Remembering the Everyday with Gramps: The perfect grandfather because in his heart he was one of the kids

Edward Valentine Cichon 1926- 2014

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Valentines Day was the perfect day for him to be born, as he was in 1926.

Gramps and me, standing on Fairview Place, in front of my parents 1977 Mercury Monarch, 1978. Gramps always had a baby in his arms or a kid's hand in his hand whenever possible. He spent a lifetime working hard, usually 3 or 4 jobs to provide for his brothers and sisters, his own ten kids, and his 16 grandkids (and now untold numbers of great grandkids.)
Gramps and me, standing on Fairview Place, in front of my parents 1977 Mercury Monarch, 1978. He always had a baby in his arms or a kid’s hand in his hand whenever possible, and spent a lifetime working hard– usually 3 or 4 jobs to provide for his brothers and sisters, his own ten kids, and his 16 grandkids (and now untold numbers of great grandkids.)

To say Gramps had a big heart isn’t telling the whole story. Nor is it enough to say his heart was pure.

Edward Valentine Cichon had a childlike heart. He was filled with goodness and optimism. He was filled with giving and generosity. He was filled with happiness to know that you were happy.

He was the perfect grandpa. He’d walk us over to Caz Park, getting us jazzed up about “the swings… And the slides…. And the horseys…” It was the same sing-song order he’d mention them every time.

But first we’d walk through the park. Occasionally, that meant filling our pockets with chestnuts from the trees just past the St. John’s parking lot.

Sometimes that meant sitting for an inning of softball or baseball. Gramps usually had a couple of apples in his pocket for us, sometimes a banana. He taught us how to shine up the apple on our pant legs.

Also in his pocket was the handkerchief, which kept our noses in check when it was chilly. To keep our bladders in check, if it was just us men, we’d be pointed to some trees. If we had ladies with us, we were told not to touch anything in the Caz bathrooms, unless you were using your foot to flush.

Then we’d cross the bridge, throw a few of those chestnuts in the creek, and continue on through “the jungle,” as Gramps called the path on the Abbott Rd side of the path along the creek.

We’d look for “the lions… The tigers… The monkeys…” The same list every time, said with the same cadence as the other list, except this one was often enhanced with Tarzan noises. OoOoAaaahah.

“I saw a monkey in that one last time,” he’d say pointing at the same tree every time.

Finally, we’d get to the playground, and Gramps would sit on the bench until we were done. Sometimes longer, if he didn’t feel like moving yet.

“Go catch grandpa a bird,” he’d say, encouraging us to sneak up quietly behind a robin or a swallow so we could scoop ’em up. I don’t remember ever catching one.

Not every time, but sometimes, we’d stop by the deli at the corner of Seneca and Duerstein for a nutty buddy or an ice cream sandwich, so long as we remembered, “Don’t tell grandma.”

Almost every time we’d stop at Quality Food Mart, Gramps’ explanation to grandma would start “But Huns! The kids were hungry…” but it would quickly trail off.

We didn’t tell, but our ice cream smeared faces and shirts did all the talking necessary.

Good ol’Gramps. I bet there is monkey in his tree right now, and he’s happily pointing it out to all the kids.

The cars of our childhood

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I saw a pristine 1990 Chevy Lumina over the weekend. I actually drove a Lumina for a while, but my thoughts turned to a great friend who drove a Lumina, too. Radio newsman Ed Little looked classy behind the wheel of his always well-maintained, respectable mid-sized General Motors sedan. The hipster who was driving it on Sunday was more ironic than classy.
My dad loved cars– looking at them and driving them. He’d always excitedly point out cars that he or someone he knew once owned. As a young man, he drove sports cars like an MG and muscle cars like an AMC Javelin. Of course, I now point out old cars to anyone who will listen.

Just like with my ol’man, seeing an old car that reminds me of a car from my past is one of those instant mood changers for me. I’ve owned a few interesting cars through the years, like a white 1971 Mercedes. Very eye catching, but not too comfortable to drive. I love my ’86 VW Golf, ’95 Plymouth Neon, and ’97 Honda Civic. Those cars weren’t spectacular, but they were comfortable and easy to drive. When I see one, I want to drive it.

But the real memories come from those cars my dad and my grandpas had long before I could drive.

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First- Here’s that Lumina, like the one Ed Little had. I’d wait to see this car pull up to fine restaurants like Alice’s Kitchen, Your Host, Grandma’s Pancakes, and the Four Seasons.

aries-wood-panel
In the Cichon house, we had this exact car: a Dodge Aries station wagon with faux wood paneling and tan Naugahyde seats. We also had a black one, with red velvet seats. Nice.

spirit
There were also 2 AMC Spirits in our family. Grandpa Cichon had a white one with a big blue pinstripe, my family had a brown one.

spirit-interior
This is the exact interior of our 1981 Spirit. I hurt myself on the steering wheel playing Dukes of Hazzard, climbing in and out of the windows.

85-pontia-bonneville
Grandpa Cichon traded in the Spirit for a Pontiac Bonneville. It was in this car, my brother and I witnessed one of the great events in our lives up until that point. Usually calm Gramps got hosed at a full-service gas station. He unleashed a torrent of Polish-American cursing that remains with me nearly 30 years later. We i see this car, I think, “You G-dd-mmed horseball!!”

econoline-pickup

Grandpa Coyle would get a new Oldsmobile every year or two… But all though my childhood, he has this odd, pea green Ford pickup– Which was actually van without an enclosed back. There were only two seats, and I can remember fighting with my brother over which one of us would get to ride on the hump where the stick shift was… on the way to the hardware store.

greeg-ford-maverick
Finally my Great-Grandpa Wargo drove this beautiful pea green Ford Maverick. It was a car that was old and mysterious, just like Great-Grandpa. I especially liked that the old yellow NY plates had three numbers then BUX. I liked -BUX on a license plate. Our plates were boring by comparison.

What did your grandpa drive? I’d love to see it, tweet me @SteveBuffalo.

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

Learning to listen

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My grandfather is 87 years old. His body is failing him, but his mind is a steel trap.

steveandgramps

I used to like to ask him questions about things I’d like to know about, but now mostly I listen when we visit. It’s just another one of the many things I’ve learned from good ol’ Gramps.

Listening is a powerful, underutilized gift. People don’t like to listen, even when they think they are listening. For example, I used to think I loved listening to Gramps’ stories, but I was always asking about specific things. Once I gave up the steering wheel, I really started to enjoy the ride.

Gramps’ mind goes all over time and space. He has a nearly photographic memory for things that happened before he lost his sight a decade ago. He’s starting to lose names of people and places, but he remembers when you give him a little help. That’s not really a new problem either– for as long as I can remember, gramps has called me “AhhhChuckieTommyJimmyEddieAhhGregAhhStevie.”

I stopped by yesterday, and Gramps told me a few great stories about days gone by, as well as his analysis of the world today.

  • His $600 winner on a $2 ticket at the track.
  • Chinese nuclear reactors.
  • As a kid, swiping rejected boxes of Cheerios from the loading docks at General Mills (those were different times.)
  • How the Bills should have won every game so far.
  • All the different places he and his brothers and sisters served during the war. Aunt Olga was with Patton.
  • Bringing pennies to Father Baker.
  • Polish and Russian history.
  • How at 15 he had a mustache, and would go drink at Tippy Toes, and pick up chicks in his 1933 Plymouth.

Listening to Gramps, and knowing how much he enjoys having someone listen, has made me a better listener. I love to tell stories, but I’d rather hear a good story well told, by someone who is enjoying the telling. Even if I’ve heard the story 38 times before. The story is the selfish part for the listener.

Enjoying the joy with which the story is being told, now there’s a skill we all need to practice, with someone who could really use an ear.

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

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.

Stan Jasinski on WKBW, Christmas Day 1954

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The view of Seneca Street from the Cichon’s porch on Fairview Place. The building to the left is Heidi’s Tuxedo, since burned down. My great grandfather lived in an apartment in the yellow house on the right.

BUFFALO, NY  – For me, hearing the name ‘Stan Jasinski’ conjures up images of my grandfather, sitting on his South Buffalo porch listening to cassette tapes of polka radio shows he had taped the previous weekend. Ed “Edziu” Cichon would sit out there, looking at the comings and goings on Seneca Street with a serene smile on his face, enjoying the music, his grandkids, and life in general.

It was a great break for Gramps, from his numerous jobs- from tinsmith at Buffalo Color and National Aniline, to ticket taker for the Bills and Sabres, to bet taker at Buffalo Raceway.

For most of my generation, I would imagine thoughts of Stan Jasinski beckon thoughts of grandparents, and this is true for Edmund Haremski as well.

Stan Jasinski, WKBW, circa 1955.

His family owned Lucki-Urban Furniture, sponsors of Jasinski’s broadcasts from the 50s-90s. He remembers playing the two transcription records from which these audio clips came in his grandma’s basement as a little guy.

The half hour program was recorded on these transcription records, sometime before Christmas Day 1954, for playback on that date. The program is completely on Polish, save the opening and closing voiceover by an WKBW staff announcer, perhaps Larry Brownell.

For those who remember listening to Jasinski near the end of his broadcast career as I do, his cadence and voice is amazingly consistent, sounding virtually identical, and very much recognizable, 40 years earlier.

You’ll hear Stan speaking between the songs, and if you’re like me– with a very limited understanding of Polish– The only words you’ll understand are a few numbers, and the words “Lucki-Urban’ and “Stromberg-Carlson,” the latter being a manufacturer of some of the finest radios of that era.

You’ll also hear ‘Stas’ singing along with the Paderewski Singing Society, working Lucki-Urban into Polish Christmas carols, including a Polish version of Jingle Bells.

  • Pada Snieg-– Polish Jingle Bells.
  • Stan Jasinski’s Complete Christmas 1954 broadcast on WKBW Radio,  with the Paderewski Singing Society.  

Cars and the Ol’man… and telling him about the new Civic

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

mg
MGB

My dad has always loved cars. While as a young single guy he had muscle cars (Like an AMC Javelin), and sporty convertibles ( Like an MG), he always took great pleasure in the hunt for new cars.

He enjoyed it even when he was buying wonderful (?!) family vehicles like our 1981 chocolate brown AMC Spirit with light brown pinstriping, or our 1983 Dodge Aries faux wood-panelled station wagon. I spent many weekend days driving from lot to lot with my dad… the newspaper filled with red circles around cars that could be the next Cichon Ride. We’d always go after hours as to avoid the salesmen.

The Cichon Clan.. before my sister was born.. So probably late 79/early 80.  I think my dad still wears that shirt.
The Cichon Clan.. before my sister was born.. So probably late 79/early 80.  I think my dad still wears that shirt.

I learned alot from my dad about shopping for cars, not all of it good. First thing to check: Check to see if the door was left unlocked. Bonus checking out the seat time if yes. If not, squinting and moving your head around the driver’s side window. “Can you see the mileage, Steve-o?”

There were other things to look for, too. “See, son? New tires on this one.” That was always a big selling point with the old man, who seemingly never stopped shopping for a new car. My wife would laugh if she knew that during our most recent car shopping experience in particular, she was actually shopping with my dad via me. Life is much esier once you admit to yourself that, in some ways, it is inevitable to become your parent.

Dad’s car obsession continues to this day, though the old man, now with only one leg, hasn’t driven in probably 7 or 8 years. “I’ll be driving soon,” is something you’ll hear him saying often. And you’ll still find Autotrader magazines with big, heavy red circles all over the house.

And then there’s Autotrader.com. “There’s a nice convertible Saab… a ’99… before they changed the front on it… Only 7-grand. Its in Ohio.” Dad loves the hunt for cars as much as driving, and when my wife first decided a few months ago that it was time to get a new car (for a number of different reasons), Dad eagerly climbed into the passenger seat as we thought about various makes and models, and weighed several bargains.

After visiting my folks Friday night, we took a ride to a nearby Honda dealership (after it was closed, of course) to scout things out. We found a good car at a good price, and one of the Civics was unlocked. Really comfortable and roomy.

We went the next day to figure out the details, and with the rebates, and generous amount given for our trade in, it was a much greater bargain than either of us could have imagined, and we were both excited about being able to pick up the next car on Tuesday (dealership was closed Labor Day Monday).

I was excited, in part, because the dealership was close to the folks house, and we could take a spin by to show the ol’man the new car. Seriously, no one on the planet gets more excited about anyone’s new car than Steven P. Cichon.

So, I was a little disappointed when my mom texted me to say that he went to the hospital Sunday (this happens somewhat frequently because of his diabetes problems.) He’s OK, but was in ICU to get his sugar evened out; it was messed up by a viral infection he’d been fighting for a few days.

He was his normal self, though still in the ICU when I went up to visit him an hour or so after picking up the car. Happy to have company, and talkative (not always the case, in case you don’t know the ol’man.) After the usual pleasantries, and getting to update on how he’s feeling, I dropped the bomb.

“So dad, we picked up our new car today.” He knew we were looking, but had no idea we were close to buying one. Either were we, frankly, until we got the great deal on the Civic. Its an over-used cliche, but there’s no other way to describe it. The twinkle in his eyes was like a kid at Christmas.

His body stiffened, and after opening his eyes wide in anticipation for a moment or two, he sat back in the standard issue vinyl hospital room chair, dozens of wires coming off of him, closed his eyes with a smile on his face, very seriously said, “OK, tell me about it *slowly*.”

I’m not one for the gadgets and features, but I always study up, because I know my dad will want to know. He loved that we got a great deal. He loved that the highway mileage approached 40 MPG. “That’s almost like driving for free,” he said. He loved that the dash lights were blue, the same color as one of the big puffy bandage things to keep his IVs in place.

Cadillac Cimmaron
Cadillac Cimmaron

But he stopped me on one feature that bowled him over. “Telescopic steering?!? In a CIVIC?!? They only put that in the top of the line Mercedes, for heavens sake!” My dad swears a lot, but he does try to control it. Of the 20 or so cars dad’s owned, only “The Cadillac” had telescopic steering. “I’d adjust it every time I got in, he said, making a holding the wheel motion and moving it all over over the place. That’s what a telescopic steering wheel allows you to do. Monica really likes this feature a lot, too. Before I get too far ahead of myself, I should let people know that “The Cadillac” was actually a 1987 Cadillac Cimmaron, which is nothing more than Chevy Cavalier tricked out with leather, a V-6, a useless luggage rack on the back trunk, and apparently, a telescopic steering wheel.

And, Dad was almost disappointed when I somehow didn’t figure out how to park the car outside the window of his hospital room so he could look out at it. His eyes are so bad, he wouldn’t have been able to see it anyway. But he will get a spin in it once he gets home from the hospital.

monica09civic
Monica’s new 2009 Civic

I know the ol’man will tell everyone he sees and talks to for the next month about the car. Those poor ICU nurses. The women might get away without hearing about the car, but the men, and there are a lot of male nurses at the VA Hospital ICU, will likely hear a lot about it. And my grandpa. And Uncle Chuck.

It makes him so happy, I wish I could buy a new car every day.