Death is never what It seems: Gramps, Dad, and how their passings changed things…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – With Ralph Wilson in the news, today I was talking with a few co-workers about death and dying.

The Ol'Man (my dad, Steve Cichon), Me, and Gramps (dad's dad, Edward Cichon). Just hanging out at the Msgr. Nash K of C Hall, South Legion Dr, 2008.
The Ol’Man (my dad, Steve Cichon), Me, and Gramps (dad’s dad, Edward Cichon). Just hanging out at the Msgr. Nash K of C Hall, South Legion Dr, 2008.

I’d found myself in the same situation as Mr. Wilson’s family over the last few weeks. While I had hoped that my grandfather would live forever, or at least til he hit a birthday worthy of a Willard Scott mention; the truth is, Gramps was 88, and had been in slowly declining health for over a decade. It was a mix of great hope and sad acceptance in thinking about Gramps for a long time, until he did pass away March 4th.

I grieve the loss of a simply beautiful man, but equally feel some satisfaction in accepting the simply beautiful long life he lived.

As is often the case with death, it’s not quite that simple. We’ll all be attending a service for Gramps on Friday, which is also the anniversary of my Dad’s death a few years ago.

In our little conversation around the coffee pot about Ralph Wilson and death, I was about to mention something about about Dad’s death, when I realized I didn’t know without thinking how long it had been.

I just barely controlled myself, with the thunderpunch of a thought that Dad died so long ago I can’t immediately remember.

It was four years ago. And four years later, that thought that I had to do math in order to remember how long it had been since I sat with dad, laughed with dad, talking with dad, yelled at dad… It was as if he’d just right now died all over again.

But having a Mass for Gramps on the anniversary of dad’s death is somehow appropriate for me.

Losing a father is a complicated, awful, inward, outward emotional mess. Dad was very sick, and for a long time, I had tried to steel myself for the inevitable– but there’s no way to prepare. Especially when the most difficult part of it all was completely outside of me and my control.

Gramps. Spending 3 years and 11 months talking with Gramps about my dad and the fact that he’s gone while trying to keep it all together was emotionally difficult beyond words. My dad was more than Gramps’ son, they were best friends. In his own illness, my dad thought more about Gramps’ well-being than his own. He called him 3 or 4 times a day. They kept each other smiling, and kept each other in line.

My dad’s last mission in life was doing what he could to take care of his dad. My dad never asked for much for himself, but I know if we would have had the opportunity to talk heart-to-heart with me before he died, dad would have told me to take care of Gramps. I did my best, which sometimes wasn’t good enough. A call to Gramps could be crushing, and frankly, I wasn’t always up to it.

It was generally heart breaking talking with Gramps. Four or five times in the course of a 90 minute visit, he’d talk about how much he missed my dad. I sat through it, discussed it, even encouraged it– despite those thoughts ripping the heart out of my chest and leaving me drowning in emotion every time. But of course, what ever pain I have dealing in the death of a father, I can’t even imagine the pain and emptiness of dealing with the death of a son.

Once I mentioned that I had some recordings of my dad. Gramps almost started to cry, his voice shaky. “I’d love to hear his voice again, Son.” I have not and cannot listen to the hours and hours of Dad I taped through the years. I just can’t bear it. I found a short conversation I recorded when my dad called me at work one time to wish me a happy birthday. It’s dad happy and full of life… which in his last few years wasn’t always the case. Still, most of the dozens of times I played the one minute phone message for Gramps, tears uncontrollably streamed down my face. A few times I felt nauseous. Gramps often cried too, but it was therapy he relished.

Despite being blind and practically immobile, I’m sure Gramps knew until his last breath exactly how long he’d been without my dad. If Gramps was still here, I’d have called him on Friday, the anniversary of Dad’s death. “Hi Gramps, It’s Stevie.” “Hello, son. You know your dad died 4 years ago today?” “Yep, I know,” I’d have said, trying not to sound too sad. “Wanna hear the tape?”

For four years, my mourning has been wrapped in the context of completing Dad’s last mission and being there for Gramps in sharing his pain and loss.

Right after he died, I wrote about what a perfect grandfather Gramps was to us when we were little. Now that he’s gone, I’m realizing pretty strikingly that once again, Gramps was helping me far more than I could have ever helped him in talking about and thinking about my ol’man.

 

Buffalo’s Blizzard of ’77: Newspaper, radio & TV broadcasts bring the storm back to life…

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


BEN29jan77BUFFALO, NY
 – It was the benchmark storm by which we measure all storms in Western New York. In killing 29 of our Western New York neighbors and cutting us off from the world (and heat, and food) for a week, this storm also gave Buffalo a greater dose of respect for the power and cruelty of what winter can bring; it’s a lesson that has become a part of our DNA. While we scoff at snow and predictions of snow, deep down, we know what’s possible.

We haven’t had an event like the  Blizzard of ’77 since, and we are nearly certain to never repeat it. While we’ve been striken with weather with elements of that watershed snow storm– a blizzard in 1985, 7 feet of snow in 2000, The October Surprize storm– we as a people and a society learned from that first one and each successive one. Our civil authorities, police, fire, road crews, public weather forecasters, commercial forecasters– everyone is ready to make sure that we remain safe during potentially deadly winter weather events.

BEN31jan77This page is being published as the snow is beginning to fall during “Winter Storm Vulcan,” which has prompted the NationalWeather Service to issue a Blizzard Warning for Western New York. We don’t use the “b-word” lightly here. While it’s the second blizzard warning of this unusually snowy and extremely cold winter of 2013-14, this winter marks the first blizzard warnings in 20 years.

With today’s snowfall in mind, if Jimmy Griffin were with us today, he might modify that famous advice he gave during the Blizzard of ’85. Sure, he’d still encourage us to stay home and grab a six-pack, but he might also encourage us to enjoy some time online, remember some long-gone names, faces and names, and remember that it could be much worse that what we’re experiencing today.

From the Buffalo Stories audio vault:

For this tremendous collection we are indebted to longtime radio enthusiast Tom Taber, who spent the night of January 29, 1977, tuning around the radio dial at his home in Albion, NY. Much of the audio is scratchy and fades in and out, but I think that helps paint a better picture… of sitting in your bedrooom, playing with the radio while watching the snow pile up outside the window.

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

Buffalo’s Blizzard of ’77: Newspaper, radio & TV broadcasts bring the storm back to life…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – It was the benchmark storm by which we measure all storms in Western New York. In killing 29 of our Western New York neighbors and cutting us off from the world (and heat, and food) for a week, this storm also gave Buffalo a greater dose of respect for the power and cruelty of what winter can bring; it’s a lesson that has become a part of our DNA. While we scoff at snow and predictions of snow, deep down, we know what’s possible.

We haven’t had an event like the Blizzard of ’77 since, and we are nearly certain to never repeat it.

While we’ve been hit with weather that had elements of that watershed snow storm– a blizzard in 1985, 7 feet of snow in 2000, The October Surprise storm– we as a people and a society learned from that first one and each successive one. Our civil authorities, police, fire, road crews, public weather forecasters, commercial forecasters– everyone is ready to make sure that we remain safe during potentially deadly winter weather events.

This page is being published as the snow is beginning to fall during “Winter Storm Vulcan,” which has prompted the National Weather Service to issue a Blizzard Warning for Western New York. We don’t use the “b-word” lightly here. While it’s the second blizzard warning of this unusually snowy and extremely cold winter of 2013-14, this winter marks the first blizzard warnings in 20 years.

With today’s snowfall in mind, if Jimmy Griffin were with us today, he might modify that famous advice he gave during the Blizzard of ’85. Sure, he’d still encourage us to stay home and grab a six-pack, but he might also encourage us to enjoy some time online, remember some long-gone names, faces and names, and remember that it could be much worse that what we’re experiencing today.

From the Audio Vault…

For this tremendous collection we are indebted to longtime radio enthusiast Tom Taber, who spent the night of January 29, 1977, tuning around the radio dial at his home in Albion, NY. Much of the audio is scratchy and fades in and out, but I think that helps paint a better picture of sitting in your bedrooom, playing with the radio while watching the snow pile up outside the window.

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

Niagara’s Talk Pioneer: John Michael, CKTB/St. Catharines & CJRN, Niagara Falls, Ontario

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Known for being both smart and a smart-aleck, his often raw evaluations of the truth often put him at odds with the management and even the Canadian Government, but never with his loyal listeners.

John Michael
John Michael

CKTB’s John Michael was one of of kind, with as big an audience in Buffalo as he had in the Niagara Region.

Western New Yorkers embrace and appreciate our proximity to Canada in a variety of different ways. We drink Tim Hortons, Molson, and Labatt, we love hockey, we remember our summers at Crystal Beach, we enjoy world class Toronto being an hour away.

Of course, Canadian broadcasting has long been a part of who we are in Buffalo, too. From Mr. Dressup and Uncle Bobby, to Hockey Night in Canada and spending weekend afternoons trying to figure out curling, we are, for all intents and purposes, part Canadian.

Aside from being able to pull $7 in Canadian change out of the seats of my car at any moment, I like to think my inner Canadian runs a little deeper with my long term appreciation of Canadian AM radio.

I remember Rick Jeanneret as a morning DJ on CJRN in Niagara Falls and loved listening to the CBC on 740AM (The CBC, now on 99.1FM, can be a little crunchy in “clean” stereo.)

One of my all-time favorites—regardless of nationality– bounced across the border at 610AM.

Listening to John Michael’s mid-morning talk show on CKTB in the early 2000s was one of my great joys as a fan of good radio.

He was smart, a smart ass, funny, opinionated, a great showman, and a great broadcaster. What a wonderful, rarely-found set of skills and characteristics. It was the timeless sort of show that, as a long time broadcaster and broadcasting manager, I’m sure dozens of producers and program directors and consultants “tried to make better.” But the show was him. That’s what made it great.

He could trip over himself being respectful to an elderly sounding woman, while making a dirty joke at her expense at the same time. And you bought both the respect and the humour–(well, it is Canadian humor, so I’ll add the U).

I loved hearing about his family, his garden, his life. He told a great story once about how, as a young DJ in Niagara Falls in the 1960s, he made a joke about the Mafia and the infamous Apalachian meeting, mentioning a few of the alleged Mafiosos who were collared by name.

He had no idea that one of the guys he mentioned lived only a few minutes from the studio, across the gorge in Lewiston, and was well-respected (and maybe feared?) among the many of the station’s sponsors. He was urged to apologize for the comments.

In the 1980s, he was fired by CJRN after the station was censured when Michael made “generalizations about native peoples,” and said, in part, “what these people forget; and this is what annoys me, is that these people believe that the world revolves around their own penises and it does not.”

From his obituary in the St. Catharines Standard:

“On a few occasions, he was reprimanded by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for comments made about groups such as native peoples and French-Canadians.

In a September 2003 interview with The Standard, Michael said “there’s just certain people and certain groups in the world today that if they don’t agree with you, they want you fired.”

Michael told the reporter he was actually shy and felt “hurt” when listeners personally attacked him.

He said his gruff radio personality is part of an on-air “schtick” developed over the years. His purpose was also to entertain, Michael said.”

Here in Buffalo, during a radio station clean out, I was given a box containing some contents of John Otto’s desk drawers from the time right before he died.

I was excited to find among the several cassettes, was one of the John Otto show with guest John Michael… talking about the bum steer of what amounted to the Canadian Government getting him fired. Listen to that late 80’s program, and two others from 2004 before from the links above.

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

Remembering the Everyday with Gramps: The perfect grandfather because in his heart he was one of the kids

Edward Valentine Cichon 1926- 2014

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Valentines Day was the perfect day for him to be born, as he was in 1926.

Gramps and me, standing on Fairview Place, in front of my parents 1977 Mercury Monarch, 1978. Gramps always had a baby in his arms or a kid's hand in his hand whenever possible. He spent a lifetime working hard, usually 3 or 4 jobs to provide for his brothers and sisters, his own ten kids, and his 16 grandkids (and now untold numbers of great grandkids.)
Gramps and me, standing on Fairview Place, in front of my parents 1977 Mercury Monarch, 1978. He always had a baby in his arms or a kid’s hand in his hand whenever possible, and spent a lifetime working hard– usually 3 or 4 jobs to provide for his brothers and sisters, his own ten kids, and his 16 grandkids (and now untold numbers of great grandkids.)

To say Gramps had a big heart isn’t telling the whole story. Nor is it enough to say his heart was pure.

Edward Valentine Cichon had a childlike heart. He was filled with goodness and optimism. He was filled with giving and generosity. He was filled with happiness to know that you were happy.

He was the perfect grandpa. He’d walk us over to Caz Park, getting us jazzed up about “the swings… And the slides…. And the horseys…” It was the same sing-song order he’d mention them every time.

But first we’d walk through the park. Occasionally, that meant filling our pockets with chestnuts from the trees just past the St. John’s parking lot.

Sometimes that meant sitting for an inning of softball or baseball. Gramps usually had a couple of apples in his pocket for us, sometimes a banana. He taught us how to shine up the apple on our pant legs.

Also in his pocket was the handkerchief, which kept our noses in check when it was chilly. To keep our bladders in check, if it was just us men, we’d be pointed to some trees. If we had ladies with us, we were told not to touch anything in the Caz bathrooms, unless you were using your foot to flush.

Then we’d cross the bridge, throw a few of those chestnuts in the creek, and continue on through “the jungle,” as Gramps called the path on the Abbott Rd side of the path along the creek.

We’d look for “the lions… The tigers… The monkeys…” The same list every time, said with the same cadence as the other list, except this one was often enhanced with Tarzan noises. OoOoAaaahah.

“I saw a monkey in that one last time,” he’d say pointing at the same tree every time.

Finally, we’d get to the playground, and Gramps would sit on the bench until we were done. Sometimes longer, if he didn’t feel like moving yet.

“Go catch grandpa a bird,” he’d say, encouraging us to sneak up quietly behind a robin or a swallow so we could scoop ’em up. I don’t remember ever catching one.

Not every time, but sometimes, we’d stop by the deli at the corner of Seneca and Duerstein for a nutty buddy or an ice cream sandwich, so long as we remembered, “Don’t tell grandma.”

Almost every time we’d stop at Quality Food Mart, Gramps’ explanation to grandma would start “But Huns! The kids were hungry…” but it would quickly trail off.

We didn’t tell, but our ice cream smeared faces and shirts did all the talking necessary.

Good ol’Gramps. I bet there is monkey in his tree right now, and he’s happily pointing it out to all the kids.

The late, great B-kwik Food Stores

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

BUFFALO, NY – In the 1950s, grocery shopping was done primarily at what we’d now consider small-to-medium-sized grocery stores like A&P, Park Edge, Mohican, Red & White– along with small neighborhood corner stores, many of which had been in operation for decades.

As the suburb helped create the supermarket to replace the smaller stores, many of the more successful smaller scale operators became players in the Buffalo supermarket business. The owners of Super Duper, Bells, and Tops all had years of grocery experience before opening the larger stores.   The same is true of Wegmans, which didn’t come to Buffalo until the late ’70s.

The only Buffalo name to last is Tops. Tops Friendly Markets grew into a Western New York institution by expanding through franchising, first with Tops Markets, then with B-kwik markets, then with Wilson Farms stores, bringing three different levels of grocery service to Western New York.

Tops had only been on the scene for 6 years early in 1969, when Niagara Frontier Services took out a full page ad in the Courier-Express, looking for new franchisees, and bragging about the new stores that had been built in the previous few months.
These are the photos of the Tops, B-kwik, and Hy-Top Pharmacy stores which were built in the second half of 1968, along with the brief franchising pitch.
bkwikdelavan
B-kwik Delavan Ave at Humber

B-kwik Main St, Delavan NY

B-kwik Delevan Ave
B-kwik Delavan Ave at Humber

 

bkwikensminger

B-kwik, Ensminger Rd, Tonawanda

bkwiksenecast

B-kwik, Seneca St. This store was on the corner of Kingston Street. It moved to the current Tops location several years later when B-kwik took over several area “Food Arena” stores.

bkwikwalden

B-kwik, Walden Avenue, Buffalo

bkwikwilliamst

B-kwik William St, Buffalo

hytopmainplace

Hy-Top Pharmacy, Main Place Mall

hytopmaplenforest

Hy-Top Pharmacy, Maple at North Forest

TopsChalmersAve

Tops, Chalmers Ave, Buffalo. Across the street from the Central Plaza

topsclintoncheektowaga

Tops, Clinton Street, Cheektowaga. Current site of Consumers’ Beverage

topslockport

Tops, Lockport-Olcott Rd. Currently Family Dollar, across the street from current Tops.

TopsMapleNorthForest

Tops, Maple at North Forest. Was VIX, now vacant.

topsmedina

Tops, Medina, NY

NFS nfsgrowing pitch
This post originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

 

 

Worst. Sports Card. Ever.

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

BUFFALO, NY – They just look dumb. The 1970-71 Topps basketball cards look stupid for a few reasons.

DonMayThese cards are “tall boys,” which is good news if you’re talking about Old Milwaukee, but just looks dumb for a sports card. When Topps jumped back into basketball cards in 69-70, they decided that longer cards– to mirror the stretch physiques of basketball players– might make them more interesting.

Also, the outfits are weird. Legend says a clause in the players’ union contract said that players couldn’t profit from images of themselves wearing the team name or logo.

The solution is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen. Players wore their jerseys backwards. Or their shoot-around warmup gear (sometimes backwards.) Or they wore plain jerseys. Or they wore white t-shirts.

The team name does not appear on cards, either. Just Boston, no Celtics. Just Baltimore, no Bullets. Just Cincinnati, no Royals.

My interest in these very odd offerings is in the first basketball cards marked Buffalo (but not Braves.) 1970-71 was the year the NHL and the NBA expanded to include Buffalo, and that makes the cards only weirder for Buffalonians.

There is no Braves feel to any of these first Braves cards. The photos are not only of guys wearing backwards jerseys, they are all wearing the backwards jerseys of other teams.

Dick Garrett, coming off a rookie of the performance for the Lakers before being taken by the Braves in the expansion draft, is wearing a crisp white t-shirt.

Worst ever sports card. Nate Bowman 1970-71 Topps Basketball. He only has 1.5 armpits.
Worst ever sports card. Nate Bowman 1970-71 Topps Basketball. He only has 1.5 armpits.

But perhaps the worst sports card of all time has bothered and intrigued me since I bought it for 25¢ almost 30 years ago.

Nate Bowman played one season for the Buffalo Braves. He came here from the 69-70 champion Knicks, but you already knew that, because he’s wearing a backwards Knicks shirt.

While you’re looking at that shirt, look at the armpit on the right side of the card. It might be easier to be judgmental about terrible photo edits in this modern day where Photoshop flawlessly fixes anything, but holy freakin’ cow. Half of dude’s torso is missing.

It looks a lot like the guy who was editing the cards was working on this one right before lunch, and when he came back, he accidentally put it on the done pile.

How could someone only give a guy half an armpit and think that’s ok?

Worst. Sports Card. Ever…. among plenty of bad 1970-71 Buffalo (Braves) Topps cards.

This story originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

The Barcalounger: Buffalo-made laziness & sloth

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

BUFFALO, NY – Maybe the same grandmother who always called the living room “the parlor” also referred generically to any recliner as a “Barcalounger.” The big comfy chair was originally built here in Buffalo, as a product of the Barcalo Manufacturing Company on Louisana Street.

During World War I, the company bragged that their forgings were battle tested (see below.) For years, they made tools, beds, and lounge chairs in the Old First Ward until the late 1960s when the company filed for bankruptcy.

The name lives on, on chairs produced elsewhere, but when– with the pull of a handle– a man can go from a seated position to a relaxing nap position, he can thank hard working men from the Ward for blazing a new trail in family room sloth.

barcalounger52
1952 Barcalounger ad
The Barcalo Manufacturing plant in 1918.
The Barcalo Manufacturing plant in 1918.
Buffalo-made Barcalounger, 1952
Buffalo-made Barcalounger, 1952
Encouraging children to use hammers.
Encouraging children to use hammers.

Encouraging abandoning your child in a Buffalo-made cage, 1910s.
Encouraging abandoning your child in a Buffalo-made cage, 1910s.

This post originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com.

Wild & Vicious 1960s Cheektowaga Street Gangs

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

BUFFALO, NY – Seriously.  In September, 1960, Western New York faced a new kind of problem, namely Cheektowaga street hoodlums.

“Let this serve as a warning to other rowdies… we’ll throw them in the pot.”

This story originally appeared on TrendingBuffalo.com

Four Buffalo-themed Valentine’s Day cards

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

BUFFALO, NY – Cards designed by Steve Cichon, whose heart is always filled with Buffalove even when it’s the other kinda love.

PERCOLATING LOVE

roll up the rim

WINTER LOVE

plowed-and-salted

PASSIONATE LOVE

flutie

BIG LOVE

fuccillo-huge

This post originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com