Originally appeared on WBEN.com, February 18, 2013
I’m a Buffalo guy, born and raised. All of my great grandparents called Buffalo home. My Buffaloness runs deep, which is probably in part why I was having a familiar conversation just last week…”Man, this winter’s been pretty easy!”
Not easy like last winter when we didn’t really have winter, but an easy real winter. With plenty of real snow and real cold. And there I was on Valentines Day, like, “Meh! No problem!”
But the temperatures last week were in the high 20s and mid 30s, and there was still snow on the ground. Conditions that are truly winter, but– the best case scenario winter. You can’t get much warmer or get much less snow and still feel wintry.
And though it was certainly subconscious in my case, I’m certain now that there was some element of, “Well, the worst has to be over now!”
Of course, it wasn’t. My pleasant winter of 2012-13 came to an end at 8:36am on Sunday. I saw a little snow on the car out the window, but I wasn’t concerned. Weeks of non-stop snow can be annoying, but generally, snow doesn’t bother me. Certainly hasn’t this year. The end of the cheery face about this winter came as I cracked open the opened the front door and was sucker punched with a windy 16 degrees.
I didn’t expect this rage against winter to happen, but it happens every winter. You’d think after 35 Buffalo winters, I’d be standing square, ready for that haymaker right from Ol’man Winter. It’s true every time. I can stand in for 7 or 8 rounds, but winter just waits for that moment my guard slips. KO. Glass jaw shattered.
Every year, I’m like the President of the Chamber of Commerce until that day arrives. I’m our winter’s biggest backer from the first snow of November through sometime into the New Year.
I’d rather have warm, but, “Hey, this is Buffalo.” I snow blow my whole block. I wear warm-but-silly hats. I poke fun at ex-pats and out-of-towners on Facebook gripping for when 2 inches of snow shuts down their non-WNY communities.
But this time, since I got through January and half of February, maybe I was being a little cocky. I’m not sure. But all I know is right now, I can’t write the words I have for winter on a family friendly website.
And yes, I know, I know. Spring is technically one month from today. “Just around the corner.” Well, what’s here right now is my desire to leave winter behind. I want spring Veruca Salt style. NOW!
I’m done. Get me outta here. I can’t take it. I’m a cold, broken man. At least until April or so.
I’ll probably take it in Buffalo stride when that inevitable Bisons home game gets snowed out. By May, you’ll probably hear me reflect on Buffalo’s great four full seasons of weather. Come November, you’ll probably even see a smile on my face as I yank the pull start on the snow blower for the first time.
Until then, however, shut up. I’m done with “our beautiful winters.” And please be kind, because if your break hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably right around the corner.
While the Buffalo Olmsted Park Conservancy now exists to run and maintain Buffalo’s Parks, as first founded, The Friends of Olmsted were concerned not only with the parks and public spaces designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, but also with the streetscapes and other Olmsted designs which aren’t necessarily parks, but are a part of the master landscape architect’s “city within a park” idea.
The Parkside neighborhood was designed by Olmsted as a buffer between Main Street and the serenity of the park meadow. In the early 1980s, the Friends of Olmsted worked to have many of Olmsted’s landscape designs listed on the National Register. In 1986, with the help of the Parkside Community Association, “The Parkside Historic District” streetscape was recognized by state and national registers.
Part of the several year process in gaining that status involved identifying each structure within the streetscape footprint, and identifying the characteristics of those structures. In other words, some very smart people looked at every house in Olmsted designed portion Parkside and wrote a brief description along with research on when the structure was built.
The final report is several thousand pages long, and actually gives much greater detail on each of the 1109 “contributing principal buildings” of Parkside, but on this page are those brief descriptions of every house. The links below are hundreds of pages, painstakingly scanned, to provide information like this on every house:
This is an example of what you’ll find inside… The listing for my home. Sadly, that glass door on the side porch didn’t make it from the early ’80s to 1999 when we first walked into the house.
To find out about your house:
open the report by clicking this link. (While it’s a large file an takes some time to download, this method is probably easier that trying to use the reader below.)
clicking “Ctrl+F” once the PDF is open
type in the number of your house (there made be a few with your number, but this is the easiest way)
if that doesn’t work, for for your house number with spaces in between the numbers. (e.g., mine comes up as “1 1 7” instead of “117”)
if that doesn’t work, search for your street name then scroll a bit. (note that most streets are broken up odd/even.)
If your street or house isn’t listed, it was not a part of the survey done by the Friends of Olmsted in 1986. Sorry!
The report states Parkside has “an informal, curvilinear street pattern” largely reflective of Olmsted’s original 1876 and 1886 subdivision plans for the neighborhood. The neighborhood is “characterized by numerous, relatively narrow, 1/8 acre building lots and a preponderance of small, wood frame, single family residences” built between 1888 and 1936.
The application states, “The architectural character of the historic district is largely defined by repetitive, narrow, late Victorian period houses with front porches and gabled facades built between 1895 and 1915, as well as by standardized American four-square houses, with square floor plans, boxy massing, and hipped roofs with dormers built between 1900 and 1925.”
Steve Cichon is the author of “The Complete History of Parkside.”
Here’s dinner… I made British pub classic Steak & Ale pie, washed down with a Newcastle Brown Ale… Great-Grandpa Scurr was born only blocks away from where the Newcastle brewery is now at Newscastle-On-The-Tyne.
Steak & Ale Pie
Cut stew beef into bite sized chunks (little over a pound), soak in Guinness for a few minutes.
Drain off but reserve Guinness (or some flavorful beer)
Dredge beef in flour, then fry beef in hot oil….
add salt, pepper, Worcester sauce.
Mix quarter cup of flour with remaining beer… add that mixture to the meat as it cooks.
Add cooked peas to mixture.
You want the gravy to be paste like… so you have to judge how much beer/flour to add.
Line heavy pie plate with crust…
add beef/peas/gravy mix, and cover with second piece of crust.
Add a few slits.
Cook 15/20 mins at 450.
I usually heat up a can of beef gravy to pour over the pie and french fries– just like they serve it in the pub.
All measurements are totally out of my hindquarters. I usually eyeball it.
BUFFALO, NY – Bills games were big doings in the late 80s and early 90s, but they were always big doing in my house. Among my earliest memories of listening to the radio is sitting in our 1977 Mercury Monarch with mustard colored nugahyde seats, listening to Van Miller describe Joe Cribbs run with the ball. It was only a 5 minute drive from our South Buffalo home to Grandma Coyle’s South Buffalo home, where watching my grandfather watch the game was more fun for me, hearing him curse about Joe Ferguson.
Fast forward a few years, when the Bills actually started winning, and my dad would have his 5 brothers over to watch the game. Football for me became an endless walk to the fridge for another beer for someone.
I remember the excitment, I remember the cheering, I remember getting Bills clothes for Christmas every year, and being able to wear them to school on the “Bills Spirit Fridays” before games days and weeks later.
But the actual games themselves all blend together for me before I started working in sports radio. That’s true with only one exception: The Houston Comeback Game. I remember that I was alone in the living room listening to the game on the awful stereo my dad got for free somewhere. No screaming uncles looking for beers. No one swearing when the team was getting killed. Just me… a high school sophomore, Van Miller, and that cruddy stereo.
I was already taping most of the things I listened to on the radio, but I didn’t tape the game for some reason… Maybe because they were losing early, and then I got caught up in the comeback… I don’t know. But I did tape it the next day, when they played back the second half and OT. And here it is, 20 years later.
In Part One, WGR’s Art Wander introduces a collage of highlights, and then the second half of action with Van Miller, Marc Stout, and Greg Brown at the score 28-3 Oilers. (The audio is low quality so that Bills fans reliving the glory days don’t shut down my website.)
In Part two, the second half continues with Van Miller, Marc Stout, and Greg Brown… After overtime and the comeback complete, Paula Green does the news, and then briefly hear John Otto gush about the Bills. Its my favorite part! (The audio is low quality so that Bills fans reliving the glory days don’t shut down my website.)
I’ve been listening to this and thinking a loy about it, and realizing that a few months after taping this, I started working at WBEN. Then soon producing the Bills games on the radio, and covering media day at the stadium. The starting at WBEN in someways seems like only yesterday. That memory of sitting in my living room listening to this game seems like a a book I’ve read, but not something I actually lived.
I freely and openly admit it. I often share terrible and ugly and embarrassing things on social media that at the heart of it, even I would rather keep to myself.
The latest example: Kidney stones. After laying in bed writhing and screaming for about two hours, I started to think about what good could come of it. That’s usually how it happens, these TMI moments. Now I can scream and not sleep and annoy my wife (who was, as always, an absolute sweetheart), and just be miserable, or I can try to A.) in some small way cheer myself up by being stupid about this awful predicament, and B.) more importantly, maybe help someone by sharing my experience.
I’m not a whore for attention. Believe me. You should see some of the crap I don’t put on Facebook. But, if something I’d really rather keep private might help someone, I have to share it. We all have suffering in life. It’ up to you what you are going to do with it.
Putting up a photo of a kidney stone is gross. People I don’t know, some of whom I don’t want to know, are now privy to my most personal business. But I gotta tell ya, every time I talk about something that doesn’t come up in polite conversation, I wind up talking someone through something similar. Or pointing out a red flag to someone. Or make something gross and impolite a little less so, so that people address problems in their lives that are easy to avoid because no one wants to talk about them.
So I talk about kidney stones. And poop. And colonoscopies. And you should see the private messages I get. You can’t talk about Celiac Disease or Gastritis without talking about bum problems. Apparently, given the crap I write (get it?), people are willing to talk to me about ways to makes themselves healthier. And if my shitty health (again, hilarious) and my experiences in trying to be healthier can help someone from making mistakes I made, isn’t that worth offending the sensibilities of some Victorian wannabe.
You should be talking about your pains and poop and craziness, too. It could literally kill you.
Physical pains and problems got much easier to talk about when I took pen to paper and laid out feelings about death and relationships here. It’s something else I’ve found to be helpful to me and to others. I don’t know how I could have gotten through some of life’s biggest traumas without writing about them, sharing them, having others learn from my pain, and drawing an amazing amount of strength from that.
Maybe about 10 years ago, when my dad was in the ICU at the VA Hospital, I was sitting in the waiting room as they were doing something that necessitated me being out of the room. As you may remember, in the days before smartphones, people would read magazines in waiting rooms. Remember?
Well, this time, I read a long story by Mike Wallace about his long struggle with depression. As someone who has struggled in a small way with depression for as long as I can remember, this was the first time I’d ever read about someone struggling with it. And nearly losing to it. And coming back again, only to be beaten down again. Mike Wallace, the peppy guy I’d been watching on TV every Sunday for my entire life, felt the same way I felt sometimes.
What a freaking revelation. I read that at a time when I really needed it. I haven’t thought much about what I’m about to say, but I think it really changed my life. For the better. I don’t know what would have been had I not read that.
I’m thankful that Mike Wallace wrote about the most painful chapter in his life to make my burden a little lighter to carry.
Everything that sucks in life sucks a little less when you’re experiencing it with someone else. I draw strength from those who’ve been there and encourage me, and I draw even more strength from those who look to me later for encouragement.
And, just like finding a dead body on the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or having my union locked out of my job at Channel 4, there are some life experiences that you’d just rather not have… but when you have them, you’d better learn from them. And if you learn and don’t share, what they hell is wrong with you?
TMI? Sure. But share something that matters to you, no matter how personal, and you’ll reap the rewards, I promise.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.