Episode 13: Gramps and his Wall of Pop

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Pop tasted so much better in those 16oz glass bottles.

Coke Pepsi RC Cola… Cardboard eight packs filled with loose glass bottles lined the bottom shelf of the pop aisle at every supermarket in Buffalo and they were always on sale.

But even when they weren’t on sale, buying those 8 packs of glass bottles was the cheapest way to buy the name brand pop.

That’s why Gramps loved ’em and literally filled the hall with them.
Grandma Cichon lived a few doors from Seneca Street in a worn out, but grand old house.

When you walked in the front door and looked straight ahead, you looked through the front hall, then a more narrow hallway, and then right into the kitchen.

It was in that narrow hallway where there was always enough pop stacked up to quench the thirst of a small army. With 10 kids, that’s pretty much what Gramps had— and he’d buy all the pop he could when it was on sale whether he needed it or not.

When you look straight past the pop, if Grandma wasn’t at the stove cooking, you’d see her first thing when you’d swing open that heavy front door.

She was always sitting at the head of the worn out white Formica kitchen table— complete with a cup of instant coffee in a gold butterfly mug and Kool 100 burning in the over-full ashtray.

If you creaked open that big door and looked slightly to the right— and he wasn’t working one of the three jobs he still had when I was a kid— Gramps would be sitting in that well-used comfy chair just on the other side of the beautiful leaded glass doors which lead into the parlor.

Grandma generally would see us first, and start to say hello, before Gramps– who was much closer– would take his eyes off of Lawrence Welk or Bugs Bunny to intercept us for a minute.

“Ha’oh dere, son,” Gramps would say in a pretty thick standard Buffalo Polish accent.

I had no idea there was anything to notice about that. Isn’t that how everyone’s Grandpa talked?

“Can I get you a glass of pop or a sandwich?” Gramps would ask reflexively, and immediately piss off my ol’man.

“Jesus Christ, Dad, it’s ten o’clock in the mornin’,” Dad would say, walking toward Grandma in the kitchen.

As we kids run in to give him a hug, Gramps would ignore my ol’man completely and give an inventory in case we were hungry.

“Well help yourself. In the ice box we got two kinds of baloney… Polish loaf… olive loaf… pimento loaf… ham…”

The sound of his voice would trail off as we walked through the narrow hallway filled with pop on the way to the kitchen.

I wouldn’t think anything of this hallway until twenty years later, when the girlfriend-who-became- my-wife asked me about it after visiting Gramps.

In the same way I never thought anything about my grandpa’s Polish accent, I never thought anything about the supermarket end cap worthy pop display.

That’s barely an exaggeration.

The entire length of the ten-foot long walkway had pop cans and bottle pushed up against the wall, stacked two or three deep and two, three, or four high in some places.

It was mystical and mystifying. Gramps’ pop display was far more impressive than what you’d have seen at Quality Food Mart, half a block away at Seneca and Duerstein. Better selection, too.

There were 2-liter and 3-liter bottles; flat, mixed-flavored cases of grocery-store brand cans; some times a wooden case or two from Visniak, but more than anything else, 8-pack after 8-pack of glass bottles.

As I mentioned, Gramps had ten kids— but there weren’t ten kids living there at the time.

Huns, it’s for the kids, Gramps would say as Grandma would yell at him coming home from grocery shopping with more pop when there were already hundreds of servings of soda pop lined up waist high, the first thing you see when you walk into the house.

I’m sure there was something about taking advantage of a good sale… or getting one over on a cashier with an expired coupon… or (put a star next to this one) getting under my grandmother’s skin by buying things she’d say they didn’t need…

But Gramps wasn’t a drinker. Never a beer or a highball, but would relax with a coffee or a pop.

He also really wanted to share his pop, and make sure you knew it was OK to take it. He wasn’t just being polite in offering it. That wall was there to prove, “I got plenty! Go ahead and take one!”

You could expect to refuse a pop at least three or four times while visiting with Gramps, and then one more on the way out.

And of course, this stuff was pop. I don’t think I even heard the word soda until was 8 years old.

“Sure you don’t want a pop, son? Why don’t you take some home? I’ll get you a bag.”

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.