What I’m thankful for the hard way… with no buts…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Since the beginning of November, many of my friends have taken to Facebook and Twitter with something they are thankful for each day.
This is all very nice, people thankful for their spouses and jobs and children and blue skies and flowers and candy.

I don’t diminish that, and I am genuinely thankful for those things everyday. I tend to think most people who are writing about them are, too, but the way it’s written makes it sound to me like “I’ll spend the next 24 hours being thankful for the gift of sight. Then at midnight, I’ll forget that and be thankful for my favorite Keurig K-cup flavor.”

And since I, too, have a tremendous feeling of thanks for “Donut Shop,” I might have kept my misgivings about these thanksgivings to myself, had my wife not at one point said to me, “I’m thankful for this stuff every day! What the heck!!” I was never more thankful for her than right then and there. Or maybe I was sad that my cynicism is rubbing off on her.

I began thinking, though, about how I could put together a list of things I’m thankful for, while still passing my own pretty difficult test of triteness.

I think Thanksgiving is about “thanks with no buts.”

We have buts for everything…. however, for the rest of the way here, I’m working my “buts” off, and explaining why I’m thankful for even some of the bad and terrible parts of my life.

One of the saddest times of my life also offered me some of the most strengthening and reassuring lessons of my life.

I’m thankful for my dad’s death, which of course left some parts of my heart hollow and empty, but the resulting caring and love from so many helped me to understand that there’s a tremendous amount of love and support from so many people for me always, and that all I have to do to take it in is be open to it.

I’m thankful for having people I have wronged as friends and Facebook friends. Even with their forgiveness, their faces serve as a humbling constant reminder of how not to behave, and how to forgive wholly, and how sometimes the hardest person to forgive is oneself.

I’m thankful for people who hate me and tell me so or make it pretty clear one way or another. It hurts, but makes me strive to be a better person. It also reminds me even in dislike, to never hate and always forgive.

This one’s hard, but its true. I’m thankful for the deaths of two little babies I never met, for the understanding their lives and deaths brought to me about life and living. They may have never breathed a breath, but their lives and the joy and pain they brought were not in vain.

I’m thankful for the daily, nagging pain in my joints and eyes, caused by autoimmune disorders. My achy inconveniences give me a distant view of the terrible and deadly illness so many deal with, with a lot less bitching and complaining than I do.

Similarly, I’m thankful for the occasional panic attacks I’ve endured that I better understand and grow in compassion for my brothers and sisters who from time to time lose some ability to control their minds.

I’m thankful for “friends” who’ve let me down… For showing me how special real friends are.

I’m thankful for those relationships that are almost entirely fake– where someone says the right things, but quite clearly doesn’t like or want anything to do with you. Again, very painful, but I find these people carry a certain measure of pain in their lives, and generally need kindness and compassion more than the rest of us.

Many of these awful situations have given me new insight, and made me, I think a better, less judgmental, more loving person.

Maybe I’m most thankful for people who without some terrible circumstance are inertly good and accepting of people…. I’m working on it, but in so much in life I am doubting Thomas. That is, I cannot accept or know until I see it somehow.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and believe.”

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

Thank You For Serving: some vets who’ve had an impact in my life

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I knew what a veteran was from the earliest of ages.

I’m sure I started asking my dad about his tattoo as soon as I could talk. “STEVE,” it said on his forearm, in sloped writing, with a Celtic cross underneath. To say Celtic cross makes it sound better than it was. It was a stick figure cross with a circle where the horizontal and vertical parts of the cross met. It was actually a pretty horrible tattoo, which he said he gave himself when he was a Marine. I never heard the full story of the tattoo, or whether he actually remembered giving it to himself, or if a buddy told him he did it.

Dad always told us not to get a tattoo, but it was more like advice than an order. He didn’t like his tattoo, but I don’t think he considered it a mistake. He never hid it, either. I think in some ways that sums up the way he felt about his service in the Marine Corps. He was quietly proud of it, but didn’t like it.

I know he joined the Marines in 1969 as a way to “get out of the Valley,” the poor working class neighborhood he grew up in. He saw the world as a Marine, and had his education paid for by the GI Bill. But he was also struck with illness that initially almost killed him, but that also started downward progression in his health that culminated with his death at the age of 58.

My dad had few heroes and people he looked-up-to in his life, but one was his big sister Tricia. He was a Marine when her kidney disease came to the point of needing a transplant. Dad was on his way home to see if he could be a donor when she died. I don’t know that he ever loved anyone more than her. She took care of him and understood him. He didn’t get to say good bye to her because he was half a world away.

To make it worse, he had one of those awful Vietnam era welcomes. Walking down the street in his uniform, he was taunted and sneered at. Having heard this story dozens of times since I was very little, the image that pops into my head is my father walking down Seneca Street in front of what used to me Grandma’s Donuts (now Abbott Pizza, I think) with people throwing bottles and trash at him. That’s not what happened, but that’s the image my dad’s telling of the story put in my head.

He was proud of his service, but wasn’t about to join a club or line up for a parade. He was the most humble veteran at the VA Hospital, always thanking roommates, nurses and doctors for their service to our great land.

Dad’s instilling in me such a high level of respect for men and women who have served has made me keenly aware of those who’ve been a part of my life who have given of themselves for our common good.

Dad’s grandpa had two brothers die at sea during World War I. Grandma Cichon had pictures of Uncle George and Uncle Gordon and kept her uncle’s memories alive. Gordon was in the British Mercantile Marine on the SS Trocas when a German U-Boat torpedoed the tanker. George was a seaman aboard the SS Hazelwood went it hit a mine. The internet has helped fill in some of the details, but my dad knew these stories, and while was proud of his service, looked at his great uncles as heroes.

But Veterans Day is about remembering those who went through hell and came home. Or even put their time in in New Jersey or Kansas, saluted one last time, and never looked back.

As a kid growing up on Allegany Street in South Buffalo, we had a few proud veteran neighbors. Pops was an ancient, tiny liver-spotted old man who used to stand in the driveway, chew tobacco, and tell us about his service in World War I and his fear of “the gas,” which I now know to be mustard gas Germans used on American troops. It filled the trenches, and ruined the lungs of soldiers, painfully suffocating thousands.

Further up Allegany, on the other side of the street in the big light green house, Mr. Smith used to give us cookies and hard candy, a very kind old soul who was retired from the railroad. Occasionally, he’d proudly show us his perfectly preserved US Army uniform from World War II, or the box filled with medals and ribbons. I know I thought it was “cool,” but I hope i was properly respectful and reverent, too, as a 5 and 6 year old.

A few years later, when I was in third grade, my school bus driver, George, was finally awarded a bronze star, over 40 years after his heroism saved some of his fellow soldiers from Japanese attack. He cut out the photo of him holding the award that was in the local paper, and taped it up in the front of the bus. I was proud of him, and I wish I remember more about his story.

My Grandpa Cichon was one of 8 brothers and sisters who served in World War II and Korea. Even my twin great aunts, Olga and Mary, were nurses in the Navy and Army respectively. Gramps was an engineer in the Army at the end of World War II. He was in the Philippines, and likely saw some pretty terrible things there that he doesn’t talk about.

Great Grandpa Wargo was a plane mechanic in Guam during the Second World War. Indirectly, because of his service, I met one of my favorite vets ever. Grandpa W was in the VA Hospital, and my dad had little use for the rule that kept kids under 15 out of most hospitals. He’d take us to visit everyone, because who doesn’t love seeing a little kid, right?

Well, as recently as the early 80s, when this happened, there were smoking lounges on every floor right next to the elevator at the VA for the guys who were in there. Dad would ditch us in there, and bring great grandpa down to see us. One time, there was an ancient, ancient hunched-over man in there smoking. He was wearing a bright red bathrobe, had the darkest black skin you can imagine set off against his crazy sprouting bright white hair. Dad flippantly asked the guy to keep an eye on us, because he was going to get gramps. Well, apparently, this was just about the best damn thing that had ever happened to this guy.

He offered to hide us in his bathrobe if the nurses got close, his face lively and excited at not only being able to play with a couple of kids for a few minutes, but also to be a party to this rule breaking. We sat down, and he stood up with his back to us. He spread open the robe, so that we couldn’t be seen from the door. He was laughing and giddy about it the whole time, til gramps walked in.

A few years ago, I interviewed a friend’s dad about his role in the D-Day invasion. Michael Accordino described in vivid, terrible detail, sitting in the water, and watching guys run ashore, and watching many of them be shot dead on the beach. And waiting for his turn to go. And watching his buddies die around him.

My friend Ed Little always spoke in a sort of blasé way about his service in the Army Air Corps during WWII, but what he did was nothing short of spectacular and heroic. He would flying along on bombing runs in the Pacific, and using 1940s technology, record play-by-play of the bombings that were taking place for playback on radio back home. Another broadcasting friend, Fran Lucca was radio man in the Navy. His ear saved thousands from U-boat attacks, and his incessant record keeping has made the war much more real for his dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren. Letters between him and his mother, official documents, dozens of pages of wonderful material for his years at war have been collected and preserved, and I’m honored that he’s allowed me to learn from and make a copy.

Tom Kane was another friend in broadcasting. He was the security guard at the WBEN/Channel 4 building. One day, I noticed that he went from wearing sergeant stripes on his uniform to lieutenant bars. I congratulated him on the promotion, and he told me that after almost 50 years, he’d finally become an officer. He told me about his time in Korea, and how he’d never been so cold in his life. So wet and cold. For almost a year. Being freezing and afraid of freezing to death, but having to jump into the water or be killed. Tom earned the commission, for sure.

Once in a conversation with my friend and broadcaster Mark Leitner, something about the horror of Vietnam came up. He said nothing with his mouth, but in two seconds his eyes told a wretched story leaving detail unnecessary.

My friend Pat Kavanagh, talks about the fact that he and the men he went to war with were really just about children, and that they used to call their 25 year old Sarge “Pops” because he was so old, and really felt like a father figure. Pat turned his sense of unfinished business with the war into a project to honor those who never came home: He collected the obituaries of every Western New Yorker who was killed in Vietnam during the war. Dozens of visits to libraries, historical societies, and private homes later, Pat’s work is another step in insuring that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

My dad’s big brother, Uncle Chuck, is also a Vietnam veteran, and also lives with the lasting effects of Agent Orange. I hold a lot about Uncle Chuck’s service in my heart, and knowing that he wouldn’t want it written about here, I won’t. Suffice it to say, he’s the best brother man could ask for, a great uncle, and hero.

I don’t know that Uncle Chuck or any of the men and women mentioned above are comfortable with that label “hero,” especially when each of them can clearly see the face and hear the voice of someone who didn’t make it back to the rest of their lives.

Many heroes are like my friend Len, who has told many great fun stories of his days in the Air Force. Clowning around, having fun, traveling to exotic locales for a day or two just ’cause he could. What Len doesn’t bring up is the weeks he spent in New York City following 9/11, and the problems that he and thousands of others are fighting because of it, whether our government admits it or not.

Len, Uncle Chuck, and all these folks are heroes. They were all willing to kill or be killed for not only the common good, but for every American alive while they served, and every American who’ll ever live free.

I know so many newer, younger veterans, too, and their close friends and family. Their sacrifices are much more present in our lives, and in some cases, still open and bleeding. Because the final chapter hasn’t been written in most of their cases, it’s hard to write about them in the same way as I do some of the sacrifices of the more distant past. For most of the older folks, I think while the wounds are forever tender, they’ve healed up a bit, and have, upon years and decades of reflection, become a part of who they are, and in some fragile way, accepted.

My prayers are most with our most recent vets, and really all of those, who are still coming to terms with the hell they’ve endured while proudly wearing our flag on their shoulder. I pray that the final chapter on your service is one of acceptance and an ability to move on with your life, with the memories and realizations of your time spent in harm’s way woven productively into the fabric of who you are.

I have many more friends and loved ones who have served our great nation who’ve I’ve failed to mention here. To each of you: I beg that you please know that while I don’t know firsthand what you have endured for our country, I am proud and humbled to carry some part of your pain and sacrifice on my own heart. You have done what I haven’t. You needn’t have served in war to have sacrificed; you needn’t have never come home to be a hero.

To all veterans, though it’s not enough, please accept my humble thanks this Veterans Day, and every day.

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

Our Home: As presented to the Buffalo Architecture Foundation

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Here’s an august Buffalo structure, a fine example of a turn of the century single family dwelling.

Nestled in a “Parkside” streetscape and neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the American Four Square was designed by renowned Buffalo architect E.B. Green and built in 1909 and 1910.

And sometimes, even a house like this, is just a house unless someone comes along to tell its story.

My then girlfriend and I stumbled into this house’s story when we were house hunting in Kenmore. If you can remember all the way back to 1999, there was mostly the Home Finder and the weekend drive to find a house. We’d spent the better part of a few months worth of weekends cruising the streets of the Village of Kenmore; with it’s character-rich homes, friendly tree-lined neighborhoods, and relatively affordable prices.

But we were at wits end. We were willing to do some work on a house, mostly because we couldn’t afford one move in ready in the places we wanted to live. Until one day when we were stopped at the light right before the 33.

We’d traveled through the Parkside neighborhood dozens of times on our trips between Monica’s parents house and the village of Kenmore, but this time, a great old house– like the ones we’d been looking at, caught my eye.

We’d become accustomed to what to look for: Exterior nice, but not too nice, you pay for that. This house had it. And we found out, at a price that we could afford.

The bones of the house, as they say, were perfect, but there was little else (if anything) that was.

Lots of bleach and elbow work; not a single wall or window that didn’t need attention. No problem, though. My grandfather bought an 1880s house with no heat aside from fireplaces and no electricity in the 1950s. He updated it himself. As my grandma famously said, “They had their bedroom in every room” of their house on Hayden Street in South Buffalo.

Despite a ridiculous amount of work that needed to be done, we bought the joint for a song, and I figured, with my 22 year old wisdom, that if I spent all my free time working on the house, we’d have a completed “This Old House” looking home 6 months later. 12 years later, we’re just getting to the upstairs.

The house was built for Laura C. Geib, who had inherited the land. Her sister had already built a house just across the way and Miss Geib, who was a German and Latin teacher at Fosdick-Masten High School, watched her home, one of the first on the block, be built.

In 1909, being a school teacher was not among the better paid professions. In fact, a teacher’s salary barely allowed one to rise to the burgeoning middle class. You can see Geib’s lack of funds in the very sparce decoration. The house is probably the least of any home designed by E.B. Green, and the original elements that remain, like leaded glass windows, the dining room chandelier and sconces and some door hardware, all give the mismatched feel of a Home Depot bargain bin. Our own lack of finances during the remodel continued this tradition.

It may have been finances, or just not wanting to live alone in such a big house. Either way, in 1914, Geib sold the home to Fred and Lucy Walter, who lived there for the next 46 years.

The didn’t have any children, but Uncle Fred and Aunt Lucy were remembered as a “wonderful, cute little old couple” by a niece I was able to track down.

They also had some strange habits. One time working in the attic, I found about a decades’ worth of tax returns and Sisters hospital bills jammed into the wall cavity. The fact that our deed lists “Lucy Walter, invalid” as the seller of the home in 1960, leads one to believe that she may have been suffering from some form of dementia.

The O’Day family bought the home in 1966, and spent the next 34 years raising a huge brood of kids, and always throwing open the doors to cousins or friends who needed a place to stay. The house wasn’t a museum piece or cold “don’t touch sort of place during those years, it was full of life and well lived-in. Mr. O’Day seemed to be a nice enough guy when we bought the house, but I’d be lying it I didn’t admit to cursing at him as I toiled in breathing life back into the house.

Wanting to know more about the house that once stood on the empty lot next door was really the beginning of my exploration of the neighborhood’s history that culminated with the publication of my 2009 book “The Complete History of Parkside, ” which was mostly written at the dining room table in this house.

The dining room was our first living room, while the living room acted as a workshop staging area.

The photos show the walls having been de-wallpapered and re-plastered, the 4 layers of paint stripped from the wainscotting before 7 or 8 layers of finish were applied. The ceiling, so cracked and marred, that we turned to a trick my uncle told me about: We wallpapered the ceiling using embossed wallpaper. It really gives the look of an old fashioned embossed tin ceiling, but it does come at a price. Wallpapering that ceiling is as close as Monica and I have ever come to divorce over the course of our 11 year marriage.

You really get to know a building when you are essentially rebuilding it from within, piece by piece. We’ve never been really sure of what we’re doing, but always have had an eye towards what a house like this “should” look like, whatever that means.

Our kitchen remodel started with a really leaky faucet which was so badly damaged that it couldn’t be fixed. But I couldn’t put a new faucet in such a grungy sink… Nor a new sink in such a low-grade cabinet. My poor wife came home to her kitchen torn down to the studs, and about 6 months of doing dishes in the bathtub.

But luckily, those studs, the bones, are good. That’s amazing, given the number of beer bottles we’ve found jammed in walls and in crawl spaces before the were sealed up. It’s like a tour of the breweries in business in Buffalo around 1910. The craftsmen who built the house may have had a beer buzz for some part of it, but there is also proof of the workers pride in what they were doing.

Throughout the house, the blue-crayon signatures of workmen adorn the backs of wood work.

In the years that I’ve been working in the house, I’ve kept up that tradition with untold numbers of Sharpie signatures and dates, so some future caretaker can know by name who to curse at as he takes down a gerry-rigged something or other.

The last room of the downstairs portion of the house we completed just this past spring, working up to the moment our house was featured on the Parkside Tour of Homes.

One of the first things I did when we got the keys on Valentines Day 2000 was take all the doors down, and strip the paint off the cabinets in the original butlers pantry. Those doors sat in the basement for the next 11 years, again having just gone up this spring.

During our first spring clean up outside, we found a McDonald’s coffee cup that dated back to the 80s. It had been in the yard at least a decade, mixed in with the composted leaves and broken beer bottle bits.

80scup

We were slowly able to plant a few $5 plants, add a little each year, and watch it all grow. We were finally able to put a deck on this past spring, and now really enjoy another part of our home.

It’s a continuing story. It’s one we’re happy to be a part of.

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

My Last 10 Minutes: Why I Need to Step Away from Facebook

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Note: The writing here is difficult to follow in spots. I realize this, but I left it that way because that’s the point. Sorry.

I am scatterbrained. The reason I thought to write about it, is because I thought to write about flu shots, and how I’m a big wuss when it comes to needles and getting blood drawn, but whatever part of my brain triggers fear with needles isn’t triggered with flu shots, because the needles are small, and for three straight years, including yesterday, I have had actual pain-free flu shots. Not even a pinch.

This thought popped into my head, because Howard Goldman put a photo of a flu shot sign on Facebook. I also thought of a funny post for this thread… I wanted to put a photo of one of those old-fashioned vaccine guns on his wall and say, “run if they bring this out!”

When I did a google image search for polio vaccine gun, I found out that it wasn’t a polio shot, but a small pox innoculation that gave me the big welt on the back of my leg. I always thought it was polio. So I searched vaccine gun, and found the photo to post. Perfect. Hilarious.

Somehow I get notifications when some friends post things. ( I don’t know how this happened.)Libby Maeder put up a New York Times article about “defriending” people in the days before Facebook, and told the story of a woman who sounds like my late Grandma Cichon. Tell it like it is, great story.

Then I get a notification that Airborne Eddy has commented on the flu shot photo, and I see that big gun photo and feel a twinge of guilt. So I think that as a public service, I should really write about the fact that flu shots don’t hurt…. and I could talk about how I have panic attacks driving to Quest Diagnostics. They are weird sort of panic attacks, though, because I can remain cool and collected, and realize I will be fine, but there is still some part of my brain that wants to either curl up in the fetal position or get the hell out of there.

Then I’d say the flu shot is nothing like that at all for me. Get one, you’ll enjoy it, and you’ll enjoy not getting the flu… Especially since people don’t really know what the flu is. People think they get the flu, but don’t. It’s just a bad cold or infection. I had the flu a few years ago, and that’s when I started getting flu shots… because I felt like I was stapled to the bed for about a week. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t do anything. That’s the flu. Get the shot.

But after thinking of writing that, I decided that I’d better just shut up, because I have a presentation for a Buffalo Architecture Presentation that I have to put together by the end of the week, I have to get a Parish Council coffee and donuts session organized (because I just realized I can’t be there because of an out of town wedding the day before), I have a 15 page voice freelance job to mark up for recording tonight, and I have to get started on an upcoming presentation at Forest Lawn cemetery about Buffalo’s Great Broadcasters….

AND, I have about 15 half-written blog posts and ideas for pieces I’d like to write, which I really want to sitdown and finish, but i just don’t have the time.

I’ve been working on a piece about some of the old guys in my neighborhood growing up, men whose example really helped shape who I am today. Some day, you’ll be able to read about mr. Smith and Pops at length, and maybe even grumpy old Joe the retired cop, who provides a good retrospect lesson for me.

That’s also made me think about some of the other people who’ve shown upin relatively small ways in my life but who’ve made a lasting impact. I want you to meet some of them, too.

I’ve wanted to write at length about the fact that I’m gluten free-free, and how that’s scary, but the lousy doctor who screwed things up some how… Circuitously helped put me on the right track. And how after almost 6 years without it, plain ol’white Wonder Bread tastes like dessert. Melts in my mouth like something as opulent as butter or chocolate. And how I’ve put on 10 pounds (at least) reaquainting myself with glutenous good stuff.

I’ve also started to write about how sad I am that sports no longer interest me for the most part. I’ll watch, but it’s like eating a rice cake.

And there’s other stuff, too… For someday when I have the time. Well, I have to make the time. Where to cut? Facebook seems like a good place to start, mostly because I’m like a Facebook binge drinker.

I can stay away from Facebook pretty easily, but I can’t just enjoy a quick convo with a friend. I look at my page “for a quick sec,” and the next thing you know, I’m passed out in a bar I don’t remember walking into. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Truth be told, I’m really scatterbrained enough without thousands of interesting posts and articles zipping my mind and enegry in every which direction.

And since I have some important stuff to do, so I’m stepping away from Facebook. I’ll still be on, and still post stuff, but I have to figure out how not to waste so much time there.

It’s not Facebook’s fault, it’s mine.

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

History’s Garbage Bin: Sharing the Garbage Picked Goodness… Again

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

To save everything because “it’s old” is just silly. To toss everything away because “it’s old” is just silly, too. Somewhere between those two extremes is where most of us try to live.I get both sides. I’m a saver, who wishes sometimes I could live more of a clutter-free life. But a healthy portion of my clutter comes from big piles of important stuff that otherwise would have no home.

Depending on how you look at it, I have been blessed or cursed with the ability to see the possibilities beyond a pile of garbage. My home is a great example. It’s taken over a decade of hard work for my wife and me to make it shine, taking it from a worn-down relic to a stop on the Parkside Home Tour.

Over the last two decades, I have garbage-picked, purchased, been asked to copy, or reluctantly accepted thousands of hours of audio and video, almost always locked away on some sort of format that made it impossible listen to or view. Or even know if there was anything there.

Basically, I’ve been collecting “potential.”

Twice I’ve garbage-picked boxes of old film reels. These boxes were in the garbage for good reason; the film was infected with “vinegar syndrome,” a decomposition of the materials in the film, which renders it unviewable. Worse, one “vinegared” film can jump start the degrading process in other nearby films as well.

The relatively small group of folks who had decided to chuck these boxes has literally thousands of reels of film to worry about. As a member of that group I agreed. But as an individual, I decided that I couldn’t see this film simply thrown away. I garbage picked the film, then spend lots of time and money picking out the few good bits from the mangled messes inside those decaying boxes and film canisters, cleaning those good bits, then properly storing them to avoid more vinegar problems and further degrading.

The same is true of a pile of old video cassettes. The TV station I was working at was taking “the best” of some of the video that was on an old, dying format of videotapes, and dubbing them to the format they were then using. It made sense, as these dubs were being made on the station’s last working machine that played the old format tapes. The old tapes were being hauled to the dumpster. I grabbed as many as I could for “safe keeping.”

In both of these cases, I was holding onto what I knew was great video, but had no means to share it or even watch it. In some cases, this stuff had been in my possession for over a decade. Waiting.

Having been lucky enough to turn a bit of a profit from my book “Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman: The Irv, Rick, and Tom Story,” I gathered up most of that film, and many of those video tapes, along with others that I’d copied or recorded myself over the years, and sent them off to be properly and professionally digitized. A painstaking and expensive process, but one that was the end result of saving them from the trash in the first place– whether I knew it at the time or not.

Being able to treat my relatively small collection with a great deal of care and respect has allowed me to begin sharing some interesting moments reported and recorded by Buffalo television journalists over the last 60 years. You’re seeing the fruits of it on YouTube.

A Stan Barron obituary piece was the first item from the hours of “new” old video I shared…


The second was a true Western New York treasure. Who among us in Buffalo hasn’t replied with a sarcastic “Fun? Wow!” when asked a question? The phrase, of course, comes from TV commercials for Fantasy Island, which ran over and over and over and… I can remember asking my parents to go to “Fun Wow,” not realizing the actual name of the place.

The iconic commercial forever ensconced the phrase “Fun… WOW!” in our collective lexicon. Type “Fantasy Island” into Google, and the term “fun wow” follows as a suggested search term. Some how the commercial has eluded the Internet, until uncovered in that pile of tapes that time had forgotten was remastered.

There are two wonderful memories supplied, and there’s plenty more to come as well. Literally hundreds more quick videos to come for all of us to pause and remember for a moment.

Video especially has a great power to transport us back to another time and place like no other medium. That’s why I can honestly say that I don;t think I’ve ever been so excited about a project as the one I’m embarking on here in putting this video online to share with the world.

What it comes down to for me is…. my stuff is useless unless it can be of some use to somebody. I’ve already seen the smiles from these small bits already released that proves the usefulness. I won’t make a million dollars on my finds… In fact, I’m in the red getting them ready to share. But it really hurts my brain to know that many of the wonderful archival videos you’ll see, in fact, much of what is posted at staffannouncer.com, could have just as easily made it’s way to the land fill.

No matter where you fall on the “saver/saves-nothing” scale, I ask you to join me in finding good use for your saved stuff, or finding a good home for the stuff you want to get rid of.

One man’s trash can become an entire community’s treasure.

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 Courier: Thirty years since the last Courier-Express rolled off the presses

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

This page first appeared on staffannouncer.com on September 19, 2012.

BUFFALO, NY – It was thirty years ago today, September 19, 1982. I was in my second week of kindergarten, and the last editions of the Courier-Express were hitting Western New York front stoops with a thud. It was a thick Sunday edition, and most of the “A” section was dedicated to the forever silenced presses of the liberal morning newspaper.

masthead

This is page is simply that A section, presented one page at a time. Click on each page for a larger, easier to read version. I photographed, then edited each page. If anyone has a better idea for “scanning” newspapers, I’d love to hear it… and maybe would do more.

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 in the 80’s: 400 photos of pre-MetroRail Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY  – At the time when these photos were taken, Buffalo needed the song “Talking Proud” to remind us to talk proudly about our city because everything seemed to be spiraling out of control.

Area industry was hemorrhaging the good paying blue collar jobs that were the back bone of “who Buffalo was;” so many plants were being left idle.

The city itself had seen better days, too. A once proud downtown was looking sad but hopeful for what the MetroRail might bring. Neighborhoods were slowly being abandoned… or worse, quickly being abandoned.

Bad things were happening all over, and even the calm, cool, and collected types were running out of fingers to plug the holes in the dyke.

That’s the scene in the Buffalo of these photos. Late 70s through the 80s. It wasn’t cool or hip or trendy or interesting to love this place for what it was. Many people focused their love on a single building, like Shea’s or the Darwin Martin House. Many people focused on their love of the people of this city.

But as a whole, the Buffalo that we loved was disappearing. The capital of glitz and glamour, the big city between Chicago and New York, the true Queen City of the Lakes was gone. It was hard to love the remnants of those days gone by, the city we have today. It took us some time to appreciate what we had and have, and we’re there now.

When someone makes a crack about snow or chicken wings, we’re ready to tell them what’s truly great about our city. We talk about our great history, and how we’re moulding that into our promising future.

But as you look at these photos, I hope you don’t simply curse the mistakes that were made. Many of these neat and interesting places no longer exist. But many were taken down in the hopes of replacing the old with something to be proud of tomorrow. No one knew how to do it. Boston made mistakes. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago. Each made choices now lamented about city planning, or lack of it.

Looking through these, quite a few times I said, “Damn.” Sometimes as in, damn, I wish that building was still here. But also, damn as in, look at how much better Chippewa looks. Damn, I’m glad there are no more porn shops on Main Street.

It’s a mixed bag for sure, but it is a mixed bag. If you through these photos, and see nothing but negative, you might be part of the problem with Buffalo today. You can’t change the past, and you can’t blame people who were trying, for the most part, to make our city a better place.

An early 80s billboard near City Hall asked the last person leaving Buffalo to turn out the light. Luckily, despite umpteen decisions that we wish we had back, it looks like that light will shine brightly for quite a while now.

About these photos:

A tremendous Buffalonian with a great eye for history rescued these amazing photos from certain peril. Yes, Derik Kane garbage picked them, scanned them, and put them up on Facebook.

The photos are popping up piecemeal all over Facebook, but I thought it was important to put them in a single, public place together on the web, so that they could be viewed as a single collection, and Derik was kind enough to oblige.

Personally, this is the earliest Buffalo I remember. Taking the Seneca bus downtown to Main Street with my mom or one of my grandmothers just before the MetroRail went in.

I’d like to gather as much info on these photos as possible. If you have any information or stories about any of the buildings, or neighborhoods, or times spent, or even the great array of vehicles, please note the number of the photo(s) and drop me an e-mail and we’ll update the page.

It’d also be great if anyone thinks to grab a “now” photo from a similar vantage point of any of these photos… Especially places that look drastically different.

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

Family History Mystery: Either ‘Truth Uncovered’ or ‘Stunning Coincidence’

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Every time I visit my grandpa in the nursing home, he wants to know if I’ve tracked down the “Cichons in Brazil” yet.The family legend is that three Cichon brothers eventually came to America, my great-grandfather and his two older brothers. My great grandfather stayed, his two brothers went on to Brazil.

For decades worth of research and genealogical digging, I’ve have found out exactly NOTHING about the Cichons. We have great family stories, mostly from my grandpa and his sister Mary, but no records, no documents. Don’t know which Polish towns my great-grandparents are from. Don’t know what their parents’ names are. Don’t have anything like the ship manifest that took my great-grandfather and my great-grandmother separately to the New World around 1913. The trail ends cold in Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood.

Cichon isn’t the most common name, but it’s common enough. Especially when you are looking for information on John and Mary Cichon.

The story is, they met and fell in love in Buffalo on Fulton Street, both having just arrived from Poland, and then got married. As far as I can tell, there is no record of their marriage. Not in the likely several churches I checked, not at Buffalo City Hall.

Great-Grandma Cichon’s maiden name is Pochec, a very unusual name. I contacted a guy in Canada with the last name Pochec and an obviously Polish first name. He says all the records of his family’s existence were destroyed in war… The world wars and any other number of wars that have marred that part of Eastern Europe for centuries. Pochec has been a dead end. She was half Polish, “half Turk,” as my grandpa says. Her dad was a baker in the Turkish army.

Great-Grandpa worked as a laborer for National Aniline in their railroad yard for about 40 years. Back in Poland, he was a cobbler. Gramps said his pa always kept the shoe making tools he brought with him from Poland, just in case.

This is about all I have to go on, so when I see some bit of information with potential, I get excited.

My great-grandfather told 3 or 4 different census takers and the World War I draft board that he came here in 1913, so that seems legit. Around 1913, there were no fewer than 8 or 9 guys named Jan or John Cichon taking boats to North America. Anyone of them could be my great grandfather, or none of them could be. One of those ship’s manifests really has set my mind to wonder, though.

It shows 20 year-old Jan Cichon from “Kurowa?,” son of Tomasz, sailing from Holland to meet up with a friend in Connecticut in October 1913. This has the right date, the right name, and this Jan is the right age, but there’s nothing for certain that points to “steerage passenger 13” on the SS Nieuw Amsterdam as being my great-grandfather.

But in going over this two page document, having to shift back and forth between two jpgs of this horizontally long ledger, something that’s just too odd to overlook caught my eye yesterday.

Passenger 21 is a 19 year old German young lady of Polish decent who is on her way to the New World as well. According to the ship manifest, Emilie Rakowska told Immigration officials that she’s on her way to rendez-vous with her brother Heinrich. Heinrich Rawkoski lived in Buffalo at 909 Perry Street. That’s about 10 houses away from the house that the Jan Cichon who is my great grandfather would buy and spent the next 60 years living in.

It’s either an amazing, colossal coincidence, that some other 20 year old guy named Jan Cichon from Poland got on a ship in Holland headed for the US in 1913, and just happened to be on a ship with a woman who was bound for the exact block where another Jan Cichon would arrive in the same year… or Great-Grandpa Cichon wound up in Buffalo chasing a single chick, his age, that he met on the boat ride over here.

I’m just about convinced that this is my dziadzia. How could it not be? I’m going to do some more research on the decent amount of information provided on the John Cichon who was on the New Amsterdam that day, and see if it fits into some of the family stories and lore.

History and genealogy really are cool. Sweeping the cobwebs off the front door is going to have to wait.

Here are the difficult to read documents (edited to make it a little easier):

cichonnieuwamsterdamedit1 cichonnieuwamsterdamedit2

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

The Grass is Greener With A Splendid Hat: My 80 Year Old Twin

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Not to be a downer, but it’s true. There have been a number of heavy questions soggying down my brain lately. Some of those questions are being pondered and explored necessarily as part of life, some are likely just a part of some minor level (I hope) of insanity and mental disease.

white-fedora

I’m trying to be amusing, but physical health issues are always troublesome, and waiting months for tests starts to play with my mind.

As someone who has dealt with chronic pain in my joints and gastrointestinal tract for decades now, I can tell you that it’s been my experience that they can’t get rid of pain. Some medications can change the nature of pain, but filling my bloodstream with otherwise toxic chemicals to change a sharp, throbbing pain to a warm, intermittent pain just isn’t worth it. (I’ve probably been on 15 different arthritis meds since elementary school. More harm than good so far.)

There are also changes in diet which can help mitigate pain or terrible symptoms or potential outcomes. Depending on how much a part of your life this food you’re forced to abandon is, the physical pain that’s relieved by abstaining from it can lead to similarly toll-taking mental anguish. (I’m in the sixth year of eating gluten-free, and I’m just starting to accept it.)

Exercise is a great way to get rid of pain caused my not moving around as much as I should, and “knocking the rust off” actually feels pretty good. But it’s by nature, working out is accompanied by the “good pain” of exercising. “Good pain” is still pain. (I should exercise more, but I am lazy. When I do hit then gym, I don’t pussyfoot around. I get a good workout and hurt afterwards. Like ya should.)

Having dealt with and thought about these ideas most of my life, it shapes my thoughts on the other big issues also sloshing around in the stormy seas between my ears. I’ve learned through years of personal experience and shattered notions, that any measure of the “grass is greener” philosophy is a fairy tale.

Pain can’t be eliminated, but it can be changed. Sometimes for the better. So too can the nature of the grass be changed.

To stretch the metaphor too far, a different shade of green doesn’t make it any more green. To stretch the metaphor to the point where a reader might want to cause physical harm to the writer, you might have to mow that species of grass over there half as much, but you might not realize you have to water it twice as often.

Desired change always begets unanticipated change. And while sometimes overall change is needed, it kills me bracing for those unanticipated changes and deciding if those as-yet-unknown changes are worth it.

None of this is any kind of breaking news flash; it’s what most of us face on a daily basis. But it seems a little more weighty on this end lately. We all get bogged down from time to time. Maybe I just need to find some gluten-free fiber supplements.

But today, as I took a quick walk to knock out the cobwebs and get refocused, my countenance improved greatly just by the sight of a guy walking my way.

Now my wife can probably just about picture the guy I’m talking about. When we’re people watching, I can’t help but make comments about happy-go-lucky, smiling little old guys. It’s really what I want to be when I grow up: a white-haired smiling man, walking a bit slowly, taking in and loving life.

From 100 yards away, looking at this guy today I knew he had it all going on. His gait was a bit slow, but cool. He was wearing a beige straw fedora; a dapper, perfectly fitting-yet 20 year old navy blue suit, a fresh flower on his lapel, and a handkerchief in his breast pocket. He was also carrying a leather briefcase.

As he got closer, it was obvious this gentleman was likely around 80, and I got the impression that this was an important day out, and that he was quite pleased with having the occasion to have an important day out. I’ll bet the briefcase hadn’t left the closet shelf in a few years, but was a necessary accessory today.

Just as I was about to say, “Good morning, sir,” as this fine fellow approached, his smiling face beat me to the punch with an identical “Good morning, sir.” Not only the same words I was about to use, but even the same cadence and inflection. I was like I was talking to myself 50 years into the future.

“Good morning to you, sir,” I responded, “and how are you?”

“Splendid,” said the man in the straw hat and lapel flower, as he strolled on to his day’s affairs.

I want that kind of splendor. To hope to be as splendid as this man appeared is like hoping to win the lottery. Or for me, like hoping to eat normal bread someday. It’s not a healthy thing to be fixated with, but it’s something nice to daydream about from time to time.

While I know the grass isn’t always greener, it’s all worth the effort to pay it forward; to aim to be splendid enough to have my splendidity spill over, to share with people who might need a little bit. Just like this gentleman did today.

Splendid thought, isn’t it?

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 in the 50’s: Ted’s Charcoal broiled Red Hots, Sheridan Drive

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

teds

Who feels like cooking in this heat… Let’s go to Teds! Sheridan Drive, late 40s, early 50s.

Give me a well done (aka burnt) loaded footlong with a toasted roll and a loganberry.

And when asked, “Fries or rings?,” the only worthy answer is both.