and doing things like ignoring emails. Sounds like my family for sure. More like 97% that we’re related.

The one neat lead isn’t much, but it’s enough to help prove something I’ve suspected.

The analytics say its a low percentage possibility that I’m distantly related (5th to 8th cousins they say) to one guy. This person’s great grandmother has my mom’s maiden name. Margaret Coyle was baptized in Ireland 18 months before my great great great grandfather was born in Ireland. Could they be “Irish twins?”
I know John Coyle was born in Ireland in June, 1846, and came to Pennsylvania as a teen. He was a farmer, unable to read or write. This comes from census information, but its all I know. I’ve never been able to find any immigration information. There was a John Coyle baptized in July 1846 in Ireland, but to fully assume that he was my John Coyle might be a stretch. A good chance, but by no means a certainty with such a common name.

Well, that John Coyle who was baptized a month after my John Coyle was born, and the Margaret Coyle I’m probably related to didn’t have matching information on the baptismal records. Not the same father, not the same county.

But some searching found the two counties, Meath and Cavan, are right next to one another. The two churches are about 10 miles apart. Sounds like a pretty solid case that these two Coyles were cousins when you mix in the DNA results.

This is exciting because it opens up the Irish Coyle line in a part of Ireland that appears to have pretty well preserved records. I’m looking forward to doing that digging.

CICHON

One of my great obsessions in life, at least one I can talk about in polite company, is finding out any information at all about the Cichon branch of the family tree.

As I’ve written before, the backwards progression comes to a grinding halt with my great grandparents in Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood the late 1910s.

Census data and family tradition would indicate DziaDzia and Babcia Cichon each came to Buffalo from Poland in 1913. Family tradition says they came here separately, met at a party on Fulton Street, and were married in Buffalo. No record of any of that anywhere… Not the city, not any likely churches.

There are records for at least a dozen Jan Cichons who came to the New World 1912-14. However, not a single record for a Marianna Pochec or any Pochecs in that time frame.

There is the hope of good information coming from my great-grandparents’ death certificates. Death certificates are sealed for 50 years unless you can prove direct lineage to the deceased.

That would mean I’d have to have my birth certificate (no problem), my dad’s birth certificate (I don’t think he ever had one, though I bet his death certificate would do) and my Grandpa Cichon’s birth certificate (he’s in a nursing home and almost certainly has no idea where that might be.)

My great-grandfather died in 1967, so I have 4 years to wait. I remain undaunted in trying to milk the information I have, and building on it bit by bit.

I recently re-read an email from a Cichon cousin that mentioned that my great aunt Mary said my great-grandpa came to Buffalo through Canada. My grandpa has also said that he came through Maine.

Well I’ve found a Jan Cichon, who came from Poland in 1913, who fits both of those circumstances. The boat landed in Maine, and this guy’s final destination was a brother-in-law’s house Ontario. It’s a great lead, but by no means a sure thing.

Muddying up even worse, the ship manifest is hard to read. I have no idea what this guy’s mother’s (potentially my great-great grandmother’s) name is… And there is no town in the Russia/Ukraine/Poland area that shows up in searches with a name anything close to what’s written there.

The search continues.

ACTUAL ITEMS

I mentioned my great aunt Mary. She served as a nurse in the Navy in World War II. Her twin sister, Olga, was an Army nurse overseas. Doing a Cichon search, I came up with Aunt Olga’s wedding announcement in a Maine newspaper. The photo shows a beautiful Lt. Cichon in her Army WAC uniform. Clicking the photo takes you to the full wedding announcement from 1946.

In a separate search for Scurr, my dad’s mom’s maiden name, I found a newspaper account of the sad story of Grandma Cichon’s brother, Terry Scurr. You can read that below.

He was just out of the Army, and was at Letchworth with a bunch of friends. He died trying to help a friend who’d slid down a cliff.

Once I was talking to Seneca Street fixture “Tony the Barber” Scaccia, and mentioned that Tony’s cut the hair of five generations of my family, from my cousins’ kids back to my great-Grandpa Scurr. Tony told me the story of Terry’s wake, in the Scurr’s upstairs Seneca Street apartment.

History and family history are amazing. When you learn a little bit, it starts to grow exponentially.

Thank You For Serving: some vets who’ve had an impact in my life

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I knew what a veteran was from the earliest of ages.

I’m sure I started asking my dad about his tattoo as soon as I could talk. “STEVE,” it said on his forearm, in sloped writing, with a Celtic cross underneath. To say Celtic cross makes it sound better than it was. It was a stick figure cross with a circle where the horizontal and vertical parts of the cross met. It was actually a pretty horrible tattoo, which he said he gave himself when he was a Marine. I never heard the full story of the tattoo, or whether he actually remembered giving it to himself, or if a buddy told him he did it.

Dad always told us not to get a tattoo, but it was more like advice than an order. He didn’t like his tattoo, but I don’t think he considered it a mistake. He never hid it, either. I think in some ways that sums up the way he felt about his service in the Marine Corps. He was quietly proud of it, but didn’t like it.

I know he joined the Marines in 1969 as a way to “get out of the Valley,” the poor working class neighborhood he grew up in. He saw the world as a Marine, and had his education paid for by the GI Bill. But he was also struck with illness that initially almost killed him, but that also started downward progression in his health that culminated with his death at the age of 58.

My dad had few heroes and people he looked-up-to in his life, but one was his big sister Tricia. He was a Marine when her kidney disease came to the point of needing a transplant. Dad was on his way home to see if he could be a donor when she died. I don’t know that he ever loved anyone more than her. She took care of him and understood him. He didn’t get to say good bye to her because he was half a world away.

To make it worse, he had one of those awful Vietnam era welcomes. Walking down the street in his uniform, he was taunted and sneered at. Having heard this story dozens of times since I was very little, the image that pops into my head is my father walking down Seneca Street in front of what used to me Grandma’s Donuts (now Abbott Pizza, I think) with people throwing bottles and trash at him. That’s not what happened, but that’s the image my dad’s telling of the story put in my head.

He was proud of his service, but wasn’t about to join a club or line up for a parade. He was the most humble veteran at the VA Hospital, always thanking roommates, nurses and doctors for their service to our great land.

Dad’s instilling in me such a high level of respect for men and women who have served has made me keenly aware of those who’ve been a part of my life who have given of themselves for our common good.

Dad’s grandpa had two brothers die at sea during World War I. Grandma Cichon had pictures of Uncle George and Uncle Gordon and kept her uncle’s memories alive. Gordon was in the British Mercantile Marine on the SS Trocas when a German U-Boat torpedoed the tanker. George was a seaman aboard the SS Hazelwood went it hit a mine. The internet has helped fill in some of the details, but my dad knew these stories, and while was proud of his service, looked at his great uncles as heroes.

But Veterans Day is about remembering those who went through hell and came home. Or even put their time in in New Jersey or Kansas, saluted one last time, and never looked back.

As a kid growing up on Allegany Street in South Buffalo, we had a few proud veteran neighbors. Pops was an ancient, tiny liver-spotted old man who used to stand in the driveway, chew tobacco, and tell us about his service in World War I and his fear of “the gas,” which I now know to be mustard gas Germans used on American troops. It filled the trenches, and ruined the lungs of soldiers, painfully suffocating thousands.

Further up Allegany, on the other side of the street in the big light green house, Mr. Smith used to give us cookies and hard candy, a very kind old soul who was retired from the railroad. Occasionally, he’d proudly show us his perfectly preserved US Army uniform from World War II, or the box filled with medals and ribbons. I know I thought it was “cool,” but I hope i was properly respectful and reverent, too, as a 5 and 6 year old.

A few years later, when I was in third grade, my school bus driver, George, was finally awarded a bronze star, over 40 years after his heroism saved some of his fellow soldiers from Japanese attack. He cut out the photo of him holding the award that was in the local paper, and taped it up in the front of the bus. I was proud of him, and I wish I remember more about his story.

My Grandpa Cichon was one of 8 brothers and sisters who served in World War II and Korea. Even my twin great aunts, Olga and Mary, were nurses in the Navy and Army respectively. Gramps was an engineer in the Army at the end of World War II. He was in the Philippines, and likely saw some pretty terrible things there that he doesn’t talk about.

Great Grandpa Wargo was a plane mechanic in Guam during the Second World War. Indirectly, because of his service, I met one of my favorite vets ever. Grandpa W was in the VA Hospital, and my dad had little use for the rule that kept kids under 15 out of most hospitals. He’d take us to visit everyone, because who doesn’t love seeing a little kid, right?

Well, as recently as the early 80s, when this happened, there were smoking lounges on every floor right next to the elevator at the VA for the guys who were in there. Dad would ditch us in there, and bring great grandpa down to see us. One time, there was an ancient, ancient hunched-over man in there smoking. He was wearing a bright red bathrobe, had the darkest black skin you can imagine set off against his crazy sprouting bright white hair. Dad flippantly asked the guy to keep an eye on us, because he was going to get gramps. Well, apparently, this was just about the best damn thing that had ever happened to this guy.

He offered to hide us in his bathrobe if the nurses got close, his face lively and excited at not only being able to play with a couple of kids for a few minutes, but also to be a party to this rule breaking. We sat down, and he stood up with his back to us. He spread open the robe, so that we couldn’t be seen from the door. He was laughing and giddy about it the whole time, til gramps walked in.

A few years ago, I interviewed a friend’s dad about his role in the D-Day invasion. Michael Accordino described in vivid, terrible detail, sitting in the water, and watching guys run ashore, and watching many of them be shot dead on the beach. And waiting for his turn to go. And watching his buddies die around him.

My friend Ed Little always spoke in a sort of blasé way about his service in the Army Air Corps during WWII, but what he did was nothing short of spectacular and heroic. He would flying along on bombing runs in the Pacific, and using 1940s technology, record play-by-play of the bombings that were taking place for playback on radio back home. Another broadcasting friend, Fran Lucca was radio man in the Navy. His ear saved thousands from U-boat attacks, and his incessant record keeping has made the war much more real for his dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren. Letters between him and his mother, official documents, dozens of pages of wonderful material for his years at war have been collected and preserved, and I’m honored that he’s allowed me to learn from and make a copy.

Tom Kane was another friend in broadcasting. He was the security guard at the WBEN/Channel 4 building. One day, I noticed that he went from wearing sergeant stripes on his uniform to lieutenant bars. I congratulated him on the promotion, and he told me that after almost 50 years, he’d finally become an officer. He told me about his time in Korea, and how he’d never been so cold in his life. So wet and cold. For almost a year. Being freezing and afraid of freezing to death, but having to jump into the water or be killed. Tom earned the commission, for sure.

Once in a conversation with my friend and broadcaster Mark Leitner, something about the horror of Vietnam came up. He said nothing with his mouth, but in two seconds his eyes told a wretched story leaving detail unnecessary.

My friend Pat Kavanagh, talks about the fact that he and the men he went to war with were really just about children, and that they used to call their 25 year old Sarge “Pops” because he was so old, and really felt like a father figure. Pat turned his sense of unfinished business with the war into a project to honor those who never came home: He collected the obituaries of every Western New Yorker who was killed in Vietnam during the war. Dozens of visits to libraries, historical societies, and private homes later, Pat’s work is another step in insuring that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

My dad’s big brother, Uncle Chuck, is also a Vietnam veteran, and also lives with the lasting effects of Agent Orange. I hold a lot about Uncle Chuck’s service in my heart, and knowing that he wouldn’t want it written about here, I won’t. Suffice it to say, he’s the best brother man could ask for, a great uncle, and hero.

I don’t know that Uncle Chuck or any of the men and women mentioned above are comfortable with that label “hero,” especially when each of them can clearly see the face and hear the voice of someone who didn’t make it back to the rest of their lives.

Many heroes are like my friend Len, who has told many great fun stories of his days in the Air Force. Clowning around, having fun, traveling to exotic locales for a day or two just ’cause he could. What Len doesn’t bring up is the weeks he spent in New York City following 9/11, and the problems that he and thousands of others are fighting because of it, whether our government admits it or not.

Len, Uncle Chuck, and all these folks are heroes. They were all willing to kill or be killed for not only the common good, but for every American alive while they served, and every American who’ll ever live free.

I know so many newer, younger veterans, too, and their close friends and family. Their sacrifices are much more present in our lives, and in some cases, still open and bleeding. Because the final chapter hasn’t been written in most of their cases, it’s hard to write about them in the same way as I do some of the sacrifices of the more distant past. For most of the older folks, I think while the wounds are forever tender, they’ve healed up a bit, and have, upon years and decades of reflection, become a part of who they are, and in some fragile way, accepted.

My prayers are most with our most recent vets, and really all of those, who are still coming to terms with the hell they’ve endured while proudly wearing our flag on their shoulder. I pray that the final chapter on your service is one of acceptance and an ability to move on with your life, with the memories and realizations of your time spent in harm’s way woven productively into the fabric of who you are.

I have many more friends and loved ones who have served our great nation who’ve I’ve failed to mention here. To each of you: I beg that you please know that while I don’t know firsthand what you have endured for our country, I am proud and humbled to carry some part of your pain and sacrifice on my own heart. You have done what I haven’t. You needn’t have served in war to have sacrificed; you needn’t have never come home to be a hero.

To all veterans, though it’s not enough, please accept my humble thanks this Veterans Day, and every day.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

Our Home: As presented to the Buffalo Architecture Foundation

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Here’s an august Buffalo structure, a fine example of a turn of the century single family dwelling.

Nestled in a “Parkside” streetscape and neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the American Four Square was designed by renowned Buffalo architect E.B. Green and built in 1909 and 1910.

And sometimes, even a house like this, is just a house unless someone comes along to tell its story.

My then girlfriend and I stumbled into this house’s story when we were house hunting in Kenmore. If you can remember all the way back to 1999, there was mostly the Home Finder and the weekend drive to find a house. We’d spent the better part of a few months worth of weekends cruising the streets of the Village of Kenmore; with it’s character-rich homes, friendly tree-lined neighborhoods, and relatively affordable prices.

But we were at wits end. We were willing to do some work on a house, mostly because we couldn’t afford one move in ready in the places we wanted to live. Until one day when we were stopped at the light right before the 33.

We’d traveled through the Parkside neighborhood dozens of times on our trips between Monica’s parents house and the village of Kenmore, but this time, a great old house– like the ones we’d been looking at, caught my eye.

We’d become accustomed to what to look for: Exterior nice, but not too nice, you pay for that. This house had it. And we found out, at a price that we could afford.

The bones of the house, as they say, were perfect, but there was little else (if anything) that was.

Lots of bleach and elbow work; not a single wall or window that didn’t need attention. No problem, though. My grandfather bought an 1880s house with no heat aside from fireplaces and no electricity in the 1950s. He updated it himself. As my grandma famously said, “They had their bedroom in every room” of their house on Hayden Street in South Buffalo.

Despite a ridiculous amount of work that needed to be done, we bought the joint for a song, and I figured, with my 22 year old wisdom, that if I spent all my free time working on the house, we’d have a completed “This Old House” looking home 6 months later. 12 years later, we’re just getting to the upstairs.

The house was built for Laura C. Geib, who had inherited the land. Her sister had already built a house just across the way and Miss Geib, who was a German and Latin teacher at Fosdick-Masten High School, watched her home, one of the first on the block, be built.

In 1909, being a school teacher was not among the better paid professions. In fact, a teacher’s salary barely allowed one to rise to the burgeoning middle class. You can see Geib’s lack of funds in the very sparce decoration. The house is probably the least of any home designed by E.B. Green, and the original elements that remain, like leaded glass windows, the dining room chandelier and sconces and some door hardware, all give the mismatched feel of a Home Depot bargain bin. Our own lack of finances during the remodel continued this tradition.

It may have been finances, or just not wanting to live alone in such a big house. Either way, in 1914, Geib sold the home to Fred and Lucy Walter, who lived there for the next 46 years.

The didn’t have any children, but Uncle Fred and Aunt Lucy were remembered as a “wonderful, cute little old couple” by a niece I was able to track down.

They also had some strange habits. One time working in the attic, I found about a decades’ worth of tax returns and Sisters hospital bills jammed into the wall cavity. The fact that our deed lists “Lucy Walter, invalid” as the seller of the home in 1960, leads one to believe that she may have been suffering from some form of dementia.

The O’Day family bought the home in 1966, and spent the next 34 years raising a huge brood of kids, and always throwing open the doors to cousins or friends who needed a place to stay. The house wasn’t a museum piece or cold “don’t touch sort of place during those years, it was full of life and well lived-in. Mr. O’Day seemed to be a nice enough guy when we bought the house, but I’d be lying it I didn’t admit to cursing at him as I toiled in breathing life back into the house.

Wanting to know more about the house that once stood on the empty lot next door was really the beginning of my exploration of the neighborhood’s history that culminated with the publication of my 2009 book “The Complete History of Parkside, ” which was mostly written at the dining room table in this house.

The dining room was our first living room, while the living room acted as a workshop staging area.

The photos show the walls having been de-wallpapered and re-plastered, the 4 layers of paint stripped from the wainscotting before 7 or 8 layers of finish were applied. The ceiling, so cracked and marred, that we turned to a trick my uncle told me about: We wallpapered the ceiling using embossed wallpaper. It really gives the look of an old fashioned embossed tin ceiling, but it does come at a price. Wallpapering that ceiling is as close as Monica and I have ever come to divorce over the course of our 11 year marriage.

You really get to know a building when you are essentially rebuilding it from within, piece by piece. We’ve never been really sure of what we’re doing, but always have had an eye towards what a house like this “should” look like, whatever that means.

Our kitchen remodel started with a really leaky faucet which was so badly damaged that it couldn’t be fixed. But I couldn’t put a new faucet in such a grungy sink… Nor a new sink in such a low-grade cabinet. My poor wife came home to her kitchen torn down to the studs, and about 6 months of doing dishes in the bathtub.

But luckily, those studs, the bones, are good. That’s amazing, given the number of beer bottles we’ve found jammed in walls and in crawl spaces before the were sealed up. It’s like a tour of the breweries in business in Buffalo around 1910. The craftsmen who built the house may have had a beer buzz for some part of it, but there is also proof of the workers pride in what they were doing.

Throughout the house, the blue-crayon signatures of workmen adorn the backs of wood work.

In the years that I’ve been working in the house, I’ve kept up that tradition with untold numbers of Sharpie signatures and dates, so some future caretaker can know by name who to curse at as he takes down a gerry-rigged something or other.

The last room of the downstairs portion of the house we completed just this past spring, working up to the moment our house was featured on the Parkside Tour of Homes.

One of the first things I did when we got the keys on Valentines Day 2000 was take all the doors down, and strip the paint off the cabinets in the original butlers pantry. Those doors sat in the basement for the next 11 years, again having just gone up this spring.

During our first spring clean up outside, we found a McDonald’s coffee cup that dated back to the 80s. It had been in the yard at least a decade, mixed in with the composted leaves and broken beer bottle bits.

80scup

We were slowly able to plant a few $5 plants, add a little each year, and watch it all grow. We were finally able to put a deck on this past spring, and now really enjoy another part of our home.

It’s a continuing story. It’s one we’re happy to be a part of.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

Family History Mystery: Either ‘Truth Uncovered’ or ‘Stunning Coincidence’

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Every time I visit my grandpa in the nursing home, he wants to know if I’ve tracked down the “Cichons in Brazil” yet.The family legend is that three Cichon brothers eventually came to America, my great-grandfather and his two older brothers. My great grandfather stayed, his two brothers went on to Brazil.

For decades worth of research and genealogical digging, I’ve have found out exactly NOTHING about the Cichons. We have great family stories, mostly from my grandpa and his sister Mary, but no records, no documents. Don’t know which Polish towns my great-grandparents are from. Don’t know what their parents’ names are. Don’t have anything like the ship manifest that took my great-grandfather and my great-grandmother separately to the New World around 1913. The trail ends cold in Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood.

Cichon isn’t the most common name, but it’s common enough. Especially when you are looking for information on John and Mary Cichon.

The story is, they met and fell in love in Buffalo on Fulton Street, both having just arrived from Poland, and then got married. As far as I can tell, there is no record of their marriage. Not in the likely several churches I checked, not at Buffalo City Hall.

Great-Grandma Cichon’s maiden name is Pochec, a very unusual name. I contacted a guy in Canada with the last name Pochec and an obviously Polish first name. He says all the records of his family’s existence were destroyed in war… The world wars and any other number of wars that have marred that part of Eastern Europe for centuries. Pochec has been a dead end. She was half Polish, “half Turk,” as my grandpa says. Her dad was a baker in the Turkish army.

Great-Grandpa worked as a laborer for National Aniline in their railroad yard for about 40 years. Back in Poland, he was a cobbler. Gramps said his pa always kept the shoe making tools he brought with him from Poland, just in case.

This is about all I have to go on, so when I see some bit of information with potential, I get excited.

My great-grandfather told 3 or 4 different census takers and the World War I draft board that he came here in 1913, so that seems legit. Around 1913, there were no fewer than 8 or 9 guys named Jan or John Cichon taking boats to North America. Anyone of them could be my great grandfather, or none of them could be. One of those ship’s manifests really has set my mind to wonder, though.

It shows 20 year-old Jan Cichon from “Kurowa?,” son of Tomasz, sailing from Holland to meet up with a friend in Connecticut in October 1913. This has the right date, the right name, and this Jan is the right age, but there’s nothing for certain that points to “steerage passenger 13” on the SS Nieuw Amsterdam as being my great-grandfather.

But in going over this two page document, having to shift back and forth between two jpgs of this horizontally long ledger, something that’s just too odd to overlook caught my eye yesterday.

Passenger 21 is a 19 year old German young lady of Polish decent who is on her way to the New World as well. According to the ship manifest, Emilie Rakowska told Immigration officials that she’s on her way to rendez-vous with her brother Heinrich. Heinrich Rawkoski lived in Buffalo at 909 Perry Street. That’s about 10 houses away from the house that the Jan Cichon who is my great grandfather would buy and spent the next 60 years living in.

It’s either an amazing, colossal coincidence, that some other 20 year old guy named Jan Cichon from Poland got on a ship in Holland headed for the US in 1913, and just happened to be on a ship with a woman who was bound for the exact block where another Jan Cichon would arrive in the same year… or Great-Grandpa Cichon wound up in Buffalo chasing a single chick, his age, that he met on the boat ride over here.

I’m just about convinced that this is my dziadzia. How could it not be? I’m going to do some more research on the decent amount of information provided on the John Cichon who was on the New Amsterdam that day, and see if it fits into some of the family stories and lore.

History and genealogy really are cool. Sweeping the cobwebs off the front door is going to have to wait.

Here are the difficult to read documents (edited to make it a little easier):

cichonnieuwamsterdamedit1 cichonnieuwamsterdamedit2

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

It’s an internet column, not a blog

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – There are few things in life which give me more pleasure than translating into the written word the oddities which are constantly percolating through my brain.

I guess writing is now my hands-down top creative outlet, which is only pretty recently the case.

For many years, radio production was a creative outlet. As a producer of talk radio, you heard my audio fingerprints in the shows I helped put together. Small nuances helped set the mood of the show, made it a smidge more interesting. I did what I could with the limited role I played.

Back then, creativity was manifest in finding the right music beds, or sound bites, or editing together production pieces like show opens and station promos. The intent was to make it all a little more fun and interesting.

In my current job, that’s what I like to think my writing does for the news, as well. Make it a bit more fun and interesting. I’ve become more adept at writing in a style that’s all my own, be it for broadcast or print.

And in my world, writing is special. It’s something that’s all me; purely my voice, sharing my own thoughts in a way I’ve come up with myself.

No one ever showed me how to write, I never actively apprenticed myself to someone. That’s unique for me. I learned how to be a radio producer from John Demerle. Period. I took what I learned from him and made it my own, but it was him at the core of it.

Even way I sound on the radio, my delivery, is actually little pieces of other people. As I was learning to be an announcer, I’d like the way Ed Little or Mark Leitner or George Richert or Susan Rose or Van Miller or Dan Neaverth said something, and I copied that piece, and it became mine. It became part of who I am when my voice is coming out of your car’s dashboard.

Even after 20 years in radio, I listen to myself and know that I said something like George Richert. You wouldn’t know it. George wouldn’t know it. But I know it. And it’s why I think I am so proud of the written aspect of what I do. It’s more purely me.

People enjoy my “unique style” on the radio. And its often admittedly unique. But again, in a dangerous glimpse into my own mind, to me its little more than the sewn together pieces of my interpretation of what someone else has done before. It’s a quilt. There is beauty in a quilt, but there’s also that mutt, leftover scraps facet of a quilt, too.

True artistry isn’t about copying someone else’s style, it’s about reaching deep inside yourself to show the world something that is uniquely your own. That’s what writing is for me. I won’t call it artistry, but I am doing my best to give you a peek inside the chasm that is my brain.

So anyway, I’m writing. But what am I writing? There are certain things implied, I think, when one says, “I’m blogging.”

To me, most blogs, however literary and well constructed, feel like 30 years ago, they would have been written in beautiful long hand, probably in a nicely bound journal or diary.

Others would be lovingly crafted, mimeographed, and mailed out to the few hundred “subscribers” who read about the “newsletter” in the classified section of a magazine.

I imagine that 30 years ago, I would have been clanking away at a typewriter, maybe just putting what I’ve written in a box under my bed. Or trying to get the occasional piece printed in the newspaper’s Sunday magazine.

Its probably all the same thing. I don’t think what I write is any better than a blog, in my mind, it’s just different is all.

And at the end of the day, what I’ve got here is a blog. And I guess that makes me a blogger. I’d just kindly prefer you don’t remind me. Just remember, though, that its just that which is what this blog is about: The almost always different, and admittedly often stupid way my brain works, and the completely ridiculous things I waste my time thinking about. Self-introspection of my looney tune self.

Welcome.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

Buffalo in the 20’s: Booze Bust in The Valley

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

dryraidelkst

BUFFALO BOOZE BUST… Wouldn’t it have been great if Irv Weinstein would have been around to write Prohibition stories? The papers were filled with them almost every day.

I like this one in particular– because it took place in a bar my ol’man would buy 55 years later.

The text is a bit hard to read:

The Buffalo Sunday Express Sunday December 27, 1925

Cleverly concealed caches of liquor were found hidden under the floor of the barroom in the saloon at no. 807 Elk street, owned by John Doty. A large copper tank, to which were attached two spigots and a siphon, was hiding places for two dozen quarts of rare old whisky.Under the floor and on the stairway were 100 quarts of alleged liquor. Doty will be arraigned on Monday.

In the late 1930s, the path of Elk Street changed as South Park Avenue was created out of several South Buffalo and First Ward streets. What was number 807 Elk –at the corner of Smith Street– in 1925, is now 207 Elk (sadly, a vacant lot.)