Max the Dog: 15 Jun 2001- 14 May 2011

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

BUFFALO, NY — As I begin to write this, I’m sitting here, typing with one hand on my phone, petting Max with the other, waiting for the call from the vet to bring him in. For the last time.

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He hasn’t eaten in 5 days, won’t even look at food. Can’t drink more than a few laps without spitting it up.

X-rays show a big tumor blocking up his belly.

Max came to us from the SPCA almost a decade ago. He was Monica’s first real pet, and the first pet I’ve ever had any real emotional attachment to…

We had dogs growing up, and they were ok, but in a house of 5, I was certainly less connected to Buckshot, Snoop, or Casey than my parents or brother or sister.

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Casey fell in love with Monica when we were dating, and it was that literal puppy love which helped Monica get over the emotional scars of a dog bite from when she was a little girl (even though she’ll still tell you ‘Butch is in hell.’)

With Butch in hell,emotional scars healed, and us newlyweds in a big house, Monica decided she wanted a dog. When Monica decides she wants something, she starts researching.

Early research took her to the SPCA website, and the page featuring a friendly mutt named Max.

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I don’t remember exactly what was in that write up, but he sounded like my kind of dog, and the photo showed he was a handsome and sweet looking character. It did mention that he was a mixed breed of unknown origin (they said shepherd/lab, but who knows?), and they said that though he showed some signs of abuse (his tail was chopped and his ears were cut), he was still very loving.

When we went to go visit this young man at the SPCA, Max was the only dog sitting quietly with anticipation, while the rest were barking and trying to get our attention.

I walked up to the chain link cage he was in, put my hand up to it, and he gave my hand a quick, dry lick. One of my big hang ups– any dog we got couldn’t be a slobberer.

That quick visit, and that dry lick, had me convinced on Max. In her heart, Monica was, too, but this was an early instance of a discussion we’ve had many times during our marriage. I always say, if you’ve found something you like, and it’s reasonable, just pull the trigger.

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Even though Monica’s patience has saved us hundreds on airfares, for example, this time it cost us a dog we both wanted.

She really liked him, but said let’s think about, let’s wait. So, we didn’t get him that day.

When, a couple days later, we went back, convinced on Max, ready to sign the paperwork, we found his cage empty.

He’d been adopted. Very traumatic, especially for Monica who’d had her heart set on this creature.

We went home and regrouped. Scanned the SPCA website again, and were ready to go meet some more animals.

We pulled in to the parking lot, and there, literally being taken out of a minivan and back into the shelter, tail wagging the whole time… None other than Max the Dog!

You wouldn’t have believed it if it was written this way in a Hallmark movie, but here it is playing out on Ensminger Road.

He was too energetic, said whomever it was that tried him on for a few days.

Clearly, divine providence brought this fur bag into our lives. I have believed this from day one.

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There’s always that feeling out period for both the dog and the people… He was deathly afraid of the crate, so we blocked off an area in the front hall with baby gates. He was afraid of the baby gates, too, this 60 pound dog.

Eventually, though, he gained free roam of the house and our hearts.

For about two years, I woke up every morning to the sound of him killing the washcloth Monica had just washed her face with. Actually, I woke up to the sound of him thrashing the washcloth in his mouth about half the time. The other half, I woke up to Monica swearing about the dog and the washcloth.

We agreed early on that we’d keep him off the furniture, and I’d yell at him if he was found on the couch or on the bed. What I eventually found out, was Monica was letting him up on the couch and bed when I wasn’t home. All and all, it’s fair to say Max got more use out of my bed over the last decade than I did.

maxtoy

After he gave up the washcloth, this beast found a new way to wake me up. He’d repeatedly back his rump into the bed, until I reached over and gave the whole area around his tail a good scratching, then he’d hop into bed, and lay with his back stretched out against mine, laying like a human with his head on the pillow.

This dog really had a near perfect personality. He was always happy and hopeful. A bit high maintenance, but he paid it back. He’d just walk up, give you one of those dry licks on the hand and walk away. Nothing wanted, nothing needed. Just a hello.

He was a great dog, but he had a pea sized brain. He knew quite a few words. There were three different words for outside.

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Outside is where you went out the back door. Porch is where you went out the from door, and the side door, well, that’s from where you went for a walk. Probably half of his vocabulary revolved around walks. he knew the work walk, the word leash, and if you just said the word, “Go,” and left it dangling the right way, he’d think you were inviting him for a walk whether you were or not.

Other words he knew: Bowl, as in his food bowl; bed, as in it’s time for bed, so I’d better run upstairs and try to claim my place on the bed; he also knew toy; and Momma and Poppa, as in, Where’s your Momma. He’d always take me to Monica.

I tried to insist that I wasn’t a poppa, but a ‘male owner.’ Max never understood that.

His favorite word though, beyond a doubt: cheese.

He could hear the cheese drawer open from anywhere in the house, even the yard. He also knew the sound of American cheese singles being unwrapped, and could some how differentiate between that and other plastic wrappers.

He begged for cheese in the same way he’d beg for at dinner. It wasn’t really aggressive, it was just passive and pathetic. Sitting at attention, eyes fixed on the prize, drips of drool in the corners of the mouth ands on the floor, and the occasional paw in the air or on the leg. He knew he had to ‘sit’ and give ‘paw,’ two more of his words.

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Sometimes he wouldn’t beg, but use the tricks he’d learned to get what he wanted. Like ask to go outside, make a quick circle on the back porch, and head back in expecting a treat. He was funny with treats. He’d look in your hand; if it was empty, he knew to look in his bowl. For something extra special, you could tell him, upstairs… and he would run to the top of the stairs to wait for his treat.

Max was probably a world record holder in two categories. Number of photographs taken of a dog, and number of nicknames. He knew all of his nicknames. Most curse words he responded to, but also Stinky boy, smelly man, The Stinky Man on Campus, little man, Mr. Man (like the old lady on the Blues Brothers), young man, old man, gray beard, fur bag, fur ball, fur burger, MTD the PYT (think Michael Jackson), buddy, pal, really you name it. Many of these were also set to songs. There’s a third record. No dog has ever had more impromptu songs written and sang about him to him. Ever.

It’s also a little known fact that Max talked. It was through me,but he did have his own distinct voice. He mispronounced big words, and made a lot of jokes about Monica, but he always apologized. I think it’s comforting for both Monica and me that some how Max can still communicate with us from the other side.

Whenever we’d walk in the door, most times you’d see one of two things: Either him standing on the landing on the stair case wagging his tail, or, if we fumbled around outside enough, you’d see nothing but a tail wagging through the window on the door on the other side of the foyer. Maybe a nose sticking through if that door was cracked open.

When I was home and Monica wasn’t, there wasn’t a sound he loved more than the sound of her car doors locking with that half beep. He’d be watching out the front window, nosing open the curtains, tail wagging– rear end wagging, actually, in anticipation of the whole family being together again. He get really excited at the notion.

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When sitting in the living room, we often knew the other was home by the thump-thump sound of Max jumping off the bed in the bedroom above us. He was getting up to greet. Part of his job, along with sniffing and licking.

He’d stand on the porch and wiggle if someone’d open the front door. A greeting from Max meant you’re home.

He loved to sniff bags as we came home from shopping, and liked clothes and shampoo as well as food.

Maxbabushka

Good ol’ Max was a lover, not a fighter. Never bit anyone. Never. Not even playing. He’d growl pretty mean sometimes, look like he was going to bite, but then lick.

He did this most nights, when it was time to leave our bed, go outside, and then go on his bed.

Just a ‘Hey, Max…’ and he knew what was up. Sometimes he’d go without a fight. Sometimes he’d try to be dead weight and not move…. Growl when I’d grab his collar… and then sometimes, if he really didn’t feel like going, he’d go and sit on Monica. Oh yeah, Max was a 60 pound lap dog.

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He wasn’t tough at all. One time, on a walk, a big dog came running off a porch at us; Max got behind me.

Another time, a little bunny got stuck in between the rails of our iron fence. He was really jammed in there good. Max just sat there, in the rain, and whined.

There weren’t many rabbits in the yard, because that was Max’s territory. He walked the perimeter a dozen times a day on patrol.

In the winter, you’d look in the smallish square city backyard, and see paw prints all around the outside, but no tracks at all in the middle.

And though it was across the street, he also considered the walkway into the park part of his territory. Which meant a lot of barking, every time someone walked with their dog into the park. Dozens of times a day. It was a friendly bark though, more or less trying to get the other dogs to come over to play, tailing wagging the whole time. That is, except for the ugly dogs.

These three or four rare breeds live around the corner from us, and their owner takes them on walks, one right after another. Max’s fur gets up, and its an angry bark when these dogs use his path into the park. He did not like these ugly dogs. Not one bit. They may have been the only creatures on this planet Max ever hated.

Aside from warning us the 16 times the ugly dogs walked by everyday, Max did have one real watch dog moment in the sun.

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One Saturday morning, Max was barking, strangely, out the back window very loudly.

We let him outside, and he was barking crazily with fur up at the garage door.

The lock was broken off, and the crack head was still in there. My good boy barking like crazy sent the crack head out the back window into a neighboring yard, where he leapt over a 6 foot fence. Dude must have been high as a kite.

It’s still a popular debate whether Max would have licked or bit the guy had he run out the front door.

I could write stories for days, but the bottom line is, this bag of fur has brought more joy and left me more in awe of God’s wonder than few other other things in life.

The end came quickly. Tuesday we went for a great walk through the park and through the neighborhood.

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Wednesday, we woke up to vomit all over the hallway. He didn’t get any better Thursday, and wasn’t eating or drinking. Still throwing up, and going to the bathroom in the house.

Friday, the vet does x-rays, gives some medicine, says let’s see what happens tomorrow. My heart sank. I knew what had to be done. Monica was texting me from work, asking what’s going on at the vet. I tried to be vague, but Monica is too smart for that.

His last day, that Friday night, he spent a lot of time laying in that yard he used to patrol. Listless. Trying to drink a little, only to spit it up.

Monica and I sat with him on the grass, and petting him, trying to make him comfortable, and at least happy that the family was together.

I know I was thinking of the times when he’d run in circles around the yard, started off with a ‘Hey Max!’ and taking an exaggerated step in his direction.

He spent his last night on our bed with us, a treat usually only reserved for thunderstorms or when we’d feel guilty about leaving him home alone too long.

None of the three of us slept really well; so we got up early that Saturday, and went to sit on the porch. Porch was probably Max’s third favorite word. He laid there, very weak after having not eaten or been able to keep down even water for 4 days as we waited for the vet to call.

We knew what was coming, but it was still like a sucker punch to hear the vet say euthanasia that morning.

He had been doing a little better that morning… Even though we knew better, we had hoped with the kind of hope that Max showed every time we put sneakers on (No Max, we had to tell him… We’re not going for a walk.)

But Max was happy when they brought in the fluffy bedspread for him to lay down on, another rare treat from the hard tiled floor at the vet’s office.

Monica and I were both crying. She sat in the chair petting him, I got on the floor and cradled his head on my leg and pet his neck. With his collar off. Man, he loved getting his neck scratched underneath his collar.

They sedated him, and when he was comfortable on that bedspread on the floor, as I held him, and Monica pet him, the vet gave the final injection. It wasn’t even 30 seconds when I watched my little buddy’s eyes roll up in his head. I’m glad I was there, actually, I owed it to him. But I really wish I hadn’t seen his eyes roll back. I’ll cry whenever I think about it for the rest of my life.

Once he was gone, my attention quickly turned to Monica, and we held each other, and pet our great friend one last time.

The thing about a dog is, it’s only his presence, his company. He doesn’t remember your birthday, he doesn’t help you move, he won’t do a lot of the stuff you hope for, or even expect from, a great friend.

But the one thing dogs are.. is there. They are there. Always. It’s never more stark than when they aren’t.

Right now, there are empty spaces in my heart that I never even realized were full.

And yes, I know I’m talking about a dog here.

Max laid with us when we were sick, relaxed with us, protected us, loved us.

The skeptical ask, love? And I say, yes; maybe not like on our human level, but yes.

What is love? The desire to be with someone; to feel safe with someone; to be willing to be vulnerable with someone; to lay your head in someone’s lap and sigh loudly, knowing you’re in a good place.

Now Max’s pea sized brain may not have been able to combine all of those emotions into the single, complex human emotion of love, but on his level, I know he loved me.

I know because I felt it every day, and still do.

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olmancoverAlso by Steve Cichon: 

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, read the story of his last week alive, and a reflection of our relationship and time together here: The Real Steve Cichon: Me and My Ol’Man 

 

Remembering WWI Vets: Uncle Gordon, Uncle George, & ‘Pops’

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

It got me to thinking as this piece of news crossed the wires:

America’s last surviving veteran of World War I has died. Frank Buckles was 110. A family spokesman says Buckles died peacefully of natural causes at his home in Charles Town, Va.

There have been three World War veterans in my life. The first two I never knew personally, one I did.

The first two were my Great-Grandpa Scurr’s older brothers– Merchant Marine men who died at sea four months apart during The Great War.

George & Gordon Scurr
George & Gordon Scurr

George Scurr was an ordinary seaman on the SS Hazelwood, which was mined by German U-boat UC-62 on October 18, 1917. William Gordon Scurr was killed by a German U-Boat in 1918.He was a British sailor in the Merchantile Marine, a Second Engineer on the SS Trocas, and was 26 years old when the steamer was torpedoed by German U-boat UC-23 on January 19, 1918 in the Agean Sea.

I heard stories about their sacrifice growing up, and remember my grandma showing me photos of her uncles who had died in the Great War. The photos were in the box underneath the couch, right next to where grandpa used to hide his coupons under the cushion of the couch. (It was always an adventure as a little kid at Grandma Cichon’s house.) My grandma was a wonderful story teller, and I’m glad that I listened closely and listened often. I just wish that I had taken better notes. I am proud of the sacrifice made by my forebarers, and will make sure its remembered as long as I’m around.

I have a personal, very strong recollection of another World War I vet. “Pops” is how we knew him. He lived with his son a few doors down from us on Allegany Street in South Buffalo.

He was very tiny and very old. He wore the same sort of big plastic VA glasses that my dad did in the early 80s, and wore very old working man’s clothes, including suspenders to hold up pants that were a bit loose on him. His skin was blotchy with age spots, and he was probably at least 80, but for all I knew, he could have been 150.

Like so many of the characters on that street growing up, there was a warmth about him that made us kids want to talk with him and listen to his stories. I don’t remember any of the stories he told, but I remember him standing in the driveway telling the stories, and us standing in the driveway listening.

pops house allegany

Pops would stand in this driveway, a few doors down from where I lived. The trees weren’t as big then, and the street was much more bright.It seems in my recollection that he was almost immobile, standing in the driveway; just out for some fresh air, hoping one of the neighborhood kids would give him a “Hi, pops.”

The only other thing I remember about him, and perhaps this also leads to why he was standing in the driveway, was that he chewed tobacco. It was usually wadded up into a lump in a paper towel. He’d pull it out of his pocket and take a bite, then stand there and spit out the juice. Come to think of it, this had to be why he was standing there all the time.

I’m not sure why we called him Pops, or what his name actually was, or anything about him, really. As I think about this more than I have in 30 years, maybe he told us something about “gas,” like the mustard gas Germans used against US troops in France. Maybe that’s just my brain playing tricks on me. I can’t even really be certain that he was a World War I vet, but I know I’ve thought that my whole life, and will continue to do so until I find out otherwise.

In thinking about Pops, and growing up on Allegany Street from 1980-1984, I visited Google Street View and took a look at what Allegany looks like now, and it brought back a few more memories. We were at 45 Allegany Street, a house so much smaller than I remember. Next door was the phone company, or at least that’s what we called it. Its apparently still an answering service. I remember very pretty disco-era women working in there.

45 Allegany, the house in the middle here, where I lived 1980-84.
45 Allegany, the house in the middle here, where I lived 1980-84.

As a matter of fact, when I think of ‘generic disco-era women,’ this one woman who worked there is who pops into my mind. Long blond hair, lots of eye makeup, lots of perfume, high heels, and she drove a blue Chevelle. The boss there drove an faux-wood panelled AMC Pacer, and used to make Donald Duck noises to us.

Next door to the phone company, two doors from our house, was Art. Art owned Toby the Dancing Dog, which was some sort of terrier, or maybe a small poodle. The dog would jump, his paws on our shoulders, and dance with us. One time my brother mouthed off to Art, who knew my great-grandfather.

“I’m telling your grandfather on you, you little bastard,” Art said. I’m sure my brother laughed, which only enraged poor ol’Art even more. He drove a big green early 70s Buick.

Then there was a nice older lady named Kay, and then I think was Pops’ house. Mr. Walsh lived next door to Pops, and the only reason I mention it, is because he was friends with Noodles the Mailman. Sometimes Mr. Walsh and Noodles would sit for a while on the porch in the cool ‘ultra-mod’ orange cloth folding chairs that looked like they’d have fit in perfectly on an episode of Laugh-In.

Anyway, sad the the last solider left standing from the ‘war to end all wars’ has died.

Made in Buffalo, 1951: Manufacturing in Buffalo from Fortune Magazine

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – For the second half of the twentieth century, industry was on a steady decline in Buffalo– but it was really at it’s height when Fortune Magazine did a 10-page cover story on manufacturing and the industrial might of Buffalo and Western New York in its July 1951 issue.

cover-1The Frederick Franck painting of Buffalo’s waterfront and downtown is great by itself, but the 27 photos of humming industry, almost half in color, and the rich accompanying text show the general sense of optimism about the future of the Niagara Frontier just after World War II.

There’s even a reference to one corporation deciding to build a factory elsewhere because there just weren’t enough people looking for work in Buffalo.

Outside of a few big names, many of the mid-sized factories that came and went here are all but forgotten to the collective memory. Buffalonians often use “Bethlehem Steel and GM” as shorthand for the providers of thousands of blue collar jobs that were once plentiful in Western New York.

And while those two giants may have employed 30,000 men here at the height of it, there were more hard working Western New Yorkers punching a clock in dozens and hundreds of other smaller factories. Large corporations and mom and pop outfits.

As you’ll read below, ‘the 200,000 factory workers (of Buffalo) make everything from pig iron to pretzel benders.’ It also says that Buffalo is heavily Polish, mostly Catholic, and anti-Red.

Just like many of you, my own family history is reflected in these photos. My great-grandfather worked at Westinghouse, my grandfather scooped grain at General Mills. My father-in-law worked for Hooker Chemical.

Of course, the mere mention of Hooker is a reminder of what a truly mixed blessing the high paying jobs of dirty industry was in so many cases. Western New York became ground zero for one of the first disasters to call attention to the disposal of toxic waste. The the company was found negligent, along with the City of Niagara Falls, in what was to become known simply as ‘Love Canal.’

Enjoy this look at Buffalo’s “fascinating industrial kaleidoscope,’ and make note that the photographer on this story was Victor Jorgensen, more famed for his V-J day shot of a sailor and nurse kissing in Times Square.

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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

Happy Birthday, Dad… His First in Heaven

Today is the 59th anniversary of my ol’man breathing his first breath, born December 10, 1951. He was born a couple of months premature, and in 1951, that was usually a death sentence.

Born in the middle of a raging snow storm, on the 4th or 5th floor of a big tenement-looking, now long-torn-down apartment building right behind City Hall, my grandmother put him in the oven to keep him warm until an ambulance could take him the few blocks up Niagara Street to Columbus Hospital.

Nurses quickly christened him right on the spot, not expecting the little oven warmed preemie to make it, but he did.

Dad and Uncle Ed, Dec. 10, 2007. He may have been celebrating it at the VA, but he still loved his birthday.
Dad and Uncle Ed, Dec. 10, 2007. He may have been celebrating it at the VA, but he still loved his birthday.

Although that first birthday was a rough one, Dad loved his birthday. It was his favorite day of the year. Around September, he’d start reminding us that his birthday was coming up, and that he’d want a BIG PRESENT… the words said with his arms outstretched and his eyes opened wide.

By November, he’d be getting into specifics. Occasionally, he actually needed something, which was great. Otherwise, we’d have to come up with something on our own. Despite what you might think about someone in your life, rest assured, that my father was indeed, the hardest person ever for whom to buy a present. Until I turned 21.

The Ol’man spent the last decade or so of his life barely ambulatory. He was a diabetic, and went through several unsuccessful surgeries to save his foot; there were then several surgeries to remove his leg right below the knee. He was greatly weakened by all the surgeries, and laying in hospital beds, and never really got the hang of the prosthetic. He was, for all intents and purposes, wheelchair bound.

Dad wasn’t a heavy drinker, but he did like the occasional, or slightly-more than occasional whiskey. It was never straight, but he’d mix it with just about anything. Iced tea, Diet 7-up, Diet Ginger Ale. Though his tastes changed often, I think Ginger Ale was his favorite.

Though he’d eat three doughnuts with impunity, he always drank diet pop because of his diabetes. At one of his last birthday dinners at his favorite restaurant, Danny’s in Orchard Park, he tried to order a whiskey and diet ginger ale, but they didn’t have diet ginger ale. He ordered something else, and when the waitress went away, he whispered to us, talking out of the side of his mouth, “No diet ginger ale? In a fancy place like this?!?” The stuff he’d come up with, being a veritable shut in, was often pretty damn good.

dadwhiskeyI think this is from Fathers Day, but you get the idea. He’d put it right back in the bag, or roll down to his office and put it in the drawer so my mom wouldn’t know. Yeah, right.

Anyway, he couldn’t make it to the liquor store himself anymore to get a little booze. He was reliant on other people to bring him a taste every once in a while. And in what I now look at as my last great gift to my father, I was his hook up.

“Give me a big bottle of the cheap stuff, instead of that little bottle (of the good stuff),” he whisper to me.

I’d get grief for bringing him a little ‘Old Grandad,’ ‘Kesslers,’ ‘Philadelphia,’ or ‘Old Crow,’ because even a little too much would send his blood sugar out of whack. But it was his last joy in life, and I couldn’t deny him.

I’d get him the little bottle, though, with the hope that he’d only have one drink; try to stretch it out a little more. And that usually worked.

Father’s Day, birthday, Christmas. Dad knew what was coming from me, and he’d always try to devise some sort of ruse to make sure my mother “didn’t know” he’d just gotten some booze. As he was executing said ruse, he’d quietly, but with the tone implying yelling, ask me why the hell I didn’t get him the big bottle.

As is the case with almost any loving father, dad took more than his share of good-natured jibes all year. But none on his birthday. He loved it. And loved even more when someone would let one slip, and he’d remind, “Not on my birthday!”

Today is the ol’man’s first birthday in heaven. Though the polka song says there’s no beer in heaven; on December 10, I know there’s cheap, crappy, blended whiskey in heaven. And Dad’s drinking it by the gallon with plenty of diet ginger ale. They must have it in a fancy place like heaven.

The Real Steve Cichon: A Tribute to My Relationship with My Ol’Man

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Immediately following my dad’s death, I wrote down just about everything I could think about him. It turned into a short book which I published and distributed at the interment of his cremated remains several months after his death. 

This is this preface to that book. A link to a  pdf copy of the book follows.

olmancoverMy ol’man, Steven P. Cichon, died Palm Sunday, 2010 at the age of 58. Losing a parent is unimaginable, even when you spend the decade up until the death imagining it over and over again.

My dad was a very sick man the last 8 years or so of his life. He lost a leg to diabetes, and had a very serious heart condition. He made regular trips to the hospital by ambulance, and spent weeks at a time in the hospital.

During those times when he was very sick, I tried to prepare myself for his death. Tried to think it through; imagine what it might be like, so it would all be easier to deal with.

No dice. You’ll read that it’s all unimaginable. An extension of yourself is gone. There’s a hole in your heart. All sorts of vital information is gone. It’s like somebody lit the reference book you’ve used your whole life on fire. You’ll read, too, about quite a few things I’d do just for dad, that I sadly have stopped doing.

He’s been gone about two months as I write this, and it’s still hard. I have no doubt that it always will be. But putting all the swirling emotions I’ve felt into writing this has been wonderful.

It’s the story of my dad’s last week on this planet, and the story of his life on this planet, and, mostly, the 32 years he spent on this planet as my Dad, and Dad to Greg and Lynne.

Click to begin download or read below.

TheRealSteveCichonWeb

The Real Steve Cichon: A Tribute to My Relationship with My Ol’Man

From the Preface:

olmancoverMy ol’man, Steven P. Cichon, died Palm Sunday, 2010 at the age of 58. Losing a parent is unimaginable, even when you spend the decade up until the death imagining it over and over again.

For the last eight years of his life, my dad was a very sick man. He lost a leg to diabetes and had a very serious heart condition. He made regular trips to the hospital by ambulance, and then spent weeks at a time in the hospital. Often.

During those times when he was very sick, I tried to prepare myself for his death. Tried to think it through; imagine what it might be like, so it would all be easier to deal with.

No dice. Many of us know that it’s all unimaginable. An extension of yourself is gone. There’s a hole in your heart. All sorts of vital information is gone. It’s like somebody lit the reference book you’ve used your whole life on fire. You’ll read, too, about quite a few things I’d do just for dad, that I sadly have stopped doing.

He’s been gone about two months as I write this, and it’s still incredibly hard. I have no doubt that it always will be. But putting all the swirling emotions I’ve felt into writing this has been wonderful.

It’s the story of my dad’s last week on this planet, the story of his life on this planet, and, mostly, the 32 years he spent on this planet as my Dad, and Dad to Greg and Lynne.

Download PDF: The Real Steve Cichon

Purchase book: 46 photos, 56 pages. Paperback.

Read it here:

 

Dad died a year ago today

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

One Year Today.

The Cichons, Turner Rd., Holliston, MA, 1985.
The Cichons, Turner Rd., Holliston, MA, 1985.

To put it in words he would have used, it’s been a year since my ol’man checked out. In fact, I’m sure I heard him start dozens, if not hundreds of sentences with, “When your ol’man checks out….”

Anyway, my dad died a year ago today. March 28, 2010. Palm Sunday 2010.

He was 58 when he died. He was very sick for most of his last few years, a combination of diabetes (which lead to a leg amputation), heart disease, and a serious case of indifference in dealing with and caring for those two conditions.

So he wasn’t always on his “A” game. He was sick a lot, and often pretty crabby. But when he was feeling good, man, he just wanted everyone to feel good. I really miss the way he could fill a room with joy, even when half the jokes were at his expense.

But for me, its all right there– I can see it, and just about feel it, but it’s just beyond my physical reach. The past year has been one of reflection upon all the great gifts my father gave this world. My heart floods with joy thinking of the very pure love that he doled out straight from the heart.

He was a thinker, and never afraid to tell anyone what he really thought about something. some of you reading this (and me writing this) may have found that out the hard way. I’m glad that I inherited the thinker trait from my ol’man, and I’m happy to have his example, to understand for myself, that sometimes its best to keep what you think to yourself.

The hardest part of the last year, are the times when I’ve forgotten he’s gone. It’s not that my full brain has doesn’t remember… It’s just that I’ll be having this little side conversation with myself, thinking about something in an almost subconscious sort of way, and it’ll lead to “I’ve gotta tell dad about this.”

That thought is only there for a fraction of a second, but it’s like a hard punch in the face. Just happened a few weeks ago, standing in the kitchen at work pouring coffee. BLAMMO.

By the way, this also happens with my diet. I’ve had Celiac Disease for 5 years. Haven’t had a doughnut in 5 years. Saturday, we drove by a Dickie’s Donuts, and my brain asked itself why I haven’t had a peanut stick in so long. Some parts of my brain have paperwork to catch up on.

Of course there’s more to write, plenty more. But the last reflection I’ll share on the last year: I now know some bit of Dad’s pain. Grandma Cichon died in 1996. Dad’s mom.

Inevitably, whenever we’d talk about grandma, which was often, we’d be smiling, but Dad’s face would turned pained. He’d sigh and say, “ooh, Mom…” or “ooh, Grandma…”

It’s the same thing I do now when I think about Dad.

In the days and weeks following his death, I wrote a brief book about my dad and our time together. There’s an e-book/pdf version at this page:

http://www.staffannouncer.com/olman.htm

I’d be honored if you’d take a look at it. There are a lot of goofy pictures of me, if that makes it anymore enticing.

Cars and the Ol’man… and telling him about the new Civic

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

mg
MGB

My dad has always loved cars. While as a young single guy he had muscle cars (Like an AMC Javelin), and sporty convertibles ( Like an MG), he always took great pleasure in the hunt for new cars.

He enjoyed it even when he was buying wonderful (?!) family vehicles like our 1981 chocolate brown AMC Spirit with light brown pinstriping, or our 1983 Dodge Aries faux wood-panelled station wagon. I spent many weekend days driving from lot to lot with my dad… the newspaper filled with red circles around cars that could be the next Cichon Ride. We’d always go after hours as to avoid the salesmen.

The Cichon Clan.. before my sister was born.. So probably late 79/early 80.  I think my dad still wears that shirt.
The Cichon Clan.. before my sister was born.. So probably late 79/early 80.  I think my dad still wears that shirt.

I learned alot from my dad about shopping for cars, not all of it good. First thing to check: Check to see if the door was left unlocked. Bonus checking out the seat time if yes. If not, squinting and moving your head around the driver’s side window. “Can you see the mileage, Steve-o?”

There were other things to look for, too. “See, son? New tires on this one.” That was always a big selling point with the old man, who seemingly never stopped shopping for a new car. My wife would laugh if she knew that during our most recent car shopping experience in particular, she was actually shopping with my dad via me. Life is much esier once you admit to yourself that, in some ways, it is inevitable to become your parent.

Dad’s car obsession continues to this day, though the old man, now with only one leg, hasn’t driven in probably 7 or 8 years. “I’ll be driving soon,” is something you’ll hear him saying often. And you’ll still find Autotrader magazines with big, heavy red circles all over the house.

And then there’s Autotrader.com. “There’s a nice convertible Saab… a ’99… before they changed the front on it… Only 7-grand. Its in Ohio.” Dad loves the hunt for cars as much as driving, and when my wife first decided a few months ago that it was time to get a new car (for a number of different reasons), Dad eagerly climbed into the passenger seat as we thought about various makes and models, and weighed several bargains.

After visiting my folks Friday night, we took a ride to a nearby Honda dealership (after it was closed, of course) to scout things out. We found a good car at a good price, and one of the Civics was unlocked. Really comfortable and roomy.

We went the next day to figure out the details, and with the rebates, and generous amount given for our trade in, it was a much greater bargain than either of us could have imagined, and we were both excited about being able to pick up the next car on Tuesday (dealership was closed Labor Day Monday).

I was excited, in part, because the dealership was close to the folks house, and we could take a spin by to show the ol’man the new car. Seriously, no one on the planet gets more excited about anyone’s new car than Steven P. Cichon.

So, I was a little disappointed when my mom texted me to say that he went to the hospital Sunday (this happens somewhat frequently because of his diabetes problems.) He’s OK, but was in ICU to get his sugar evened out; it was messed up by a viral infection he’d been fighting for a few days.

He was his normal self, though still in the ICU when I went up to visit him an hour or so after picking up the car. Happy to have company, and talkative (not always the case, in case you don’t know the ol’man.) After the usual pleasantries, and getting to update on how he’s feeling, I dropped the bomb.

“So dad, we picked up our new car today.” He knew we were looking, but had no idea we were close to buying one. Either were we, frankly, until we got the great deal on the Civic. Its an over-used cliche, but there’s no other way to describe it. The twinkle in his eyes was like a kid at Christmas.

His body stiffened, and after opening his eyes wide in anticipation for a moment or two, he sat back in the standard issue vinyl hospital room chair, dozens of wires coming off of him, closed his eyes with a smile on his face, very seriously said, “OK, tell me about it *slowly*.”

I’m not one for the gadgets and features, but I always study up, because I know my dad will want to know. He loved that we got a great deal. He loved that the highway mileage approached 40 MPG. “That’s almost like driving for free,” he said. He loved that the dash lights were blue, the same color as one of the big puffy bandage things to keep his IVs in place.

Cadillac Cimmaron
Cadillac Cimmaron

But he stopped me on one feature that bowled him over. “Telescopic steering?!? In a CIVIC?!? They only put that in the top of the line Mercedes, for heavens sake!” My dad swears a lot, but he does try to control it. Of the 20 or so cars dad’s owned, only “The Cadillac” had telescopic steering. “I’d adjust it every time I got in, he said, making a holding the wheel motion and moving it all over over the place. That’s what a telescopic steering wheel allows you to do. Monica really likes this feature a lot, too. Before I get too far ahead of myself, I should let people know that “The Cadillac” was actually a 1987 Cadillac Cimmaron, which is nothing more than Chevy Cavalier tricked out with leather, a V-6, a useless luggage rack on the back trunk, and apparently, a telescopic steering wheel.

And, Dad was almost disappointed when I somehow didn’t figure out how to park the car outside the window of his hospital room so he could look out at it. His eyes are so bad, he wouldn’t have been able to see it anyway. But he will get a spin in it once he gets home from the hospital.

monica09civic
Monica’s new 2009 Civic

I know the ol’man will tell everyone he sees and talks to for the next month about the car. Those poor ICU nurses. The women might get away without hearing about the car, but the men, and there are a lot of male nurses at the VA Hospital ICU, will likely hear a lot about it. And my grandpa. And Uncle Chuck.

It makes him so happy, I wish I could buy a new car every day.

Random things about a random guy

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

Originally posted on Facebook February 8, 2009

This is not the order I thought of these things. I didn’t number them either.

My Name: Steven Julius Cichon. Despite the fact that my dad’s name is Steven, I was named after my mom’s grandfather, Stephen Julius Wargo. Steven is spelled like my dad, though, so there you go. Cichon is a Polish name, and is pronounced CHEEhoyn in Polish. It means quiet person, hermit.

I think my basic purpose in life is to use my gift of seeing the absurd, ironic, and silly in most situations to make people smile. I love to do it. On the rare occasion when something I say hurts people, it really cuts me deep, and stays with me forever. Thinking about those times right now is giving me a stomach ache.

I am writing a book on the History of the Parkside Neighborhood. It’s been a tiring, but absolutely amazing experience.

Saving junk is in my blood. Great Grandpa Wargo, Grandma& Grandpa Coyle, Grandma Cichon, and my mom are all savers. Of crap. Just crap. Grandma Cichon started taking me to the Salvation Army and garbage picking before I could spell “Thrift Store.” But I think the biggest reason I save crap: My dad doesn’t save ANYTHING. When I was little, he’d always start stories with, “I wish I had it to show to you…” That stuck.

I had the best childhood anyone could ask for. We had very little money, but I have two great parents, and 5 wonderful grandparents (including Great Grandpa Wargo.) I never heard any of them really speak ill of any of the others. I now know some of them kept a smile on for the kids, and withheld some maybe snippy comments (even ones that I make now.) That makes it all the more special in retrospect.

I include my in-laws in my family. There is no “in law.” I was welcomed into my wife’s family, and extended family, I love each of them as if we all had the same blood running through our veins. I’m bowled over with the luck I have in both the family that came with the package, and the one I picked.

I met my wife, in the hallways of WBEN Radio, probably right around 5:30 on a Sunday morning in 1993. I was behind the controls, she was reading the news. She didn’t speak to me that morning, because she was painfully shy. Now she never shuts up. Just kidding, but I am thankful and happy for her that she has pretty much gotten over that.

WARNING: Have an air sickness bag handy… My wife is my best friend, and in many ways, my only friend. This isn’t to say we live in some fairy tale… We do well together, even though we know how to press each others buttons and do frequently. I think that makes our relationship all the stronger, though.

I have Celiac Disease, which means I can’t eat wheat, barley, or rye. No beer. No pizza. No fast food or processed food. It forces me to eat healthier, but I loved fast food. Not lots, but I could have a small hamburger and an order of chicken nuggets everyday, really enjoy it, and then eat properly the rest of the day. Now I eat a lot more, just trying to find something as tasty and satisfying as a Wendy’s 89 cent hamburger.

I also have Psoriatic Arthritis. Sometimes my legs hurt so bad by the end of the day, they almost stop working, but I’m about to go on a medication that wipes out the disease, almost entirely, in 80% of people who take it. The sad thing is, while I’m excited about the prospect of seeing the arthritis go away, I’m secretly.. almost equally… excited that my disgusting psoriasis fingernails might grow into normal looking nails.

In November, my wife and I began eating better, and working out at least 4 or 5 times a week… Intense cardio. I feel much better, and wish that I had begun doing it years ago. The YMCA on Delaware Ave in Buffalo is cheap and wonderful.

I frequently step back from my own life, and normal human life, and realize how silly and random so many things we do are on the face of it. Why do I have an animal living in my house? My job is to take information that almost anyone can track down, re-write it, and speak it into a microphone so it can fly through the air into your car. Trying to explain these things to an Martian might be tough.

I have very realistic and vivid dreams. On occasion, I remember something somewhat sketchy, and I’m not sure if I happened or I dreamed it. I’ll think about it and if Ed Little is on a horse in my living room, it was probably a dream.

I work better under deadline pressure, especially with projects in my personal life, or volunteer projects. I abhor being late. If I say I’ll get something done, I do. And I don’t appreciate those whose own lack of caring about deadlines makes me late.

I love church music, and I love to sing it loud. Even though I can’t sing. Even out of church. On Eagles Wings. And yes, “make me a channel of your peace,” (The Prayer of St Francis).

I’m a lector a St. Mark’s…. 9:30 mass… every 3rd Sunday. I’m sometimes afraid I might be singing too loudly too close to the microphone.

I like to build stuff, sew stuff, design stuff. But I’m not very good at it. Or maybe I just don’t have the patience to take the time to do those things right.

I am my own worst critic on everything.

I still think this is stupid, but it was cathartic. And have read every single word of each of my friend’s lists, so fair is fair.