Buffalo in the 50’s: Downtown, Black Rock First Ward, and The Fruit Belt in Color

Buffalo, NY – Here are dozens of beautiful photos showing downtown, areas along the Black Rock Canal that have been replaced with the 190, and photos of the Fruit Belt neighborhood devastated by the building of the 33 Expressway, great old downtown flicks, a few from the First Ward, and even some shots from “out in the country.”

These photos are mostly from 1957 & 1958.

Becky Harbison had a car trunk full of old slides rescued from the home of a relative, who obviously had a great love for some of the more interesting scenes around Buffalo in the late 50s.

Read more about William Harbison (and see a few more GREAT slide) here. We scanned in the slides, and here they are… Along with a few other slides I had laying around.

Church & Franklin
Church & Franklin
Cherry & Goodell
Cherry & Goodell
20a near Orchard Park
20a near Orchard Park
Thruway toll booths
Parkside-Zoo streetcar, Erie overpass
Downtown
Downtown
Lafayette Square, Kleinhans
Lafayette Square, Kleinhans
West Side Rowing Club
Washington at Virginia
Tug Oklahoma, Irving L Clymer. Black Rock Canal, 1957
South Wales Depot
Sewer Authority
Sacred Heart Academy Washington Street
Rt 16 in Holland
219– road to Bradford
Public School 15 from Ellicott Square Bulding
Ash & Genesee, Police Precinct 4
Old Police Barns
Ohio St, Louisiana St, St Clair St, First Ward
Niagara Section (I-190) anf Massachusetts Pumping Station
Michigan & South Park
Michigan & Scott
Michigan & Genesee
Massachusetts Ave Pumping Station
Goodell & Washington
Goodell & Washington
Goodell & Demond Alley Lux Funeral Home
Goode3ll & Demond Alley
Franklin & Court
Forest Lawn/Mt St Joseph Academy
Forest Lawn Millard Fillmore grave
Forest Lawn
Foot of Erie Street
Ferry Street from Gull Street
Foot of Ferry Street
Ferry St Bridge
Ferry St Bridge
Ferry St Bridge
Ferry St Bridge
Ferry St Bridge
Ferry St Bridge from Bird Island
Ferry St Bridge from Bird Island
Ferry St Bridge
Ferry St Bridge
Ferry Street and Rowing Club from Canada
Niagara St & Ferry St
Niagara St & Ferry St
Niagara St & Ferry St
Niagara St & Ferry St
Niagara St & Ferry St
Niagara St & Ferry St
Fairmont Creamery
Fairmont Creamery
Edmund P Smith
Edmund P Smith
Edmund P Smith
Edmund P Smith
Delaware & Huron
Delaware & Huron
County Hall, Delaware Ave Side
County Hall, Delaware Ave Side
Cotters Grill, First Ward
Cotters Grill, First Ward
Cotters Grill, First Ward
Cotters Grill, First Ward
Coal Dock from canal terminal
Coal Dock from canal terminal
Church & Franklin NFT Bus
Church & Franklin NFT Bus
Central Book Store
Central Book Store
Barge Robert M Trotter and tug at Black Rock
Barge Robert M Trotter and tug at Black Rock
SS Irvin L Clymer at Black Rock
SS Irvin L Clymer at Black Rock
Pioneer at Black Rock
Pioneer at Black Rock
Niagara Mohawk at Black Rock
Lydon at Black Rock
Lydon at Black Rock
HL Gobeille at Black Rock
HL Gobeille at Black Rock
Freighter at Black Rock
Freighter at Black Rock
Black Rock Canal at Ferry Street
Black Rock Canal at Ferry Street
Black Rock shoreline tug boat
Black Rock shoreline tug boat
Ball Brothers, Black Rock Canal
Ball Brothers, Black Rock Canal
Black Rock Canal
Black Rock Canal, Meyer Malt
Bird Ave at Soldiers Pl
Bird Ave at Soldiers Pl, Frank Lloyd Wright Heath House
Allegheny State Park
Allegheny State Park
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

Donuts & Booze: Happy Birthday 60th Birthday, Dad

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

Today my ol’man would have been 60 years old. I miss him, but he’s really not that far away… He fills my heart and my brain.

For example, were he around today, it would’ve gone like this: We’d walk in the door, and he’d yell in an exaggerated voice, “WHERE’S MY PRESENT? DID YOU BRING ME A DONUT?”

He was racked with pain and depression most of the time towards the end, and it was always nice to see him happy and fired up.

Now as far as that present, I think he knew more often than not what I’d be giving him, but I don’t think he allowed himself to expect it. To add the gravitas of it all, I often brought it over unwrapped in it’s natural state.

The boisterousness would instantly turn to whisper, and his Marine Corps-bred instincts would kick in.

DAD DRINKING AN OLD MILWAUKEE TALL BOY, 1984
DAD DRINKING AN OLD MILWAUKEE TALL BOY, 1984

“Don’t tell your mother,” he’d much too loudly whisper, brown bottle in hand. As he’d begin to think of a good hiding spot, it would dawn on him.

“Why didn’t you get me the bigger bottle?,” he’d demand, back in that same tone as Where’s my present but at a hushed volume.

It was an ongoing discussion between Dad and me. He’d rather have a $7 two gallon jug of whiskey from the paint thinner aisle of the liquor store, but I’d always buy him one of those smaller, flat-plastic-flask-shaped bottles, like you find laying around the park on a Saturday or Sunday morning. The kind of bottles they keep behind the counter. The kind of bottles Kesslers or Old Grandad don’t usually come in.

Dad wanted more, and wanted it to be cheaper for me. I wanted to give my ol’man a taste, but not too much. He was a diabetic, was on about a million pills. The booze messed with his blood sugar and some of those pills. He didn’t care. He liked a little whiskey in his iced tea or diet ginger ale or diet lemon-lime.

The bottle also had to be plastic, because the diabetic neuropathy dad had in his hands was so bad, he could barely feel them. His hands didn’t work too well.

So it was a small plastic bottle, and I was happy to be the ol’man’s hook up. Of course you hope he’ll live forever, but if you told my dad that by giving up booze he’d live another six months, he would have comically shoved a glass in your face and told you to Fill’er up.

He smoked on and off from the time he was in grade school, and ate more donuts than any other diabetic heart patient in the history of man. Those were his choices. And though they made me sad, and I’d encourage otherwise constantly, I couldn’t make the decision for him. Same with the booze. The only thing stopping him from having a drink was his inability to get to the liquor store.

Now he wasn’t an alcoholic or anything, but he liked a drink. And didn’t care what it did to him. His rough physical state of well being was actually better than his sorry emotional state, so making him happy was important to me. And I’m pretty sure getting that bottle as a gift made him happier than the actual drinking did.

Also, inevitably would come the reminder that we had to be nice to him because it was his birthday, and because he was moving soon, and not going to tell us where he was moving to.

“Some honey just told your ol’man he looks like he’s about 28,” he’d say, just like he had at probably every birthday since he was 29.

Dad died way too young, but I’m glad not before at could laugh at his stupid jokes and the dumb things he’d say over and over again. I see a few people I’m close to finally appreciating their parents as people for the first time, and enjoying them with all their faults. It’s tough with parents, because it’s literally a lifetime’s worth of baggage we carry in dealing with them.

For dad’s birthday, please do him the honor of trying to accept some of the stupid stuff your mom or dad might do. And please give them a hug and tell them you love ’em.

I did that all the time with dad, and it still doesn’t feel like it was enough.

Happy birthday, ol’man.

My Cardiac Adventure: What I learned on a trip to the hospital

Its with mixed emotions I find myself morphing into my dad more and more on a daily basis.

stevehospitalI’m really amused by some of the small things, and, in the way that slowly seeped into my being after spending so much time with my ol’man, I just don’t give a shit (pardon my language, but it’s Dad’s way) about some things, and just find it a waste of time to think about it.

Over the years, and especially since he died, I’ve stopped resisting, and actually started enjoying being more like my father. That is, in every way but one.

A big part of the reason Dad’s looking down on us now is because he didn’t take care of himself.

To be certain, he had a load of health problems, from a bad back, to Diabetes, to leg amputation, to heart disease; the last of which actually killed him.

And while those are all serious, Dad treated them less than seriously. He’d ask me to bring him donuts in the hospital while he was in the ICU recovering from diabetic coma. It’s not that he didn’t care; I just think he was a little overwhelmed by it all, and donuts seemed to help.

I’ve been acknowledging to myself for a while that I really need to get on blood pressure and cholesterol meds; that cleaning up my diet hasn’t done enough. The problem is, there’s always a good excuse to not go to the doctor- starting a new job, new book coming out, whatever.

Until it comes to a head at 3:30 one morning, and what the hell.

It felt kind of like heartburn, but a little more intense with a slightly different sensation. As I normally do when I get heartburn, I chugged a little Pepto Bismol. Didnt do a damn thing. The dog was looking to go out, so we went downstairs. The walk up left me feeling worse. My arms started to hurt. I really didn’t think I was having a heart attack, but I really didn’t know what was going on. I just knew it was different than anything I’d felt before, and also that my dad never felt any of the heart attacks he had, even the big one that weakened his heart to the point it stopped pumping a week later.

I tried to go back to sleep, but the combination of pain and anxiety lead me to think, “if this doesn’t stop by 4:30, I’m waking up Monica to take me to the hospital.”

That’s what happened. Ridiculously high blood pressure and family history had them run a battery of tests, including a stress test. That stress test is why I spent the night, because they couldn’t do one until the next day.

All the tests were fine, and they were making fun of how well I did on the stress test (they stopped at 13 minutes. I would have kept on going.)

So I have “heart like bull,” and all is well. I will be going on blood pressure, cholesterol, and GERD meds, like I probably should have a year or two ago. And I will take them. Like dad, I put it off. Unlike dad, I will take them, like the cardiologist said.

I do have to admit, though, given that the hospital was a setting dad did so well in– both mentally and physically, I can see why he liked it in here. He really did, for all his complaining, enjoy his stays in the hospital.

I really do feel bad that people feel bad that I’m in here (I’m writing this as I await discharge), and feel even worse that people feel the need to come visit. I feel and know I am extraordinarily blessed for both, but now have a better understanding of why dad used to say, “Why don’t you guys go home?”

I used to wait until he asked me to go home three times before I’d leave. I always broke my heart when I’d have to leave before he told me to “get outta here.”

monicahospitalI was in here one night, and had 7 visitors, including Fr. Duke Zajac, who was visiting people anyway, but I feel blessed to have had his company, and the company of all my family who were here. I resisted the urge to tell them to go home; except for Monica. She wasn’t very happy with me when I told her she could go home, but I think she understands. Or maybe not. I never fully understood dad until now.

Just like dad, I got in trouble a couple of times for being too respectful to nurses. “Ma’am?,” said one today. “I have your chart here. We’re the same age.” My response was, that anyone who has my life in their hands gets all the respect I can muster.

Although I respect everyone I encounter, and calling a person sir or ma’am is part of that respect my ol’man instilled in me. If you can’t handle respect, thats your problem, not mine.

Also, like dad, surprisingly, I enjoyed the food. I’ve been visiting people in hospitals my whole life, thinking that the meals look and smell like dog food.

But it was with a combination of hunger and excitement that I welcomed last night’s dinner of gluten free pasta with meat sauce. It was really amazing. I laughed thinking of my dad, as just like him, I stopped just short of licking the plate… Though I might have had there not been people watching.

I kicked it up on the dadometer when today’s lunch came. Now I was starving, having not eaten breakfast because of the stress test. When the tray showed up with an egg salad sandwich on gluten free bread, I told Monica (who didn’t go home), ” I’m not eating that.”

I’ve never eaten an egg salad sandwich. Ever. It looks gross. I was an extremely picky eater as a kid, and some of those things I’ve held onto, like egg salad. So I’m not eating it. But I did eat the green beans, and pudding. And then I unwrapped and inspected the egg salad sandwich. Took bite. By the time Monica looked up, the sandwich was just about gone. Best egg salad sandwich I’ve ever had. That’s something my dad would have said, even if it wasn’t the ONLY egg salad sandwich he’d ever had.

So, I really don’t mind being like my ol’man in most ways, but I think my quick stop in the cardiac wing of the hospital will wind up being a lot like that egg salad sandwich.

They were both interesting, in many ways probably necessary, and even a little enjoyable , but from here on out, I’ll be doing everything necessary to make sure that this is my last trip to the hospital, and to make sure that’s the last egg salad sandwich I’ll eat for a long, long time.

Lightning Does Strike Twice: Running into Friends Halfway Around the World

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

When you travel, there’s always a Buffalo connection; some reminder of home abroad. Whether you run into someone wearing a Bills hat in Mumbai or a hot dog cart selling Sahlen’s in Dallas, chance encounters with vestiges of home while on the road are really so commonplace, it’s almost to a point where they’re expected.

Those “six degrees of separation” stories are a little more unusual. On our most recent cruise, a woman who worked for a big national corporation wound up sitting next to the parents of a man who worked for the same company, only half way around the country. But a minute into the conversation, the woman realized she worked very closely with their son, and knew him quite well, if only over the phone and e-mail.

When stories like these would arise, I’d always tell the story of how Monica and I randomly ran into my friend, one time co-worker, and Channel 4 news anchor Jacquie Walker at Epcot Center. Neither of us knew the other would be in Orlando, over one thousand miles from the TV studios where we both worked. To think of how many cosmic events must have lined up to run into a fellow Buffalonian just outside the Hall of Presidents floors me every time I think of it.

Once in a lifetime occurrence, right? Well, not quite.

Fast forward about 12 years, and Monica and I are shivering our way through a hop-on/hop-off tour of the Canadian city of Halifax. It was the final port of call on the New England/Maritime Canada cruise we were taking in celebration of our tenth wedding anniversary.

As the classic double-decker London bus we were riding came up to a stop, I looked out the window to see a gentleman who looked very much like our neighbor David Lampe. A lot like David, in fact.

But truth be told, David is a retired English professor with a penchant for tweed caps. In other words, a historical tour of one of North America’s oldest cities is exactly the type of place one might expect to see a David look-a-like, if not multiple David looks-a-like.

So as the bus was coming to that stop, and as I was about to point out the David look-a-like to Monica, the woman next to the David look-a-like turns around to reveal herself as a Ruth Lampe look-a-like.

Quite flabbergasted, I very plainly said to Monica, “That’s Ruth and David Lampe,” as if I’d seen them on the yogurt aisle at Wegmans.

She saw immediately who I was pointing to, but despite my incredulous tone, thought I was playing a game we often play, pointing out people who remind us of other people.

It sounded nonsensical, seeing couple who live 2 blocks away back home, here in a different country and a different time zone, but there they were. “No, seriously, that’s David and Ruth.”

The next bus stop was actually around the corner, so we hurriedly hopped off, and had to run a bit to catch up with them.

Ruth and Dave were just as delighted and flabbergasted as we were.

Unbeknownst to us, while we had taken a Carnival cruise, they had taken a Princess cruise with a very similar itinerary.

We chatted for a few minutes, and then went our separate ways in Nova Scotia, although I think we were all a little stunned, and the whole conversation was every bit like we were on the produce aisle at Dash’s Market.

A few dozen times over the last few days of our vacation, Monica and I laughed and shook our head in disbelief, running into our friends and neighbors so far from home; and thinking about how it was amazing that this had happened to us twice.

See you in Sheboygan?

Taking 9/11 Out of it’s Box: September 11th, Ten Years Later

I’ve been writing this for a while, but felt moved to finish it this 10th anniversary morning. It’s really about my struggle with coming to grips with 9/11. I really can’t bear to think what the struggle’s been like for those who lost someone, or had their lives directly altered forever.

My feelings on the September 11th attacks on America are really a lot like the box of recordings I made that day; preserving for posterity the radio coverage which I was a part of on our country’s worst day.

When the first plane hit, I was sitting in a cubicle with some radio and TV equipment, listening back to Bills Head Coach Gregg Williams talk about the Bills season opening loss to the Saints.

I looked at a TV monitor (they were everywhere… I was working at Empire Sports Network and 107.7 WNSA), saw the smoking tower, and remember seeing some television reporter standing on the top of another building with the smoke as a backdrop.

Terrible accident, I thought. Didn’t that happen to the Empire State Building during World War II?

Interesting, but my job was to get sound bites ready for the day’s sportscasts. I was wearing headphones and was engrossed in listening about Rob Johnson’s paltry performance as quarterback.

I know I sat there even after the second plane, wanting to keep busy, not wanting to be a part of the wild speculation and fear that was going on in front of those TVs. My friend Ricky Jay, a sportscaster at WNSA, seemed almost crazed when he came over to talk me, saying we’re at war now. He was ready to take up arms.

I didn’t want to be crazed. A.) I wanted to process this all, eventually, but B.) I had to be able to perform my job. I had learned from the age of 15, working in the WBEN newsroom, that you often had to buckle sown and suspend reality to get through covering news. Couldn’t worry during snow storms, or cheer during Bills games. The pressure was greater this day, but it was the same matrix for me.

Howard Simon was on the air, and really having a hard time of it. I remember hugging him as he sobbed, watching his hometown of New York, looking like a war zone; worrying about his parents. This wasn’t a football game or a snow storm, but I pushed it out of the way to get the job done.

My main job then was producer. I helped put talk shows together, then technically ran the radio station while the shows were on. My fellow producer Neil McManus left early that day to go get his kids; and I can remember spending most of the rest of the day… From mid-morning to evening, mostly alone in the radio studio, running CNN’s audio, with the occasional legal ID, and just recording.

There alone, of course, was a lot to think about. But I used all the will I had, however, to not think about it.

I had that job to do, and getting emotionally involved in this would prevent me from doing my job. So I stoically blocked it out. I’m really still paying for it to this day.

Suppressing my worry for our nation was one thing; but I was also dealing with some pretty big personal questions relative to the day.

Were my fiancée and I going to have to cancel our wedding two weeks away?

I’m sure I fielded calls from Monica that day, but I don’t really remember. I know we were worried about our wedding, and our European honeymoon, complete with transatlantic flights already long booked.

But at my station, behind the controls I stayed, until it was time to go, around 6pm. The ride home was perhaps the longest I’ve ever taken.

It was 9 hours after it all began before I’d allow myself to even consider what the hell had happened in New York, to our country, to our world.

What had spread over the course of the work day for most people was hitting me like a rainstorm of bricks; but I also felt the guilt of not expressing any emotion during the day. I was a mess.

At home, I remember our couch was in our dining room as we remodeled our 100 year old house.

I’m sure I was happy to see my fiancee, and sure we talked about our wedding, but all I can remember is laying on that couch in the dining room in the fetal position, weeping, watching TV coverage, and letting the day’s emotions catch up with and wash over me.

It was back to work the next day in a different world. We talked about sports on the sports talk station, But only insofar as a Bills game being cancelled for the first time since the JFK assassination. I recorded it all. I can also remember recording WBEN that day.

Mike Schopp had the idea that he’d give a dollar to the Red Cross for everyone who called the show and just talked about what was on their mind. I liked it and also pledged a buck per call. In the end, dozens of pledges and hundreds of calls meant thousands of dollars for the Red Cross relief efforts. I recorded these shows.

Mike also had the idea to start playing Ray Charles’ America the Beautiful to end every show.

I know a bunch of us from the station went to a noon mass on September 12th. For a few, it was the first trip inside a church for a long time.

My then fiancée and I joined Chris Parker and the then very pregnant Kirsten Parker on a MetroRail trip from our Parkside homes downtown on the metro rail for the big candlelight vigil in Niagara square.

We all felt a need to come together and be a part of something larger, something that meant something.

As the days, months, and years passed, the new normal that we all have become used to took hold.

Some have even watched TV shows and read books about that horrific day, many so that ‘they don’t forget.’

I guess that’s part of the reason I spent the hours and days following the attacks on America recording what was going out over Buffalo’s airwaves– I did it so I wouldn’t forget. But the little box with all those tapes from that day… Remains taped shut, with the same tape I applied in mid-September 2001.

But now, it’s a decade later, and even with all that’s changed, I haven’t come close to forgetting.

Today, my wife and I have a little trip planned to celebrate our 10th anniversary. I watch The Parkers’ son, a big 9 year old, grow up and enjoy life on Facebook. The conversations about life and beyond I have Ricky Jay these days are some of the most fulfilling and meaningful, soulful conversations that any two men might have with each other. I’m also back on 107.7, as WBEN now simulcasts on the station where I worked then.

In my world, relationships and feelings have grown and changed since that date, September 11, 2001.

Perhaps the only relationship that is exactly the same, still as stark and vivid as it was that day, is my relationship with that day’s events themselves. I don’t need to open that box.

I haven’t watched any documentaries; I’ve avoided any prolonged exposure to people talking about that day. I see the footage, I change the channel.

When I say I want that box kept closed, I mean it. I too easily feel that same pit in my stomach that I felt laying on the couch 10 years ago. It’s just as strong. I wept as I edited a story for WBEN about this 10th anniversary. I felt moved to vomit as I looked at photos from that day to put on our website.

I don’t want to open that box, but today I am, letting audio clips and feelings see their first light of day in a decade.

Not because I want to, and not because I think anyone’s forgotten. How could you forget? I’m opening the box for the other reason I rolled all these tapes on that day: For the sake of history. It’s history now.

Some college kids, certainly high school kids and younger, have no good direct memories of that day.

I don’t think any of us that were around will ever forget, but now, a decade later, we’re all charged with making sure the next generation knows.

It’s quite painful to open the box, but we all owe it to the thousands who lost their lives that day.

Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman: The Irv, Rick, and Tom Story…. A book by Steve Cichon

ABOUT THE BOOK:

The story of a TV anchorman so universally loved in Western New York that only one name is necessary… Irv. From the 1950s through the 1990s, Irv Weinstein informed and entertained generations of Buffalonians with his unmistakable style in writing and delivering the news. Together with Rick Azar and Tom Jolls, Irv was a part of the longest running TV anchor team in history, and their story is the story of Buffalo over the last half century.

From the time long ago… When our TV picture looked like it came from the bottom of a Coke bottle in fuzzy black and white, to today’s electronically augmented color; one man in Buffalo television has been the leading presence. As Clint Buehlman once dominated Buffalo radio, as Walter Cronkite dominated network news, so Irv, through his intuition, aggressive style, his personality, has dominated the local news scene. -Phil Beuth

Softcover, 74 historic photos, 148 pages.

BUY THE BOOK NOW: Buffalo Stories Bookstore

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Steve Cichon is an award-winning journalist, author, and historian. The Buffalo News calls him “A true Buffalonian,” and says “he knows this town.  The winner of a Buffalo Business First ‘40 Under 40’Award in 2010 and dozens of Associated Press Awards as an anchor and reporter with WBEN Radio since 2003, Steve has worked in radio and television in Buffalo since 1993.

When they went into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2000, I snuck behind the stage to get a photo with the greatest triumvirate in the history of Buffalo. They had no idea who I was. Ten years later, I wrote a book about them.
When they went into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2000, I snuck behind the stage to get a photo with the greatest triumvirate in the history of Buffalo. They had no idea who I was. Ten years later, I wrote a book about them.

Cichon’s 2009 book, ‘The Complete History of Parkside,’ was described by Western New York Heritage Magazine as ‘packed with numerous facts from start to finish, (A) fun read through one the city’s most beautiful residential neighborhoods.’ Steve and his wife Monica are the care takers of their 1909 EB Green home in the Parkside Neighborhood.

While Steve has spent years collecting the Irv Weinstein story, his interests also extend to the history of all of Buffalo and Western New York as well. He’s the curator, writer, and webmaster at staffannouncer.com, a website dedicated to preserving and sharing the Buffalo area’s pop culture history, particularly the history of Buffalo radio and television, and the numerous untold stories of everyday living on the Niagara Frontier.

Steve is available to talk about Irv, Rick, and Tom and many other Buffalo Pop Culture history subjects… Information on how by clicking here.

Fathers Day 2011: Some Thoughts on All the Fathers in my Life

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

I’ve been blessed with fathers in my life. I was lucky to have the best dad that anyone could ever ask for; which is what every son and daughter created in their old man’s image will say. I mean how can I not: from my stubby fingers, to untold numbers of personality traits both wonderful and not-quite-as wonderful, I’m a spitting image of my dad in so many ways, how can I deny it?

I’ve written a lot about my dad. Click on “The Ol’man” in the word cloud and you’ll see plenty about him.

I love and miss my dad every day, but what I’d like to talk about today is the other fathers in my life, and I’m lucky to have and to have had many.

I’m so blessed to have enjoyed the love and care of three grandfathers.

First, Stephen Julius Wargo, my great grandfather, after whom I was named. My mom’s grandpa. He lived a few blocks away from us, and when I had to go home for lunch in first grade, I would occasionally bring a can of chicken noodle soup over to Grandpa W’s house for us to share, with enough left over for his dinner. He also famously fixed my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, when the piece between the handlebars and the big wheel broke. I sadly dragged the pieces down to his house, but triumphantly rode my orange plastic treasure home a week later. He was always smiling, kind of a troublemaker, and happy that as a revered old guy, he could get away with it. Like on Christmas, when he wouldn’t fully open a gift; but would only lift up the edge of the paper to see what was in there. A master aggravator!

Jimmy Coyle was my mom’s dad. He took over sending out cards and such after my grandma died, and I know I got at least one signed “Jimmy Coyle” from gramps. A big strong man, Gramps was the old fashioned kind of strong silent type that you might see in the westerns that he loved. When I was little, and we’d be there for dinner, he’d come home from work, and within moments be sharping the big knife in anticipation of carving up the big roast beef that Grandma just pulled out of the oven. I always felt an extra compulsion to behave and eat everything on my plate, with my regular seat next to Gramps. We would often be at Grandma and Grandpa’s house the night he did grocery shopping, and he would buy a special treat for us for ‘helping’ put away the groceries (I was no more than 5 or 6, and I’m the oldest… So I don’t think we were much help.) It was usually green Chuckles (like the spearmint jelly candies) and we earned ’em. I also remember going with him in his old green jalopy of a pickup truck (it was actually a van with the back some how cut off) to the hardware store, where I can remember him using his old wooden fold out measure to see how much wood he needed. I don’t think he ever used a metal measuring tape. As we all got older, you could tell how satisfied Gramps was when his house would fill on holidays. One of his last great thrills though, came on one of his saddest days. On the day of Grandma’s funeral, he took ‘all of June’s gambling money,’ and funded an impromptu Irish wake at a hole in the wall bar. He had so much fun drinking and really just hanging out with his kids and especially his grandkids, he talked about it with a smile until the day he died.

I’m blessed that Grandpa Cichon is still as loving and lovely a man you’d ever meet at the age of 85. If the world had a few more people like Eddie Cichon, there’d be fewer coupons to go around, but a lot more happiness and love. Gramps always delighted in whatever kids were around, especially any of us 20-something grandkids. When we were small, he’d take us to the park, and sit and watch us play until we wore out. One of his classic lines, Go catch grandpa a bird, would leave us kids sneaking up on birds seemingly forever. We never caught one. Dinner was a little different at Grandma Cichon’s. The table was completely set, everyone was in place, waiting for Gramps to get home from work. His seat was a direct shot from the front door, he’d sit right down, say the fastest grace on record, ‘BlessLordGiveBoutToReceiveChristLordAmen,’ and quickly add a ‘OK, let’s eat.’ And eat you did with Gramps. A child of the Depression, he clipped coupons, and stored them under a couch cushion. He’d try to use expired ones. And he’d buy it whether he needed it or not. “But Huns,” he’d tell Grandma, “It was on sale.” Then he’d try to make you eat it or take it home. For as hard a time as I have had with my Dad’s death, poor gramps not only lost a son, but a best friend. My dad used to bring him donuts to the nursing home whenever he’d visit. It had probably been at least a year since he had one, when I brought two up a few weeks ago. He’s blind, so when I told him what a I had there with me, he said, with all the gravity and earnestness you can imagine, ‘Stevie, donuts are as good as gold.’ And there’s no doubt he meant it.

September 29, 2001, I some how shanghaied my beautiful wife into saying ‘I do,’ and I gained not only a wife, but a whole family. I don’t even like referring to Howard Huxley as my father-in-law, because father is really enough. He’s probably tearing up reading this, and that’s what I love about him. He loves his family, and loves and appreciates that his family loves him.

He’s really the ultimate proud parent, traveling to just about everyone of my brother-in-law’s baseball games. And the games were an hour and a half away, at night, and he had to be up for work at 3am. And just this week, he was there shooting video of my well-into-her 30s wife, as she took the slide into Jell-O for charity, with no less excitement than when he was there taking pictures at her 1st grade dance recital. I know it’s tough on him that his other daughter and granddaughter are in Florida, but it really makes the times we’re all together that much more special for him and all of us. Personally, I’m thankful and blessed that all this love and pride has extended to me, too. Howard’s my biggest fan, showing up to all my silly events, always listening to the radio, and just being a good guy, good friend, and good dad.

Growing up, I also became close with the fathers of a number of friends, like Bob Cohen, the late Dr. Fanelli, and Don Brindle. Each of them cared for me not only like the friend of a son; but like a son, and I them like a parent.

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I think Fathers Day is about more than just biological dads. We actually call our Catholic priests ‘Father,’ and two in particular have meant the world to me.

Msgr. Francis Braun was really the first priest I’d ever gotten to know and love on a personal level. He’s from the same no-nonsense old school as my Grandpa Coyle, has the heart of my Grandpa Cichon, and a lot of the ‘I’m doing what’s right-get out of my way’ attitude of my dad. I’m glad he’s enjoying his retirement with his fellow retired brothers in Christ, despite his having told me more than once that ‘old priests are a pain in the neck,’ and not always using the word ‘neck.’

Fr. Braun was the pastor at my church, so it’s pretty clear how he came into my life. But it’s a little less clear how Father John Mack did.

He is the little angel who sits on my shoulder,and helps shine the beacon of Christ’s love into places I didn’t know existed.

I’m humbled by his continued guidance and friendship, and I consider myself blessed to have a spiritual father to love and trust right here in the flesh. His presence in my life (and my Facebook life) “keeps me honest.”

Of course the big guy, the Father of all men, is also someone that I have to be thankful for; for blessing me with all these great men and great memories and great hope for the future.

Max the Dog: 15 Jun 2001- 14 May 2011

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

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As I begin to write this, I’m sitting here, typing with one hand on my phone, petting Max with the other, waiting for the call from the vet to bring him in. For the last time.He hasn’t eaten in 5 days, won’t even look at food. Can’t drink more than a few laps without spitting it up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His favorite word though, beyond a doubt: cheese.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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