Cichon evolution: How CHEE-hoyn became SEE-shon

By Steve Cichon

BUFFALO, NY – Spelled Cichoń in its original form, my last name is Polish.

John & Mary Cichon with daughter-in-law Mary

My great-grandfather, Jan Cichon, came to Buffalo from what is now Milczany, Świętokrzyskie, Poland in 1913. He soon changed his first name to John, but never changed the way he pronounced his last name.

He said “CHEE-hoyn” as a little boy in the tiny villages he grew up in near Sandomierz in southeast Poland, and said “CHEE-hoyn” as a railyard laborer for National Aniline in South Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood.

Before John’s son– my grandfather– died in 2015, one of the many hours of conversation I had with him was how CHEE-hoyn became SY-chon (which is how Gramps said it) became SEE-shon (which is how my dad and most of my family says it.)

So, here is Eddie (SYchon) explaining how CHEEhoyn became SEEshon.

Gramps says that his mother and father– both from Poland– always said CHEEhoyn. He says when he and his nine brothers and sisters starting going to school, SYchon– the generally accepted German pronunciation– was introduced to them, and it stuck.

“You say SEEshon, right?” Gramps asked me. I told him that’s how my dad says it.

steve and gramps

“Well, your dad’s partly French,” Gramps said, cracking himself up so hard he started coughing.

I can’t find the audio– I recorded dozens of conversations with Gramps– but he also once explained that it was one of his sisters-in-law who started saying SEEshon. My grandma also said SEEshon, as did my dad, and now most if not all of the Cichons who are left in my family say SEEshon.

So that’s how my family has come to say SEEshon, although I answer to any other pronunciation from telemarketers who are just plain confused or from little old ladies wearing babushkas (or my Fair friend Jim!) telling me I say my name wrong.

Gramps tells the ol’man and me his full Polish name: Edward Valentego Wojtek Stasiu Cichoń!

Remembering Gramps on a Warm Christmas past

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

What a beautiful day outside.

Seeing small kids playing with someone who looked like their grandfather in Delaware Park just now takes me back 35 years to a similar scene in Cazenovia Park, on a similar beautiful just-before-Christmas day. The only difference— unlike these carefree kids, all was not right in my world.

Gramps  & me...
The first pic of Gramps & me…

It was a quick run across Seneca Street from Grandma and Grandpa Cichon’s into Caz Park, and Gramps loved taking us for a walk whenever he was not on his way to work at the track (Buffalo Raceway) when we’d stop over on a Saturday morning.

The walk part of the walks were longer in the winter, because our visits to Caz weren’t punctuated by a visit to “the swings, and the slides, and the horseys,” as Gramps always called the playground in a sing-song kind of way.

We’d come back to Grandma’s house from taking these walks nearly frozen by the harsh South Buffalo winter, and really having earned our hot chocolate with real marshmallows.

But this day wasn’t one of those days. Much like today, the grass was green and lush, the sun was shining, and instead of shivering we were probably sweating—unnecessarily overdressed in layers on a 50 degree day, for fear that the Blizzard of ’77 would quickly revisit Seneca Street while we were on our 90 minute hike.

And despite the beautiful weather, this day, there were no swings to play on—the city parks department was much more rigid about taking swings down in those days. It was by date, not by weather forecast.

Anyway, this day I’m thinking about, we were on one of our epic walks taking in most of Cazenovia Park from the ball diamonds to the ends of the golf course. I should have been enjoying the warmth—and not a flake of snow in sight, but I wasn’t.

There was growing concern in my Kindergartener heart, and I had to share it with someone I could trust. Gramps was the man, for sure.

“Grandpa,” I asked, probably with doe-like eyes fluttering, “if Santa’s sleigh doesn’t work because there’s no snow, how will he be able to deliver our presents?”

“Santa has a helicopter, son,” he said reassuringly without skipping a beat. I’m still warmed by his reassurance.

I don’t remember what I was hoping Santa would deliver that year, but I know I was excited to deliver to Gramps—no chopper necessary—a gift bearing the brand name Skin Bracer, Old Spice, or Hickory Farms. He always loved our presents no matter what they were.

Gramps was special because he had the mind of a man and the heart of a child. We should all be so blessed.

Thanking dad for McCartney’s Buffalo show

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

It’s not unusual for dads to pass on their love of sports teams to their sons. It’s easy to see how it happens, when a boy gets caught up in his ol’man’s religious-like fanatic devotion to the games, but also talking about and thinking about and clearly loving a team every waking moment, on the field or not.

This is the way I became a Beatles fan. Our house was always filled with Beatles 8-tracks and albums with STEVE crawled in the sloppy ballpoint pen work of my ol’man. There were also solo albums from John, Paul, and George. Dad never owned a Ringo solo record, but he did name his last dog Ringo after Sir Richard Starkey, so I think it’s even.

The ol’man, listening to 8-tracks, somewhere in Asia as a Marine. I’d be willing to bet that’s a Beatles 8-track in there…

There’s one thing I have to say first, flatly. There was nothing “cute” about my ol’man. The guy was a tattooed Marine. But looking back, dad’s devotion to this band was really almost cute. Seeing him sing (terribly, of course) or talk or even think about The Beatles offered us all a glimpse at what it must have been like seeing him watching John, Paul, George, and Ringo on Ed Sullivan for the first time when he was 13.

The clichéd notion of the cranky Vietnam-era disabled vet might include an abhorrence of computers– but not for my ol’man. He quickly realized that the online world offered him two amazing things– an unending torrent of used cars for sale and an unquenchable supply of new Beatles facts, ideas, and photos.

This meant at any given moment, any conversation could quickly turn to “There’s a great little Caddy in Ohio– only three grand!” or “Did you know John’s dad played the banjo?” Of course, you were expected to know “John” just by the first name.

As sons often do, over the last 38 years, I’ve developed and nurtured my own love and appreciation for my ol’man’s devotion. For my ninth birthday in 1986, I got a Walkman. (For the record, it was a knockoff GE cassette player from Brand Names, but it was a Walkman, dammit.) Anyway, for another present, my uncle took me to Gold Circle to pick out a couple cassette tapes to listen to on my sleek new machine.

I picked my favorite music: Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, The White Album. I was able to get an extra one because the older Beatles cassettes were cheaper than Guns N Roses or Huey Lewis and The News.

For the roughly 15 years when CDs were my preferred in-car music delivery method, Paul McCartney’s “All the Best” greatest hits album is the only one I ever had to replace– I wore it out playing it so much.

Anyway, Dad never got to see any of the Beatles live. A few years before he died, my mom took the ol’man to see the Beatles tribute band Rain at Shea’s Buffalo. The way mom describes it, it might as well have been the actual guys up there the way dad was enjoying himself.

When I heard Paul McCartney was coming to Toronto, I was going. It was deeper than just “really wanting to go,” it was about being in the presence of someone who has brought me untold joy from the moment of my birth. It was being in the presence of someone who helped bring so much light into the often dark life of my ol’man. It was fulfilling the wish, hope and desire that filled the last 47 years of dad’s life– to see a Beatle live.

It was cemented when the Buffalo date was announced. My sweet wife signed up for the chance to buy presale tickets online as a birthday present. A half-hour’s worth of refreshing a clogged webpage finally hit pay dirt with a pair of seats available. I would have been happy with nosebleeds, but the robot living in Paul McCartney’s computer only offered us floor seats. I cashed in my 401k, and got ready to see Paul McCartney.

Steve and Monica outside First Niagara Center, October 22, 2015.

What a show. Three hours’ worth of mostly Beatles tunes, with some great Wings stuff, and pretty good brand new music as well. Every single song sounded like we would expect it to sound, as it did on the album. McCartney is not bored with the music that made him famous and brought us all such joy for the last half century.

The only time the soundtrack varied from the familiar arrangements was for a ukulele version of “Something” as a tribute to George Harrison, and extra audience sing along choruses of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Na, Na, Na, NaNaNiNa.”

There was also a heartfelt and stunning tribute to John Lennon, which he introduced by asking for an ovation for “John,” and then encouraging everyone to not hold back the things they want to tell people they love. (You can watch highlights of all of these in the video below.)

McCartney displayed tremendous energy keeping up with our 40 and 50 year old memories of how he sounded on our car stereos on the way to the concert. His voice was there, and he played an instrument– his trademark bass, one of three or four guitars, organ, or piano– on every song. He didn’t take a single song off and hit a surprising number of notes when any of us would have given him a pass.

As you might expect, Paul was charming, too. His talking between songs wasn’t just canned stuff from every concert. He played off the crowds. He played off the signs. He looked like he was having fun.  After playing “Back in the USSR,” he told about his first time playing in Russia. Doing a pretty decent ’60s spy movie Russian accent, he told the story of the Russian defense minister who shook his hand and told him, “The first record I ever buy was Love Me Do.” He said another Russian official said he learned English from Beatles records, “so I say Hello. Goodbye.”

While singing “Lovely Rita,” introduced as “a song about a lady who used to write me a lot of tickets,” he gave the best commentary of the night with his face.

While schmaltzing though the lyric “sitting on the sofa with a sister or two…” he very briefly offered up the same comical pained face that your favorite uncle might give in telling a similar story of sitting on a couch between a couple of sisters before a date. It’s clear that Sir Paul had been on that couch.

There was also the extra-worldly. From the moment I heard McCartney was coming, I knew this show was going to be a convening with my dad’s soul. Seeing Paul McCartney, standing in front of me, singing the songs my dad taught me to love reduced me to tears too many times to count.  A few times it was more the images being flashed than the music– during Band on The Run, the big screen flashed that album’s cover. Instantly I was flashed back to sitting legs crossed in front of my parents’ record shelf, trying to decide which record to play (and probably scratch the hell out of– sorry!) next.

One resoundingly smiley moment came as Paul lead 18,000 people in “All Together Now,” a silly song from the silly Yellow Submarine album. Dad was the biggest Beatles fan out there, but he didn’t discuss Yellow Submarine. When I made copies of all my Beatles CDs for him, he told me to skip Yellow Submarine. I think I actually heard dad say, “ooOOooh geeeez” when McCartney started the song during the concert last night. Dad would have been happy, though, that Paul resoundingly made fun of the song, saying something along the lines of “it was one of my more intellectual moments.” Paul actually agrees with Dad. Somewhere, dad’s saying, “I told you that song was stupid.”

An amazing concert musically. Tying up loose ends for my ol’man. And thankfully, it was loud enough where no one had to listen to my singing– because there was a lot of it and it was terrible. Just another way my Beatles devotion is like father, like son.

Here is a 12:30 video with some highlights I recorded at the concert.

Quick snippets from his 3 hour show in Buffalo, NY, at First Niagara Center on 10/22/15. Beatles and Wings classics, talks about John Lennon, George Harrison, playing in Russia, and more. Wobbily shot from floor seats on an iPhone6s.

What Labor Day means for me and my family

Both of my grandpas typify what Labor Day is about.

monic steve grandparents
With my grandpas Jim Coyle (left) and Eddie Cichon (right), and Grandma Coyle and my beautiful bride on our wedding day in 2001. The more weddings I attend, the more grateful I am that I had three grandparents there on my wedding day.

Grandpa Coyle was poor, and I think it’s fair to say didn’t have many prospects, until his boss at the Boys Club helped get him an apprenticeship with the Glaziers Union. After years as a glass worker, he ran Local 660 for decades.

gramps and glaziers
That’s Grandpa Coyle, in the center, next to the sailor, with the checked jacket and the rip in the photo. He was a glazier– a glassworker– and eventually spent a couple decades as the funds administrator for the Glaziers Local 660. This is from c.1953.

Grandpa Cichon started as a laborer at National Aniline, but learned a trade to become a tinsmith. He put in 40 years there.

gramps racing
Grandpa Cichon usually had no fewer than 3 or 4 jobs at a time, including regular work through the ticket takers and bet takers union at Memorial Auditorium, War Memorial Stadium/Rich Stadium, and Buffalo Raceway.

Both men’s willingness to work hard for better lives for themselves and their children is now also being enjoyed by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Sure, organized labor is about 40 hour, 5 day work weeks… But to me, it’s about building American families for generations.
Labor Day also makes me think of my time as a union member, when the company that owns Channel 4 locked out half of our NABET-25 bargaining unit.
Technicians (studio crew, engineers, master control operators) weren’t allowed to work through contract negotiations, while newsroom staff (producers, photographers, editors) were forced to work with (incompetent) replacement workers.

steve locked out
As someone who has only ever wanted to show up and do my job, it was a time I’ll never forget– when the owners of Channel 4 wouldn’t let some of its hardest working, longest tenured employees come to work to provide for their families.
I don’t always agree with every union stance, but whenever I hear someone say unions are past their usefulness, I pray that they never learn first hand how useful a union can be.

The K-Mart Radio Network was my favorite radio station

By Steve Cichon

I was 11 when we moved to Orchard Park.

We lived within walking distance of Taffy’s, McDonald’s, and K-Mart, and when we were bored, we’d shake the couch cushions (or make a small raid on Dad’s change bowl) for a buck or two and head to one of those places to waste some time and get something to eat. I laugh at the thought of me at 11– ordering a small coffee and a hamburger at McDonald’s because it was something like $1.24.

When we had no money– or a lot of money– we’d go wander around K-Mart for hours. Never causing any trouble, just browsing and wishing… Toys, bikes, camping equipment, records, tapes, CDs, electronics, tools, books… We spent A LOT of time and most of our money in there.

The store was about where the Lowes and Tops now stand on Southwestern Blvd. It looked like the K-Mart in this video– But all the K-Marts built in the 70s looked like that.

This K-M-R-T jingle used to play incessantly on the PA at K-Mart… along with the big voiced announcer reading specials and always ending with “Thank you for shopping your Orchard Park K-Mart.”

I snagged this audio clip from this YouTube video:

Looking for help in piecing together Dad’s USMC service

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Since I can’t find the appropriate venue in which to ask these questions, I’ll ask them here– and ask people to share this around so that I might get some answers for my family and me.

The ol’man having a smoke and wearing flip-flops, but no ribbons to help me identify his proper service awards.

In 1973, my father, an E-4, was honorably discharged from the USMC after 3 years 4 months 20 days of service because of physical disability. He spent time stationed in Camp Lejeune, Cuba, Panama, Okinawa and finally, Walter Reed before going home.

My dad always said he had three ribbons on his uniform as a Marine. His official transcript lists only The National Service Medal– but it also shows he qualified for the Good Conduct medal which wasn’t listed (It was one Dad said he got– but they just gave everyone who hung around long enough.)

The third one is a bit of a mystery. He talked about receiving some decoration after Nuclear/ Biological/ Chemical Warfare School (or maybe for some use of that training). The schooling is listed, but the award isn’t.

Does this sound plausible to anyone who’d know? What award might they have given for N/B/C training (or excellence in N/B/C training… or excellence in use of N/B/C training skills) in USMC in 1970?

The only medal listed on the ol'man's DD-214-- The National Defense Service Medal.
The only medal listed on the ol’man’s DD-214– The National Defense Service Medal.

Also, dad talked about being trained in parachuting… and also training others in the use of parachutes. Again, not mentioned on his DD-214… nor is his rifle expert badge, which he talked about proudly. Having been trained in parachuting, that would have qualified him for the parachuting badge, right?

Anyone know someone who might know these answers if you don’t? Internet research is vague and non-specific here, especially since I’m not entirely sure what I’m asking.

I’m also quite positive that “official channels” won’t offer many answers– I’d just like to ask these questions of someone who might have a good idea of what the truth is, regardless of the form that was filled out hastily and improperly 42 years ago.

Dad’s DD-214 is clearly incomplete– all he left the Marines with was the uniform on his back. All of his belongings were stolen when he was transferred from a base hospital to Walter Reed, from where he was honorably discharged. Because he was sick, he was never given the chance to review or sign his separation papers.

unsigned dd214
His separation papers, Form DD-214, was completed using whatever scarce information they had on Dad, at a hospital far from his unit and far from his belongings. He was so sick, he was unable to sign (and more importantly, verify all the information on the form.)

This is all to say, he never bothered trying to amend his records because he had no proof. His paperwork and medals were stolen with his camera, stereo, 8-tracks, and uniforms.

I’m not looking to amend his records– just for the ability to pay proper respect to his military service, and remember him for the commendations he actually received.

Dad-Marine-editThe few photos of him during his time in the Marine Corps don’t show him in regulation uniform— except his boot camp dress blues head shot, which was taken before any of the awards would have been earned.

He was proud of serving his country, but like many who did so, he didn’t like to talk about it much. I wish I had pressed a tiny bit more or taken better notes through the years.

Please feel free to email me with any insight– Thanks.

Mom’s good scissors

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

When we were growing up, my mom was generally pretty steady and even keeled. Under almost every circumstance, she was very difficult to rile.

Unless you touched her scissors.

Sadly, in retrospect, it was a line we crossed regularly with laughter and impunity– we the other heartless bastards of her family.

Poor mom had very little to herself. By the time she graduated grammar school, she had six brothers and sisters. She married at 20 and had three kids by 26.

In all that time, as far as I can tell, the only gosh-darned thing she ever wanted for herself were those scissors.

Now we had scissors all over the house, at least half-a-dozen of those severe heavy steel ones with black handles.

The problem was that each of these pairs of scissors– with the gloss black painted handles– had issues. There wasn’t a perfect pair among them.

Some were dull, some had a loose pivot screw, some had tips broken off. None could zip quickly up wrapping paper like Mom’s could.

In our house, it seemed the best course of action for any cutting need was to rip out a piece of mom’s heart– and rip off her scissors.

These babies were beautiful.

fays measuring cup
The fact that I could find a photo of this exact obscure Fay’s Drugs glass measuring cup online  means that almost everything is on the internet.

Not just merely scissors, these were shears– orange handled shears– sticking out among the pens, pencils, and Emory boards in a Fay’s Drugs measuring cup on mom’s nightstand.

Of course, mom was well within her rights to be so protective.

We were like wild Neanderthals, just barely able to understand the proper use of a crude axe, and this pair of scissors was the precision tool of a seamstress, meant to be used with delicate cloth and thread.

While I’m still not convinced, that as Mom said, “Cutting paper with them will ruin them!”– I do know that something terrible happened to every other pair of scissors in the house to render them somehow useless, and she had every right to be concerned about the future of her scissors in our hands.

For one, my dad had no handyman sense, and it would have been completely plausible that he could have ruined these scissors trying to fix the lawnmower or a leaky drain with them.

Us kids inherited our ol’man’s lack of differentiation of tools, and any of us might have used the scissors to carve a point on a stick or to cut open a pop can like the guy on the Ginzu commercials.

ginzu can

Of course, we’d laugh and laugh when mom would lose her mind over HER scissors… but it’s understandable now, for sure.

Especially when my wife grabs for the kitchen shears out of the knife block to clip coupons.

Even when I hold my tongue, my blood pressure still rises because that’s what we bought those dollar store scissors for– clipping coupons.

It’s pretty much an incontrovertible fact that kitchen shears– meant for food prep stuff– are ruined by coupon clipping.

Just ask my mom.

Summer camp early morning swimming lessons felt like death

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

Something about the damp crispness of this morning made me think of summer camp as a 3rd and 4th grader– and the year when we had swimming lessons in the lake first thing in the morning. The memory comes with a smile, but can’t shake the chill.

It was under the direction of the day camp’s fine 15- 17 year old counselors that I really learned how to swear. My language and discourse became so vile and curse laden there at the age of 8 or 9 that there was no turning back. My pal Jarin and I also became best friends as we skipped tennis lessons to sit in the woods and read aloud from The Truly Tasteless Joke book; memorizing and laughing at jokes we surely didn’t understand— but we knew sounded really adult and dirty.

Had it not been for summer camp, I might have stayed on the straight and narrow and become something important or won a Nobel Prize.  Instead, I can use the eff-word as at least nine different parts of speech and can tell you a litany of ethnic jokes so politically incorrect that I’m surprised I’m not being arrested for even thinking them.

And while I’m comfortable in the water and can move around OK, I still, after three summers, can’t really swim.

The 1930s South Buffalo vehicular tragedies in my family tree

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

I don’t think we always realize how much better we live these days.

Both Grandpa and Grandma Cichon had little siblings killed when they were hit by cars on the streets of South Buffalo.

The Buffalo Evening News’ morbid coverage of Grandma Cichon’s little sister’s death is incredible. Mary Lou Scurr was about a year-and-a-half old when she was run over while playing in a toy car in the street.


marylou2This photo was on the front page, above the fold, May, 1935. Grandma’s little brother Gordon—who was only hours before a witness to the accident which caused the death of his little sister– posed next to the wreckage of the accident. Judging by the description of the scene, it’s fair to assume this mangled car had blood and possibly other remains of his baby sister in it.

Sadly, Gordon Scurr’s next appearance in the news was 11 years later, while in high school, he died of a rare glandular disorder.


Two years later, Grandpa Cichon’s little brother was killed in a similar fashion.

Roman (also called roman3Raymond) Cichon was five years old and fascinated with trucks. He liked to go to the junk yard at the corner of Fulton and Smith Streets in The Valley to see the trucks in action.

His big brother, my grandfather, used to take him there. The way he told it, while Gramps was stealing an apple off a neighbor’s tree, Raymond was “mangled” by a truck. That word “mangled” was one Gramps often used with us in the hundreds of times we crossed Seneca Street to go from his house to Cazenovia Park.

In his 88 year life, the death of Raymond may have been what caused him the most sadness; even worse in some ways than the unbearable loss of 4 of his own children. As he talked about it, I could feel his guilt in not being right there to save his little brother. His use of the word mangle is the only hint of what the scene looked like—but frankly it’s enough.

roman1 roman2


In the end, it certainly wasn’t Gramps’ fault– and the truck driver lost his license. Raymond was killed when that truck bolted onto the sidewalk ran him over.

He was buried at St. Stanislaus cemetery near where another baby Cichon, Czeslaw (aka Chester ) was buried after he died from cancer as a baby.

Great moments of childhood, now tinged with hate

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

The item that was “The Red Ryder b-b gun” of my youth has now been branded as hateful. When I rode my “Dukes of Hazzard” big wheel around the streets of South Buffalo as a 6 and 7 year old, the Dukes stood for what is right and wonderful in this world.

That's me (left) with my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, c.1982
That’s me (left) with my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, c.1982. Note the rebel flag sticker just above the shaking hands.

The Dukes always did the right things, for the right reasons, the right way. (Except maybe climbing into their car through the window without opening the door– Copying that move in our old AMC Spirit got me in trouble a few times.)

I don’t think I gave much thought to the “rebel flag” that was clearly a featured emblem on their car “The General Lee,” and also, as seen in this photo, clearly a part of my big wheel. I really hope you don’t find it racist that I still harbor warm feelings for my big wheel and my one-time favorite TV show (even though you couldn’t pay me to watch more than five minutes of it now– not because it’s racist, but because it’s dumb.)

Of course, in the years since cruising down Allegany Street in the saddle of my orange plastic pride and joy, I’ve given plenty of thought to the meaning of that flag.

First I’ll say seeing it fly makes me uncomfortable. But I’ll also say, I’m certain there are many who have displayed that flag who are not racist. I’m also certain that not everyone who has displayed the flag has done so with the thought of doing so as emblematic of racism or a racist culture.

I honestly and earnestly believe that the familiar rebel flag offers many folks a feeling of connection to ancestors and a sense of pride in history. But when you fly a flag… or put a bumper sticker on your car… you are allowing a symbol to represent you, and symbols always have nuanced meaning for every individual under the sun.

Many of us all have a visceral reaction and likely pass immediate judgement about people who put those place oval stickers on their cars. What might be true of someone who likes Key West? The Outer Banks? Ellicottville? How about a Yankees bumper sticker? Or a Vote Bush sticker? Or a Vote Obama sticker? How about MD physician plates on a Honda Civic? MD plates on a BMW SUV? A rubber scrotum hanging from the tow hitch?

It’s fair to say that each of these different instances will cause different reactions in each one of us. It’s also fair to say that each of these reactions were created by someone making a choice on how to present themselves in public.

Generally, I know my reaction to someone flaunting the rebel flag is a negative one. Regardless of what the symbol means to that person inside, I wonder how they can offer that symbol up as representative of who they are– when we all know for so many people it means little other than backwards racism.

But here again, I understand the dichotomy, as I warmly remember the care-free summers I spent cruising around my neighborhood, my ride emblazoned with what is now an official symbol of hate.