Playing Santa is a gift

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

P̶l̶a̶y̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶S̶a̶n̶t̶a̶ Being Santa this past weekend was more than I could have ever expected it to be.

I knew I’d enjoy the kids—and I did. But I make it a regular part of who I am to chat with little kids and look to find ways to help them smile and push them to ignite that sense of wonder always ready to pop out of their little brains and souls.

What I hadn’t pondered ahead of time is the reaction of adults.

Standing on the street waving to passing cars, a full 80% waved back. 20% honked.

In most of our lives, even long after the expectation that he leaves us something under the tree is gone, there’s something about Santa that touches a place in our hearts that melts away the old and grouchy, and puts us back in touch with the sense of awe and wonderment that spends most of our adult lives walled in and cordoned off.

Seeing the grown-up smiles, hearing the horn honks, and feeling the warmth and love melt the ice from hardened hearts was invigorating.

Even the three 9-year-old girls, who were clearly far too cool for some guy wearing an obviously fake beard in a tiny North Buffalo coffee shop– even they were hoping that the answers to the gotcha questions they asked would conjure up a swirl of enchanted sparkles to squash their fears about the big man.

Those girls suspect part of the truth—the part about who puts what in whose stockings. But they are also starting to learn the bigger truth… the better truth.

The truth of Santa is… it’s not even a matter of believing—Santa is real. Like actually real.

It wasn’t $33.02’s worth of red felt and synthetic polyester hair that conjured up so much joy… It was Santa Claus. The big man himself did all that.

And if any of this even remotely makes you want to smile, good ol’Santa has struck again.

It’s just about impossible to ignore the magic and miracle that is Santa Claus.

May Santa live in your heart this Christmas and always.

Grandma Cichon’s parents: The Scurrs and the Doyles

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandma Cichon’s parents and grandparents had a less-than-direct route to Buffalo.

Jim and Peggy Scurr, the parents of Marie T. Scurr-Cichon.

The Scurrs

My great-grandfather, James G. Scurr, 1906-1980

The family of Grandma Cichon’s father, James Gibson Scurr, spent several generations making a living off the sea as sailors and sail makers in North Shields and Tynemouth in Northern England where the Tyne River empties into the North Sea in Northumberland.

James was born in 1906, and was only 11 years old when his older brother George H., a seaman on the SS Hazelwood, was killed when a German U-boat planted mines that destroyed the ship.

Only 13 weeks later, another brother, William Gordon, a Merchantile Marine- Second Engineer on the SS Trocas, was also killed by a German U-boat.

James was a 15 year-old clerk when he joined his aunt, Sarah Scurr Wilkinson, and her family in Hamilton, Ontario in 1922.

James’ parents, George Henry Scurr and Mary Alice Pilmer Scurr, followed him to Canada a year later. George got a job at Bethlehem Steel in 1924, and the family moved to 5th Avenue in Lackawanna.

George and Mary Alice eventually moved to Hamburg. She died in 1947, he died in 1952.

Mary Alice Pilmer Scurr death notice from Buffalo Courier-Express, 1944.

The Doyles

My great grandmother, Margaret Cecilia “Peggy” Doyle Scurr, 1902-1988.

Marie Scurr Cichon’s mother, Margaret “Peggy” Doyle Scurr, was Irish, but she was born in Scotland.

Her parents, William Doyle and Mary Ann Vallely Doyle moved from what is today Northern Ireland to Coatbridge, just outside Glasgow in the 1880s.

It’s not entirely clear what precipitated the move, but being Catholic in Northern Ireland has been challenging for generations. William was born in 1860 in Bainbridge, County Down. Mary Ann was born in 1864 in nearby Armagh, County Armagh. The third youngest of their 11 children, Peggy Doyle was born in Coatbridge in 1902.

The Doyle family, 1915

In 1923, Peggy Doyle, then a 20-year-old housekeeper, arrived at the port of Boston from Coatbridge, Scotland aboard the SS Megantic.

The SS Megantic

She had $25 with her when she travelled directly to Buffalo to live with her sister, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Doyle-Anderson (later Fox). She lived on the corner of Seneca and Geary Street, raising two boys on her own after her husband was killed in France World War I.

William Doyle died in 1920. Six years later, his widow Mary Ann and youngest daughter Agnes also came to Buffalo through St. John, New Brunswick aboard the SS Montcalm of the Canadian Pacific line. They moved in with another daughter, Mary Doyle Sands, who lived on Weyand Street off Seneca.

During the last year of Mary Ann Vallely Doyle’s life, four generations of her family lived on Seneca Street with the birth of my father’s older (half) brother, Michael Doyle (1945-2006.)

Jim Scurr and Peggy Doyle were married in 1927, and moved around the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood, on Orlando and Lester streets, Melvin Street, and then in an apartment above the storefronts at Seneca and Kingston for decades.

James G. Scurr died in 1980, Margaret A. Doyle Scurr died in 1987.

Malone misses the mark one last time

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Bishop Richard Malone retired/resigned/left today, but he still seems wholly incapable of showing contrition.

Malone spends four paragraphs defending himself (again) before starting a final paragraph with what’s written below in his resignation letter.

Imagine if at Mass, we all abandoned the penitential prayer and just blathered about the good we’ve done instead of begging for the forgiveness of our community and our God.

Imagine the healing this arrogant man could have promoted if he just shared the penitential prayer as his resignation letter.

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

I pray that the light of Christ enters Malone’s heart and he comes to truly understand the horror he continues to purvey over, and that’s what makes this so difficult. That he is not allowing the prayers of his flock to break through his arrogance.

Still, prayfully, I continue.

Nine years after his death, the world needs Jim Kelley more now than ever

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Nine years ago today, I wrote:

My good friend and Hockey Hall of Famer Jim Kelley died today. When we last spoke a few weeks ago, he knew it wouldn’t be long. I told him I love him, and he said it back. I’m glad we had that conversation. I wish more friends could/would. God bless you Jimmy, and your family.

Jim Kelley, October 26, 1949 – November 30, 2010

I started out in the “real world,” with an adult job in an adult environment at the age of 15, surrounded by an amazing cast of people who made me think the world was made of great men like them.

There were many, but none was better than Jim Kelley.

He was a hockey writer, but more than that he firmly believed and professed that there was truth and falsehood. Further, he believed that anyone who tried to make gray out of black-and-white was probably up to something and as a citizen and a journalist, it was his job to figure out what.

I miss him personally as a friend, and more broadly as the kind of guy this world needs more of… now more than ever.

Cool Whip Jell-O, aka “I made the Jell-O”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Despite it’s revered place at every major family dinner, there’s no real name for it except “the Jell-O.”

Just like her mother before her, my mother-in-law made this delicious side dish for each of the holy trinity of family “eating holidays”— Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

In 2010, Pam Martyna Huxley has newspapers spread to catch the spatter from mixing the Jell-O and Cool Whip. She was probably mad later when she found some spatter on her shirt.

Grandma Martyna probably found the recipe in the coupon section of the paper or on the back of a box of Jell-O some time in the 70s, and it’s been a beloved part of my wife’s family’s holidays ever since.

In the early 80s, the Martyna family gathers for a holiday meal– with a giant Corningware dish of Cool Whip Jell-O in front of Grandma Martyna.

Since my mother-in-law passed away, I have made it for every holiday, and it warms my heart to see that pink blob on just about every plate.

It can probably be served as a dessert, but at any Martyna family dinner, it’s always served as a side dish as a part of the main course.

Cool Whip Jell-O

2 packages of Strawberry Jell-O
8oz Cool Whip
2 cups boiling water
1.5 cups cold water

In a large bowl, add boiling water to Jell-O packets, stir until Jell-O is dissolved. Add cold water.

Refrigerate until 80-90% jelled. (Completely jelled is ok, but slightly less firm makes for a more thorough mix in the next step.)

In the largest bowl you have, combine Jell-O and Cool Whip. Use hand mixer on low, then high, until thoroughly blended. Be ready for this step to make a spattering mess.

My mother-in-law had a box she’d place around the mixing bowl.

Pour combined mixture into a heavy Corningware or Pyrex serving dish, and refrigerate to reset the mixture. Keep refrigerated until serving.

The ships that brought the Cichons to America, 1913

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Jan Cichon and Maryanna Pochec met at backyard party in Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood in 1913.

Jan and Maryanna Cichon, from two separate 1940s photos on Fulton Street.

All within a few blocks of that first meeting, John and Mary would get married, buy a house, have ten children, and work– he at Schoellkopf Chemical/National Aniline, and she as a bootlegger, boarding house matron, and homemaker.

Jan Cichoń and Marianna Pocheć-Ganabaszyński were married by Fr. Peter Pitass at Holy Apostles Sts. Peter & Paul Church, Smith & Clinton, on August 19, 1914.

Both arrived in Buffalo after long transatlantic journeys aboard giant ships.

Jan Cichon left Poland in February, 1913, aboard the German postal ship The Wittekind, which sailed from Hamburg, Germany to Portland, Maine.

The only surviving story of any of my ancestors journeys from their homelands comes from Great-Grandpa Cichon. He carried his cobbler’s tools with him, although shoe repair was never his primary work here. He also suffered from seasickness, which was helped tremendously by a Jewish man who had brought along garlic for just that purpose.

He was born near Sandomierz in Glazow, Swietokrzyskie, Poland in 1893 to Jozef Cichon and Agnieszka Korona. Jozef died when Jan was 7 years old in 1901, and Agnieszka married Szczepan Bryla in 1910.

Jan was 20 when he left Poland for Germany to start the transatlantic voyage which would take him to the home of his brother-in-law, Stanislaw Kaczmarski in Welland, Ontario.

After a few months in Ontario, he crossed the border at the Port of Buffalo and never looked back.

The SS Wittenkind

The Wittekind was seized by the USA during World War I, and was used to bring American soldiers back and forth from France. It was decommissioned after the war in 1919 and scrapped in 1924.

The SS President Grant, later seized by the Navy and recommissioned the USS President Grant.

Maryanna Pochec, Grandpa Cichon’s mother, was my only ancestor to pass through Ellis Island.

She came to America aboard the President Grant a few months after her future husband in 1913.

Originally an ocean liner, the German-owned ship was seized by the US government during World War I. Used as a transport ship, more than 37,000 Americans returned home on the Grant after the Armistice was signed ending the war.

After further service in World War II, the ship was sold to Bethlehem Steel for scrap in 1952.

Babcia was born to Wojciech Pochec and Marianna Kubicka in Wanacja, Swietokrzyskie, Poland near Ostrowiec in 1892.

When she was 13, in 1905, she married Alexander Ganabaszynski in Ostrowiec. He went to Canada to work in the logging industry– and its unclear what happened to him from there. Maryanna traveled as a single woman, and told both the City of Buffalo and Fr. Pitass at Sts. Peter & Paul church on Smith Street that her marriage to Jan Cichon was her first.

Either way, after nine years of living and working around Elk and Smith Streets, the Cichons had saved enough money to by 608 Fulton St, which remained in the family until Mary Cichon died in 1980. John Cichon died in 1967.

Grateful is not always joyful

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This print used to hang in Grandma Cichon’s kitchen. I was mesmerized by it as a toddler, and am still enchanted to this day.

A print of Bradford Boobis’ “Silent Prayer” hang on the wall of Grandma Cichon’s kitchen.

Part of what it shows is… Grateful is not always joyful.

Gratitude is a beginning, not an end. It‘s about having a profound understanding of a path that was laid out for you, about the things other people have done to lighten your load or create space for you to flourish.

Reflecting on and feeling true gratitude inspires appreciation— but not necessarily joy.

Sometimes acknowledging gratitude for things of long ago conjures up pain for the way things are now, as much as thanks for what once was.

Allowing yourself to be truly grateful for all that you’ve been given and by all who have given of themselves for you isn’t all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, but I think understanding and owning the complicated and uncomfortable feelings of thanks are just as important as the warm, good feeling ones we acknowledge with relish and smiles.

The first step in gratitude is allowing light into your life, even if darkness feels more comfortable.

My prayer for you today is that you can bring the light of gratitude in some dark place in your life, while still celebrating with smiles and warm hearts all the unbridled joy that makes your life worth living.

Today, I am truly grateful in every way imaginable. Happy Thanksgiving. Go Bills.

Grandma Coyle, the saint, died on All Saints Day

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

June Marie Wargo Coyle
Jan. 14, 1931- Nov. 1, 2005

Her love for all of us was unconditional and ever flowing… And that love just made her so happy. I loved watching her on holidays– that love filled smile would fill her face every time one of her kids or grandkids or their spouses walked through the door. The radiance of her heart made the world a better place for the time she was here, and it continues now– Her heart lives on in all of us who she loved.

The love that radiated from her smile every time any of us walked in the room left no question that there was a beautiful woman who loved you with every fiber of her being. I’m blessed in that just the thought of that smile fills my heart with love enough to share in the way she taught me.

Here are Grandma and Grandpa Coyle outside of their new home on Hayden Street, South Buffalo, in the late 50s.

 

Sabres Goalie Andrei Trefilov offers Russian greeting

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When he was the Sabres primary back-up goalie, Andrei Trefilov was a funny guy.

One day, I was covering the morning skate and a bunch of us reporters and media types were waiting for all the guys to leave the ice.

Not too long after Dominik Hasek roughed up Buffalo News reporter Jim Kelley, Trefilov came pounding off the ice with an angry look on his face, scowling at the assembled media.

He stopped, narrowed his eyes as he looked at us reporters and growled, “F**K YOU ALL!”

He then waited a moment, smiled, and said, “That means ‘Good Morning’ in Russian!” and walked away laughing. Hahaha.

Jacquie Walker: Record setting class

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

No one has anchored Buffalo’s TV news at a single station longer than Jacquie. She’s been at 4 even two years longer than Irv was at Channel 7.

It’s an incredible record, especially because in so many ways, she’s the anti-Irv.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, child, closeup and indoor

If you had to describe what you love about Irv in a word, you might say brash or gritty. Jacquie, you might say is kind and genuine. And it’s true. She is kind and genuine– but still as gritty a journalist I’ve ever worked with.

It’s a great honor to call Jacquie a friend and for 36 years, it’s been a pleasure to watch her work her genuine kindness and journalistic grit each night in my living room.

Thanks, Jacquie, for making Buffalo a kinder, classier place.