I will never forget the satisfied, heart-filled smile Gramps gave me when I told him that I cleaned up his parents’ grave. I didn’t know it, but not being able to tend to his family’s graves was one of the things that weighed on him when he was in a nursing home, the last of ten siblings still alive.
“You’re a good guy for doing that, son,” Gramps said to me. It rang in my ears and filled my heart today when I stopped by the cemetery to look after my great-grandparents’ grave, and the graves of Gramps’ brothers who died in childhood.
Roman was hit by a truck and killed, Czesław (Chester) had Leukemia and died at three months old. Chester didn’t have a stone– they couldn’t afford one– Gramps’ older brothers cast a cross in concrete, which eventually wore down and was toppled. But he was right next to the fence, Gramps said. There are other makeshift headstones nearby which survive.
It’s deeply gratifying to honor my grandfather by honoring his parents and brothers.
Grandpa Coyle took this picture of his girl while they were dating some time in the late 40s. Today, they’re celebrating her birthday together in heaven. She’s no longer here, but the love she gave to us continues to grow and flourish every day. She was about as good as they come. Happy Birthday, Grandma!
People have told me my grandpa was the toughest guy in Seneca-Babcock.
He was a bouncer at the Southside Athletic Club and ran the Seneca-Babcock Boys Club.
During The Prohibition, my great-grandmother made moonshine in the family basement and sold it from my grandpa’s baby buggy. Here’s Gramps telling the story….
During a visit on June 18, 2012, Gramps tells the story of his mother using a copper kettle to make whiskey in the basement of their Fulton Street home during The Depression and Prohibition days as a way to keep food on the table for their family with ten children Babcia would put the bottles in with Gramps in his baby buggy for distribution around The Valley.
The Cichons lived on Fulton Street in The Valley, between Van Rensselaer Street and Smith Street. My great-grandparents owned the home where the booze was made from 1922-1978. Jan Cichon and Maryanna Pochec both came to Buffalo from Poland in 1913. They met here and were married at Holy Apostles Ss. Peter and Paul Church at Smith and Clinton in 1914.
John Cichon died in 1967. Mary Cichon died in 1980. Gramps died in 2014 just after his 88th birthday.
Gramps always told a lot of great stories, but this was one I’d never heard before. I was bursting with questions to ask, but I always considered my visits with Gramps to be his time. Nearly all of his friends, nine brothers and sisters, my grandmother, and four of his ten children died before he did. He needed a friend to talk and listen and bring Tim Bits—not someone to ask uncomfortable questions.
Then and now, I wish I could have done more. I tried to be equal parts buddy and grandson, and I listened to whatever he had to share and never judged…. And I paid back those secret candy bars and ice cream cones from my youth with a box of Tim Bits or a “real burnt-up hot dog with sweet relish and slivered onions” with each visit.
Long before Dyngus Day was the celebration of Buffalo culture it has become over the last decade, it was, as most know, a day of celebration and fast breaking in the Polish community.
My grandfather, Edward Cichon, was the seventh of ten kids born to Polish immigrants who lived in Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood (nestled between South Buffalo, The First Ward, and The Hydraulics.)
His memories of Easter and Dyngus Day went back more than 70 years when I interviewed him for a news story back in 2006. He’s giving us a first-hand account of Dyngus Day in Buffalo in the ’20s & ’30s.
Born in 1926, Gramps grew up on Fulton Street near Smith on a street that was, at that time, half Irish and half Polish. Most of the men on the street, including my great-grandfather and eventually Gramps himself, worked at the National Aniline chemical plant down the street.
On Dyngus Day, he’d go behind his house along the tracks of the Erie Railroad—the 190 runs there now—and grab some pussy willows to take part in the Dyngus Day tradition of swatting at girls on their heels, who’d in turn throw water at the boys.
For Easter, Babcia would cook all the Polish delicacies like golabki, pierogi, and kielbasi.
The sausage, Gramps explained, was all homemade. “Pa” (as gramps always called his father) would get two pigs, and they’d smoke them right in the backyard on Fulton Street. The whole family would work on making sausage at the big kitchen table, and then hang the kielbasa out back—but they’d also butcher hams and other cuts of meat as well.
While he was in the frame of mind, I asked him about the Broadway Market, too. In the late ‘20s, His mother would wheel him the two miles over to the market in a wagon, and park him next to the horses while she shopped for food and across the street at Sattler’s.
Reading these stories is great, but listening to Gramps tell them is the best.
Having old tools around helps connect you to the people who taught you to use them.
Grandpa Cichon would get you all the hammers, work gloves, flashlights, and blanket-lined denim work coats you could ever want from National Aniline. I wish I had saved more of that stuff. I remember donating the work coat he gave me to the Salvation Army when I was in high school. I hope someone is still using it!
There were always flashlights and work gloves– and we had a bunch of Grandpa Cichon’s hammers at our house– but the only tool I every remember seeing at Grandpa Cichon’s house was an old pair of pliers that grandma kept in the drawer and used for just about everything.
Grandpa Coyle was a union glazier and glassworker who didn’t believe in measuring tapes.
He had at least a dozen rules. I snagged one off the final pile heading to the Salvation Army.
I love the little poch marks made by molten something... I like to imagine it was from plumbing with lead. When I told Gramps that I replaced an old lead drain in the basement with PVC, there was real sadness in his eyes.
Gramps loved rusty tools– his basement was a tool and mismatched piles of junk wonderland. He’d be happy to know that I am happy with one of his rusty, obsolete tools.
Buffalo, NY – I miss visits with Gramps… I’d call him ahead of time to make sure he didn’t have an appointment at the VA, and to ask if he wanted a hot dog (with sweet relish and slivered onions) or a couple of TimBits.
“A lil’bit of both would be good,” he’d say, cracking himself up with that laugh that makes me cry to think about.
Like so many people of his generation, he grew up during The Depression without much to eat. He loved eating food and talking about food and sharing food.
In his years at the nursing home, our conversations usually involved what he had for lunch, breakfast, and maybe dinner the night before. He was always offering you the bag of chips that were on his nightstand or a piece of candy.
Visiting his house, you could barely get in the door before he’d read you the whole menu.
“Hallo dere son!” he’d yell out as you walked in, without pause adding, “Can I get you a sandwich? How bout a cold pop? You could make us a cup of coffee?”
I’d usually put on the kettle for a two cups of instant coffee for us, which he always seemed to enjoy– if not the drink, then the drinking it together.
There was always coffee, and there was always pop. Lots of pop. Too much pop. The first time she went to Grandpa Cichon’s house, Monica asked why there was so much pop. It’s funny the things you grow up with and don’t notice until someone points them out. The hall leading to the kitchen always had dozens of cans or bottles of pop stacked high. Like a store display. As one of ten with ten kids, Gramps always bought everything in bulk when it was on sale—whether it was needed or not.
While there was no greater connoisseur of junk food than Gramps, his junk food muscles were wearing out at the end of his life. He couldn’t eat more than 2 or 3 Timbits after lunch, and while he’d finish a hot dog, you could tell he was struggling to finish.
“My eyes are bigger that my stomach,” he said one time, “even though I’m blind.” Again with the laugh. All the junk food lead to diabetes which robbed Gramps of his sight for his last few years.
The loneliness he felt at the end of his life was painful to all of us. He was the last of ten kids still alive, nearly all his friends had died. Even a couple of his kids, my dad included, had passed away. But Gramps kept plugging. His goal was to live longer than anyone else in his family. His mom lived to 87, his sister Mary to 89. He wanted to be 90.
Gramps finished in second place. He died peacefully a couple weeks after his 88th birthday. While he might have been disappointed to learn he didn’t make 90, I know he would have been satisfied with his final moments.
Because he was blind, an aide would help him eat lunch. Halfway through, she noticed he hadn’t moved in a while—and he was gone. Gramps died eating lunch, which makes me smile every time I think of it.
What also makes me smile is that first conversation in heaven with my dad.
“I just had a delicious lunch, son. I wish I could have finished it.”
BUFFALO, NY — Today, February 14, 2016, would have been Grandpa Cichon’s 90th birthday.
Grandpa Cichon… or as he was better known…
“I told them, ‘Just call me Eddie Cichon.'”
Edward Valetine Cichon was the full English version. Some how I feel like I should be buying someone Skin Bracer or Old Spice on Valentines Day… even though Gramps is now smelling good up in heaven– no cologne necessary.
I’m blessed to have recorded about 26 hours of mostly stupid and fun conversations with my grandfather in the four years before he died.
There are plenty of great stories and fun moments in there… i have to make more time to share more of them.
BUFFALO, NY – Spelled Cichoń in its original form, my last name is Polish.
My great-grandfather, Jan Cichon, came to Buffalo from what is now Milczany, Świętokrzyskie, Poland in 1913. He soon changed his first name to John, but never changed the way he pronounced his last name.
He said “CHEE-hoyn” as a little boy in the tiny villages he grew up in near Sandomierz in southeast Poland, and said “CHEE-hoyn” as a railyard laborer for National Aniline in South Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood.
Before John’s son– my grandfather– died in 2015, one of the many hours of conversation I had with him was how CHEE-hoyn became SY-chon (which is how Gramps said it) became SEE-shon (which is how my dad and most of my family says it.)
So, here is Eddie (SYchon) explaining how CHEEhoyn became SEEshon.
Gramps says that his mother and father– both from Poland– always said CHEEhoyn. He says when he and his nine brothers and sisters starting going to school, SYchon– the generally accepted German pronunciation– was introduced to them, and it stuck.
“You say SEEshon, right?” Gramps asked me. I told him that’s how my dad says it.
“Well, your dad’s partly French,” Gramps said, cracking himself up so hard he started coughing.
I can’t find the audio– I recorded dozens of conversations with Gramps– but he also once explained that it was one of his sisters-in-law who started saying SEEshon. My grandma also said SEEshon, as did my dad, and now most if not all of the Cichons who are left in my family say SEEshon.
So that’s how my family has come to say SEEshon, although I answer to any other pronunciation from telemarketers who are just plain confused or from little old ladies wearing babushkas (or my Fair friend Jim!) telling me I say my name wrong.
Gramps tells the ol’man and me his full Polish name: Edward Valentego Wojtek Stasiu Cichoń!
By Steve Cichon | firstname.lastname@example.org | @stevebuffalo
What a beautiful day outside.
Seeing small kids playing with someone who looked like their grandfather in Delaware Park just now takes me back 35 years to a similar scene in Cazenovia Park, on a similar beautiful just-before-Christmas day. The only difference— unlike these carefree kids, all was not right in my world.
It was a quick run across Seneca Street from Grandma and Grandpa Cichon’s into Caz Park, and Gramps loved taking us for a walk whenever he was not on his way to work at the track (Buffalo Raceway) when we’d stop over on a Saturday morning.
The walk part of the walks were longer in the winter, because our visits to Caz weren’t punctuated by a visit to “the swings, and the slides, and the horseys,” as Gramps always called the playground in a sing-song kind of way.
We’d come back to Grandma’s house from taking these walks nearly frozen by the harsh South Buffalo winter, and really having earned our hot chocolate with real marshmallows.
But this day wasn’t one of those days. Much like today, the grass was green and lush, the sun was shining, and instead of shivering we were probably sweating—unnecessarily overdressed in layers on a 50 degree day, for fear that the Blizzard of ’77 would quickly revisit Seneca Street while we were on our 90 minute hike.
And despite the beautiful weather, this day, there were no swings to play on—the city parks department was much more rigid about taking swings down in those days. It was by date, not by weather forecast.
Anyway, this day I’m thinking about, we were on one of our epic walks taking in most of Cazenovia Park from the ball diamonds to the ends of the golf course. I should have been enjoying the warmth—and not a flake of snow in sight, but I wasn’t.
There was growing concern in my Kindergartener heart, and I had to share it with someone I could trust. Gramps was the man, for sure.
“Grandpa,” I asked, probably with doe-like eyes fluttering, “if Santa’s sleigh doesn’t work because there’s no snow, how will he be able to deliver our presents?”
“Santa has a helicopter, son,” he said reassuringly without skipping a beat. I’m still warmed by his reassurance.
I don’t remember what I was hoping Santa would deliver that year, but I know I was excited to deliver to Gramps—no chopper necessary—a gift bearing the brand name Skin Bracer, Old Spice, or Hickory Farms. He always loved our presents no matter what they were.
Gramps was special because he had the mind of a man and the heart of a child. We should all be so blessed.
Both of my grandpas typify what Labor Day is about.
Grandpa Coyle was poor, and I think it’s fair to say didn’t have many prospects, until his boss at the Boys Club helped get him an apprenticeship with the Glaziers Union. After years as a glass worker, he ran Local 660 for decades.
Grandpa Cichon started as a laborer at National Aniline, but learned a trade to become a tinsmith. He put in 40 years there.
Both men’s willingness to work hard for better lives for themselves and their children is now also being enjoyed by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Sure, organized labor is about 40 hour, 5 day work weeks… But to me, it’s about building American families for generations.
Labor Day also makes me think of my time as a union member, when the company that owns Channel 4 locked out half of our NABET-25 bargaining unit.
Technicians (studio crew, engineers, master control operators) weren’t allowed to work through contract negotiations, while newsroom staff (producers, photographers, editors) were forced to work with (incompetent) replacement workers.
As someone who has only ever wanted to show up and do my job, it was a time I’ll never forget– when the owners of Channel 4 wouldn’t let some of its hardest working, longest tenured employees come to work to provide for their families.
I don’t always agree with every union stance, but whenever I hear someone say unions are past their usefulness, I pray that they never learn first hand how useful a union can be.