Piles of Existential Crises (or as you see it, books and junk)

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

It’s never been a conscious effort to replicate the junk piles of my ancestors, but even when I was young, I was fascinated by the grandparents who surrounded themselves with interesting stuff.

Grandpa Wargo’s house was a packed menagerie of wonderment, made even more special by the fact that everything was at least 30 years old and in like new condition. It was very neatly kept, but there was a lot of it, and much of it very exotic to my eyes. It was also the smell, which was something akin to, but not quite, anise-like. When we’d visit, he’d make me sit on the newspapers that he would pile up on the springy couch so that I could “flatten them out.” My dad and I painted his front railing once, and the can of black paint he procured from the basement looked like something he smuggled out of his job at Pratt & Letchworth in the 1930s.

For as tidy, new, and organized as Grandpa Wargo’s stuff felt, Grandpa Coyle’s was just as messy, piled, and chaotic. The 1880’s basement on Hayden Street was filled with old dishwashers, a ringer wash machine, my uncles’ old sporting equipment, and hundreds of scraps of wood, door knobs, bits of glass plate, and rusty tools. It really would have been a childhood paradise were it not for the healthy dose of fear created by the medieval looking rat traps hiding around most corners.

The moment you walked into Grandma Cichon’s front door, there was an overloaded, wall-to-ceiling bookshelf. It was in the little foyer between the screen door and the heavy door in the Seneca Street Victorian– in the place where most people might put coat hooks. It was an eclectic haphazard collection– one of many eclectic haphazard collections spewn throughout the old South Buffalo house. Our coats would go on the carved oak newel post.

Even though I admired the gargantuan clutter clatches of my grandparents, I fostered no plan to replicate them. Yet here I am.

Having lived in our own big old house for 15 years, I’ve collected enough rubble and detritus to make the junk-accumulating pioneers in my life proud. I don’t think the pride would come from the stuff, though– it’s the type of thinking the stuff represents.

How am I supposed to fix something when it breaks, if I don’t have a basement crushed to the gills with useless bric-a-brac which could one day be the missing piece in making sure the door knob stops falling off the front door? I’m sure people do it– fix without junk– but I learned how to fix stuff by watching Grandpa Wargo and Grandpa Coyle. Step one was always go stare at your junk for a while, and hope a solution jumps out at you.

basementjunk
A small portion of my basement work bench.

I would love a clean, sanitized basement without frankly embarrassing piles of mad-scientist/Rube-Goldberg-looking junk everywhere… But I’m afraid– and it’s a real fear– that I’ll lose some part of who I am without the stuff. How do I move onto step two in the repair process without step one?

 

I’ve been thinking about how to fix the door knob for weeks, and the answer is not in the basement junk. Both grandpas would be happy with my solution, I think… It’s going to start with the same long stare– not in the cellar, but on the “nut and bolt” aisle at Home Depot.

It seems to work more and more like that these days, with my rusty old stuff in the basement acting as more of a security blanket than as useful things. If I can continue to think this way, the upcoming basement clean out should be easier. (LOL.)

What started me writing today, though, is my books. I’ve always had books and always had a bookshelf. For as long as I can remember. When we bought our house, I built and stained immense wooden bookshelves on both sides of the exposed brick of the chimney in our office. I loved idea of being surrounded by books, and that one day I’d have those shelves filled.

Of course, now it looks like a ladies guild buck-a-bag sale in there. Books are piled on the floor and on the desk and, in a trick I learned in Grandma Cichon’s front hall, sideways on top of books properly upright on the shelves.

Most of the books I buy these days are Buffalo and Western New York histories and reference volumes. These are all keepers– Both old and new– all filled with information you can’t find online. Online. There’s the rub.

The first quarter-century of my book collecting came before the Internet and the e-Book. I have half a shelf of really great dictionaries, thesauruses (thesauri?), and wonderful language resource and reference books which have gone untouched for at least a decade. Wonderful history texts, too. Spine literally not exercised in ten years.

There are also the paperbacks which for decades I so vigorously foraged. Classics, interesting old biographies, best sellers of decades’ past– anything that might make for a good vacation or rainy weekend read down the line. Most are now dust-covered and more forlorn-looking than when I plucked them from a yard sale or library fundraising pile.

grandmatodad
A gift from Grandma to Dad… the inside cover of a hardcover bound collection of Superman comic books.

The most complicated group of books are the ones that mean something to me. Not the stories; the actual books. Some are transplanted from that mythical shelf at Grandma’s… Some even have her writing in them. Plenty were Dad’s, annotated in his very heavy handed, unintelligible scrawl. With still others, holding the book takes me to the place where I read it. Physically, mentally, emotionally.

The problem with all these books are they are as much bricks as books. They are of little tangible use to me, and they actually take space away from my Buffalo book collection which I use quite vigorously and enthusiastically.

I know I won’t be using them as books– well, only insofar as anyone uses books as window dressing to look learned when their bookshelves are examined.

I’m not exactly happy with myself over this, but I’ve completely forsaken the smelly paperbacks with degrading paper for the tablet. A piece of me has died just writing that sentence, but it’s true. And there isn’t likely any going back.

And while I have warm memories of dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri?) in every room of my house, for better or worse, the World Wide Web is really a remarkable resource in these areas. I’m not sure what Grandma Cichon would have thought of this, but it’s the cold truth.

I sat down to write this tonight as I was having an existential crisis while trying to cull out the jetsam and flotsam of book collection. I don’t want to be someone without great books, but I don’t want to be a phony, either.

There will certainly be room for the Buffalo books and most of the meaningful ones, too– although I may have to find a less reflective day to decide where that meaningful line is drawn.

bookjunk
Each of these silly paperbacks are a tangible reminder of many things– including that I probably need some sort of therapy.

Maybe a box or two might make it to the attic for further reflection, but those smelly paperbacks (which believe me, I still love!) will likely be boxed up and shipped out for their next rescue. I’ll drop them off with the same hope that people have when they drop off dogs and cats at a shelter, but the reality will probably be the same.

I hope my paperbacks– some of which have made 4 or 5 moves with me– will find a good home on a good bookshelf somewhere. Maybe they’ll even be read on the MetroRail on the way home from work… or maybe they’ll be read as the big raindrops hit the window and the smell of percolated coffee wafts through the air inside the slightly muggy-but-now-cooling-off state park cabin.

But we know the truth. Anyone who wants to read Huckleberry Finn can either download it– or at least find a copy where the pages don’t disintegrate and break from the binding with each advance in the book.

I always loved that struggle, and felt somehow more high-brow in the low-brow of it all. Now I feel high-brow when I read great novels on my phone instead of cruising on Facebook.

It’s not better or worse. It’s the same and it’s different. It’s a soul crushing crisis.

Lately not so much– but the Top Ten reasons I’ll love Dave forever….

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

My intense love affair with David Letterman started in our basement family room in front of the huge RCA console TV my dad bought at FWS in the Como Park Mall.

The volume was on the lowest possible setting with sound still coming out. This was the 80’s, and the set had fancy new stereo sound. I turned the balance to the right, and pressed my ear up to the single speaker that still had sound coming out so I could hear Letterman’s monologue and first bit before going back to bed to get up for school at 6:30.

I don’t think little 11 or 12 year old Stevie was ever caught watching Letterman at 12:45 as the rest of the house slept, but the exhilarating mix of fear and excitement are with me even now thinking about it. So that’s number ten. Dave was my rebellious stage.

I think all that points to how Dave and I might have drifted apart. In the mid-80s, he was a goofy overnight bad-boy TV host with bad hair, and I was a little kid who loved people who loved to make me laugh– but lived in fear that my mom would kill me if the sound from the TV woke her up. Also, my haircut came from Tony “The Barber” Scaccia on Seneca Street in South Buffalo.

Thirty years later, and we’ve both changed. Dave is richer than Rockefeller and late night royalty, but still with bad hair. I’m now a lumpy middle aged guy who loves people who love to make me laugh– but I live in fear that my wife will kill me if the glow of my iPhone wakes her up. Also, my haircut still comes from Tony “The Barber” Scaccia on Seneca Street in South Buffalo.

On to number nine–Grandma Cichon. It was my crazy-in-mostly-good-ways Grandma Cichon who put me onto Letterman when I was about ten years old. I think we were sleeping over at her house one night, when I first saw Johnny Carson’s monologue. It changed my life. It was like the news (which I loved and watched with my dad everyday), but it was funny. Jokes about the people in the news. Incredible.

I’d stay up (or more likely sneak up) and watch Carson whenever I could– the monologue and first bit, anyway. The only person I could to talk about the great, hilarious things I heard from Johnny was Grandma. My parents didn’t watch Carson– Dad turned off the news after the news part (he didn’t need weather and sports.) There weren’t many of my 6th grade friends watching Carson either.

So, when I’d regularly ride my bike from Orchard Park to Seneca Street in South Buffalo to visit with Grandma Cichon, Grandma Coyle, Gerry at the Paperback Trading Post, and Tony the Barber– I knew I’d be able to talk Johnny with Grandma Cichon. One day, she told me I should watch Letterman, and I was never one to disobey my grandmother. And so it began.

The number eight reason I’ll always love Letterman: I always enjoy a lovely beverage.

Number seven… for better or for worse, his TV persona has always been a reflection of who he really is. He’s an old crank now, and we see that on TV. Was Carson (who Dave is always seemingly compared to) better because he faked being a nice guy really well, and viewers might not have known that he was an abusive drunken womanizing bastard?

While I don’t really like this cranky old Dave, I think I’d like it better than having a cranky old man pretend like he was having fun running around catapulting meat products against the sides of buildings every day for a month.

The number six reason I’ll love David Letterman forever: Cigars. Big fat ones. For those who don’t remember, back in the old days, Dave used to come back from commercial breaks taking a last puff or two on a big cigar. Not so much long, but thick– a big ring gauge.

Two of the funniest people in my world were Dave and Groucho Marx, so I guess I thought smoking cigars would make me funnier. The great part is, in 1988, literally no one under the age of 80 smoked cigars. At 12 or 13 years old, I could walk into a drug store and buy cigars without a second thought– unless the thought was, “How nice that this young man is buying cigars for his Grandpa.”

The first one I smoked, I found in a drawer at Grandma Cichon’s house. The first pack I bought was at Rite Aid at the McKinley Mall (sorry Mom, I wasn’t going to a movie. I was going to the mall to smoke cigars.) I always wanted to find a fat one like the ones Dave smoked, and that took me on my bike up to Smoker’s Haven– which is still on Union Road in West Seneca. Again, as a 15 year old, I’d buy the big fat (cheap) Te-Amo cigars there without question.

I still smoke one or two cigars a year, maybe one on vacation. I was in the cigar store the other day, and still– thirty years later– found myself drawn to those fat 60-ring gauge monster stogies.

So I had Dave’s cigars as a young man, and at number five you’ll find another fashion trend I borrowed from Dave– double breasted suits. The first four suits I bought by myself were double breasted. They are still sharp, but it’s hard to look casual in a double breasted suit. And once you add a bow tie to your double breasted ensemble, it’s really hard to look avoid looking like you stepped out of 1947.

SteveSeniorPhoto
Senior photo, double breasted suit, trying to look serious.

Number four– my senior yearbook quote. Twenty years ago right now, I, along with the rest of the Orchard Park Class of 1995, was getting my senior yearbook. I think most of what goes on in high school is completely asinine, but believe it or not, that stance has softened greatly since the time I was actually in high school.

One thing I really thought was stupid was this general notion among many that “this was this best time of our lives,” and “we’ll never have more fun or be more happy,” blah, blah, blah.

Again, I have softened a bit on that through the years, but I can also say confidently that I was right: for me the best was yet to come. I still feel that way today.

Anyway, that notion of “greatest time ever” is reflected at it’s peak in senior statements/thank yous/quotes. I knew I really wouldn’t remember 5th period science or intramural basketball “4-ever,” so I decided to thank a list of funny people, politicians, news personalities, and radio stations– including of course Letterman.

SteveSeniorYBquote
I was mad that they misprinted the middle initial of NBC’s bow tie wearing newsman Irving R. Levine. I mentioned him even though he wasn’t in my senior study hall.

I acknowledge that my list is just as stupid as any other of the few hundred in that yearbook, but it was resoundingly substantive for me then, and it was also something different.

And the intention was to make you smile, if not at the joke, than the stupidity of it. That’s a Letterman trademark, and leads into the next on the Top Ten Reasons I’ll Always Love Dave…

Number three: he showed me the path to a great mix of intelligence and stupidity. I try to be really good at both of those things. I may have figured it out on my own, but having a little help at 12:35 every night didn’t hurt.

Number two is more of a technical appreciation that I’ve come to as a long time journalist and broadcaster. Being a good interviewer isn’t easy, but Dave generally makes it look so because he adapts in many, tiny nuanced ways to put his guests in the best light possible. Sometimes this means taking charge, sometimes taking a backseat.

Especially with the greats, Dave not only played his role, but relished it. No one can keep up with Don Rickles. Too many try. Many others laugh, which doesn’t really help Rickles. Dave knows how to let Rickles be the best Rickles.

Even now, while he might seem like grandpa interviewing some flavor of the week starlet, I think he does the best, most prohibitive-while-still-friendly interviews around.

And the number one reason I’ll love David Letterman forever… Three words: Larry Bud Melman.

Great Grandma Wargo: South Buffalo’s hard working washer woman

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

Grandma Coyle and her grandma
The caption was written by Grandma Coyle’s father… my Great-Grandpa Steve Wargo.

My great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Wargo, holds my grandmother, June Coyle. Lizzie came to America from Hungary in 1906… 10 years and six kids later, she was widowed in a foreign land. Working as a wash woman, she earned enough money to feed her kids and buy the home she’s standing in front of– 527 Hopkins Street in South Buffalo.

I’ve been looking at this photo pretty much my entire life. It was in the big blue photo album that grandma had in her sewing room.

I remember the awe I felt when grandma said something along the lines of “that’s me with my grandma.”

For all the time I spent studying this photo and a few others which were probably taken the same day almost 85 years ago, I never once noticed the outfit– the uniform– my great-great grandmother is wearing.

Wargo Elizabeth 1930 census

She was a domestic servant. The 1930 census says she was a “laundress” with a “private family.”

daisy downtonIn essence, she was one of the downstairs people on Downton Abbey. Right down to the shoes, her dress looks like something you might see Daisy wear on Downton.

Looking at this photo of my grandmother and her grandmother, and thinking about her hard work and sacrifice swells me with thanks.

All that is beautiful in our lives is the result of so much sacrifice by generations of people who couldn’t even imagine us… It’s really humbling. This tough little immigrant woman fought through life for me.

When you get to know your ancestors, it’s hard to take credit for anything. Realizing the generations of sacrifice offered so that I had the opportunity to live the life I do is the ultimate exercise in modesty.

Buffalo’s Medical Campus, The Iroquois Brewery, and a branch of my family tree

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

Most of us who were born and raised in Buffalo feel strong ties to this place, and a feel a terrific bond whether we live here or not— and whether we particularly like it or not.

In most cases, it’s a generational thing, too. If we think at all about our roots, we think about our fathers and grandfathers who worked in dangerous plants to provide better lives for us. We think about the loving homes and families managed by our mothers and grandmothers. We think about how of all the places in the world our ancestors could have come after long voyages over the sea, they chose here.

All four of my grandparents were born and raised in Buffalo. All eight of my great-grandparents lived in Buffalo. Some were born here, some traveled from Pennsylvania, some from Scotland and England, some from Poland. In all, dating back to the 1820s, I have 37 grandparents who have called Buffalo home.

Knowing my family’s history, and seeing it in virtually every Buffalo neighborhood, only underscores my love and appreciation of our great city, the way it was, and the exciting imaginings of what is to come.

I enjoy seeing my family tree reflected in the great new things happening here, and it’s fun to trace. One adventure started in the 1906 Buffalo City Directory.

Greiner1906JosephP&FredWHighlight
from the 1906 Buffalo City Directory

My mother’s mother’s mother was Jeannette Greiner-Wargo. Her great-great grandparents (and one third-great grandfather) came to Buffalo from the tumultuous Bas-Rhin area along the French-German border in 1827 and 1830.

Catherine Greiner, my fifth-great aunt, was among the first babies baptized at the newly-built log-hewn St. Louis Church in Downtown Buffalo in 1832.

Anyway, I know I am related to a handful of the folks listed on this city directory page, but Joseph P. Greiner is my third-great grandfather, and his son, Fred W. Greiner, is my second-great grandfather.

I had never heard of the streets on which they lived, so I started in on some research– which took me to Buffalo’s promising new home of medical research.

burton2015
Burton Street once continued through the area now occupied by Trico Plant #1, the Trico parking lot, and government housing between the plant and Michigan Avenue.

 

09 sep 1928 CE Trico expands Burton Alley
Buffalo Courier-EXPRESS, 1928.

Joseph and Mary Greiner lived on Burton Street, which in 1906, ran from Main Street to Michigan Avenue, one block north of Goodell.

A portion of Burton Street was deeded to Trico to expand its now historic Plant #1 in 1928.

Later, urban renewal ate up the rest of the ramshackle housing along Burton Street to create government-subsidized housing on a new streetscape.

Today, Burton Street exists only as an utterly useless single block with no front-facing buildings from Main to Washington.

Jospeph Prentis Greiner and his wife Mary Atkinson
Joseph P. and Mary Greiner

 

neptune alley
Buffalo C-E, 1955. Neptune Alley was called Ketchum Alley until 1893.

In 1905 or 1906, Frederick W. Greiner married Jeanette Loewer and moved a few blocks north of his parents to Neptune Alley. What a great street name!

Neptune Alley ran north/south between Carlton and High Streets, and was deeded to Roswell Park Memorial Institute to make way for a parking lot in 1955.

The Greiner family only lived on Neptune Alley for a very short time. They soon moved a few blocks away to 67 Maple Street, which stood on a block which is now a parking lot for St. John Baptist Church.

Frederick William Greiner
Frederick William Greiner lived on Neptune Alley– now the site of Roswell Park Cancer Institute– before moving to the East Side to be closer to his work as a bottler at the Iroquois Brewery. He died in 1949.

To be closer to Fred’s job as a bottler at the Iroquois Brewery, they then moved to 67 Adams Street between Peckham and William. This neighborhood still stands, but the house is gone.

In 1940, they lived at 414 Madison Street between Jefferson and Sycamore, and a few years later, 481 Hickory near Sycamore.  They moved around quite a bit.

My grandmother remembered her grandmother as living in a house with a wrap-around porch on a corner near Sycamore and Jefferson Streets.

Grandma Coyle’s grandma was 4-feet, 11 inches tall and she used to chase the neighborhood kids off that corner porch with a broom.

At 5-foot-2, Grandma Coyle would mention her grandma’s height every time we would make fun of how short she was.

grandma coyle and her grandma greiner 1944
Thirteen year old Grandma Coyle and her Grandma Greiner, 1944. In the backyard of Grandma Coyle’s childhood home on Tifft Street.

I love family history and I love Buffalo’s history. It’s really exciting for me that they are one in the same.

Five years later, I miss my Ol’Man to the moon and back

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

Intellectually, I know there is no time or space in heaven, so today is just a glorious, random day in an eternity of glorious random days.

I further know in heaven, we have no need for our earthly contrivances, because in spirit we are perfection.

Intellectually, I know these things. It doesn’t mean I can truly comprehend what they really mean.

My dad went to his eternal reward five years ago today. It’s a wonderful blessing to firmly believe that our loved ones die from this life into a more beautiful forever.

In our perfectly human struggle to understand and explore what we can’t grasp, we often try to define the undefinable with comparisons to other undefinable things we’ve thought about a little bit more.

In 2006, Americans sent nearly 38 billion plastic water bottles to landfills. If laid end to end, that’s enough bottles to travel from the Earth to the Moon and back 10 times.

For some reason, an inconceivable number like 38 billion is easier to comprehend when we say it could make 10 round trips to the moon. This is silly, since most of us don’t really have a firm concept of how far away the moon is, besides really, really far away (which is where I would imagine 38,000,000,000 stacked water bottles would take me anyway.)

Sometimes it’s helpful for me– and any of us, I imagine– to picture our loved ones in perfection in heaven. Since we can’t understand perfection, we put it in earthly terms that we know aren’t even close to how things really are up there.

So my ol’man is in heaven. Five years today. He was recently joined by my mom-in-law there.  I smile that they are there, and that they are there together.

These two were a lot alike in their earthly lives, but one way sort of flashed at me this morning. They both loved cigarettes. In fact, they both smoked Parliament, until after years of being badgered by medical professionals and family, they both gave up the habit. But neither ever stopped thinking about– or talking about– smoking and the pleasure it brought them. It’s an eerily similar story for both.

I know if either one had been able to create their own version of heaven, it would have included a cigarette vending machine in the corner and an endless supply of quarters.  It also would have a kitchen table with ashtrays, mugs of coffee, and swirling smoke.

dad and pam smoke
The whole notion of these two smoking in heaven is ridiculous, and might even make someone mad. But it’s what flashed in my head this morning, and it fits. I love and miss them both.

I know heaven brings them the joy of smoking without even thinking of a puff, but some how for me, picturing them happy is easier with a butt in hand– like stacking bottles to the moon.

So today, I imagine Dad and Mom-in-law sitting at that heavenly kitchen table. They are talking and smiling, sharing a pack of Parliaments, and enjoying their heavenly life to the fullest, looking down upon all of us who love and miss them, their hearts full with the knowledge that we will all be together someday.

For us here, talking about how much you miss someone who is a piece of you is trying to put into words the indefinable. Dad’s been gone for five years, Pam for 16 days.

The yearning and sadness feels like the like the moon and back in both cases, but at the same time, the everlasting love from each is always as close as my heart.

Previous writings about My Ol’Man:

  • My Ol’man and Me: My dad died at age 58. I’ve really become accustomed to dealing with grief by writing about the people and things I love, and what it is and why it is that I love them. Written in the weeks following my dad’s death on Palm Sunday, 2010. The story of his last week alive, and a reflection of our relationship and time together. Read it here, and download it as a free e-book.

Astigmatism, My Ol’Man, and Leonard Nimoy

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

I got glasses in seventh grade. My vision was really bad and I didn’t really know. I remember looking at a pine tree out our front window, and being marveled by being able to make out the needles; not just seeing a big green blob.

Sixth grade was a mess. We moved to Orchard Park late that summer, and as a late add to every class, I sat in the last seat every time. I didn’t realize it was unusual, but I couldn’t see the board at all.

It’s because of all this, I taught myself the most memorable skills I learned in middle school.

As my grades suffered in Social Studies and Math because I was blind and sitting in the back, I figured out how to do two Mr. Spock moves: make my hand make the “live long and prosper” sign, and make one eyebrow go up while the other one goes down.
These are both actions which take some muscle memory, and had someone realized I needed glasses a year earlier, I might not have had an entire academic year to train those muscles.

Star Trek was one of those shows I watched with my dad a lot growing up. It always seemed to be on, which made him selective.

There were “dumb ones,” episodes Dad thought were stupid and didn’t stand up to the standards he set for the show.

We wouldn’t watch the dumb ones, but the good ones, my dad laughed at the jokes and cheered when they won every time like it was the first time he’d ever seen it. He especially loved Spock, and was lovingly amused at his different ways in the same way Captain Kirk was.

Spock was someone we could always agree on. He’s a great character. He’s forever denying his humanity; which, ironically, is one of humanity’s most prevalent traits.

Nimoy’s calm demeanor and resonant voice brought the best of Spock with him no matter what else he was doing. Dad and I loved him on “In Search of..” as well.

Not many people can specifically remember something striking they learned in sixth grade.

I learned to be a little more Vulcan, and therefore a little more human. And grew a little closer to my dad.

Thanks Leonard Nimoy. Rest in peace.

Dontcha just miss a good ol’fashioned milk machine?

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

milkmachine

This is a scene that played itself out over and over on streets all over Buffalo for much of the 20th century.

It was tough to walk a block or two without hitting a neighborhood tavern or a milk machine.

Though far fewer in number, of course there are still neighborhood gin mills, but the milk machines have gone away.

The machines began popping up in the city in the mid-1950’s. By the mid-1990s, the milk machines were all but extinct, with the last ones gone just after 2000.

The one I remember more than any other was next to B-kwik on Seneca Street, across from St. Teresa’s.  The milk machine stood outside against what was the back wall of B-kwik– That spot was built out and is now Tim Hortons.

Although Grandma Coyle, who lived a block away on Hayden Street, had milk delivered from the milk man, occasionally she’d still have me go buy more from the milk machine. Grandma Cichon, who lived further down Seneca, would send me to Fay’s in the old Twin Fair Plaza to buy milk. It was cheaper there, but i can also remember having to take back a carton or two because it was expired.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa Cichon

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

Today is Grandpa Cichon’s 89th birthday in heaven…

gramps and aunt mary

I imagine him wearing a leisure suit up there cutting a rug to celebrate… just like here– dancing with his sister Mary (who, along with her twin Olga, was also born on Valentine’s Day, four years before Gramps.)

It’s a good deal that the man with the biggest heart ever was born on Valentine’s Day.

Putting together the pieces of family history

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I wish Gramps was around to share this with him, just got it today. This is 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, who treated him poorly for a variety of reasons. Because of some genealogical research I was doing, 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.

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. A part of me that I’m really proud of was born to a couple of Polish peasants in Southeast Poland in 1893. I’m glad to know it.

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.