Great moments of childhood, now tinged with hate

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

The item that was “The Red Ryder b-b gun” of my youth has now been branded as hateful. When I rode my “Dukes of Hazzard” big wheel around the streets of South Buffalo as a 6 and 7 year old, the Dukes stood for what is right and wonderful in this world.

That's me (left) with my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, c.1982
That’s me (left) with my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, c.1982. Note the rebel flag sticker just above the shaking hands.

The Dukes always did the right things, for the right reasons, the right way. (Except maybe climbing into their car through the window without opening the door– Copying that move in our old AMC Spirit got me in trouble a few times.)

I don’t think I gave much thought to the “rebel flag” that was clearly a featured emblem on their car “The General Lee,” and also, as seen in this photo, clearly a part of my big wheel. I really hope you don’t find it racist that I still harbor warm feelings for my big wheel and my one-time favorite TV show (even though you couldn’t pay me to watch more than five minutes of it now– not because it’s racist, but because it’s dumb.)

Of course, in the years since cruising down Allegany Street in the saddle of my orange plastic pride and joy, I’ve given plenty of thought to the meaning of that flag.

First I’ll say seeing it fly makes me uncomfortable. But I’ll also say, I’m certain there are many who have displayed that flag who are not racist. I’m also certain that not everyone who has displayed the flag has done so with the thought of doing so as emblematic of racism or a racist culture.

I honestly and earnestly believe that the familiar rebel flag offers many folks a feeling of connection to ancestors and a sense of pride in history. But when you fly a flag… or put a bumper sticker on your car… you are allowing a symbol to represent you, and symbols always have nuanced meaning for every individual under the sun.

Many of us all have a visceral reaction and likely pass immediate judgement about people who put those place oval stickers on their cars. What might be true of someone who likes Key West? The Outer Banks? Ellicottville? How about a Yankees bumper sticker? Or a Vote Bush sticker? Or a Vote Obama sticker? How about MD physician plates on a Honda Civic? MD plates on a BMW SUV? A rubber scrotum hanging from the tow hitch?

It’s fair to say that each of these different instances will cause different reactions in each one of us. It’s also fair to say that each of these reactions were created by someone making a choice on how to present themselves in public.

Generally, I know my reaction to someone flaunting the rebel flag is a negative one. Regardless of what the symbol means to that person inside, I wonder how they can offer that symbol up as representative of who they are– when we all know for so many people it means little other than backwards racism.

But here again, I understand the dichotomy, as I warmly remember the care-free summers I spent cruising around my neighborhood, my ride emblazoned with what is now an official symbol of hate.

Remembering WWI Vets: Uncle Gordon, Uncle George, & ‘Pops’

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

It got me to thinking as this piece of news crossed the wires:

America’s last surviving veteran of World War I has died. Frank Buckles was 110. A family spokesman says Buckles died peacefully of natural causes at his home in Charles Town, Va.

There have been three World War veterans in my life. The first two I never knew personally, one I did.

The first two were my Great-Grandpa Scurr’s older brothers– Merchant Marine men who died at sea four months apart during The Great War.

George & Gordon Scurr
George & Gordon Scurr

George Scurr was an ordinary seaman on the SS Hazelwood, which was mined by German U-boat UC-62 on October 18, 1917. William Gordon Scurr was killed by a German U-Boat in 1918.He was a British sailor in the Merchantile Marine, a Second Engineer on the SS Trocas, and was 26 years old when the steamer was torpedoed by German U-boat UC-23 on January 19, 1918 in the Agean Sea.

I heard stories about their sacrifice growing up, and remember my grandma showing me photos of her uncles who had died in the Great War. The photos were in the box underneath the couch, right next to where grandpa used to hide his coupons under the cushion of the couch. (It was always an adventure as a little kid at Grandma Cichon’s house.) My grandma was a wonderful story teller, and I’m glad that I listened closely and listened often. I just wish that I had taken better notes. I am proud of the sacrifice made by my forebarers, and will make sure its remembered as long as I’m around.

I have a personal, very strong recollection of another World War I vet. “Pops” is how we knew him. He lived with his son a few doors down from us on Allegany Street in South Buffalo.

He was very tiny and very old. He wore the same sort of big plastic VA glasses that my dad did in the early 80s, and wore very old working man’s clothes, including suspenders to hold up pants that were a bit loose on him. His skin was blotchy with age spots, and he was probably at least 80, but for all I knew, he could have been 150.

Like so many of the characters on that street growing up, there was a warmth about him that made us kids want to talk with him and listen to his stories. I don’t remember any of the stories he told, but I remember him standing in the driveway telling the stories, and us standing in the driveway listening.

pops house allegany

Pops would stand in this driveway, a few doors down from where I lived. The trees weren’t as big then, and the street was much more bright.It seems in my recollection that he was almost immobile, standing in the driveway; just out for some fresh air, hoping one of the neighborhood kids would give him a “Hi, pops.”

The only other thing I remember about him, and perhaps this also leads to why he was standing in the driveway, was that he chewed tobacco. It was usually wadded up into a lump in a paper towel. He’d pull it out of his pocket and take a bite, then stand there and spit out the juice. Come to think of it, this had to be why he was standing there all the time.

I’m not sure why we called him Pops, or what his name actually was, or anything about him, really. As I think about this more than I have in 30 years, maybe he told us something about “gas,” like the mustard gas Germans used against US troops in France. Maybe that’s just my brain playing tricks on me. I can’t even really be certain that he was a World War I vet, but I know I’ve thought that my whole life, and will continue to do so until I find out otherwise.

In thinking about Pops, and growing up on Allegany Street from 1980-1984, I visited Google Street View and took a look at what Allegany looks like now, and it brought back a few more memories. We were at 45 Allegany Street, a house so much smaller than I remember. Next door was the phone company, or at least that’s what we called it. Its apparently still an answering service. I remember very pretty disco-era women working in there.

45 Allegany, the house in the middle here, where I lived 1980-84.
45 Allegany, the house in the middle here, where I lived 1980-84.

As a matter of fact, when I think of ‘generic disco-era women,’ this one woman who worked there is who pops into my mind. Long blond hair, lots of eye makeup, lots of perfume, high heels, and she drove a blue Chevelle. The boss there drove an faux-wood panelled AMC Pacer, and used to make Donald Duck noises to us.

Next door to the phone company, two doors from our house, was Art. Art owned Toby the Dancing Dog, which was some sort of terrier, or maybe a small poodle. The dog would jump, his paws on our shoulders, and dance with us. One time my brother mouthed off to Art, who knew my great-grandfather.

“I’m telling your grandfather on you, you little bastard,” Art said. I’m sure my brother laughed, which only enraged poor ol’Art even more. He drove a big green early 70s Buick.

Then there was a nice older lady named Kay, and then I think was Pops’ house. Mr. Walsh lived next door to Pops, and the only reason I mention it, is because he was friends with Noodles the Mailman. Sometimes Mr. Walsh and Noodles would sit for a while on the porch in the cool ‘ultra-mod’ orange cloth folding chairs that looked like they’d have fit in perfectly on an episode of Laugh-In.

Anyway, sad the the last solider left standing from the ‘war to end all wars’ has died.