The July 4th Birthdays of Grandpa Coyle and Grandma Cichon

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandpa Coyle was born 90 years ago today. This is him on the diving board on his 57th or so birthday.

He was born on the 4th of July and created for himself the American dream: He was raised in utter poverty in a broken alcoholic home, but persevered to learn a trade, become a professional, and along with my grandmother, create a beautiful family that honors his story by our very existence.

Of course, if he was here with us, I’d have to sum that all up with, “Happy Birthday, Gramps… can I get you a beer?”

Can’t say for sure this is her birthday, but we spent quite a few of Grandma Cichon’s birthdays at the cottage she’d rent every year at Sunset Bay.
(L to R that’s me, my ol’man, cousin Tracy, Aunt Sue, and Grandma.)

Grandma Cichon was born on July 4, 1928– which was a shock to my dad to hear after she died… he always thought she was born in 1926.

She was only 16 when my uncle Mike was born, and apparently what you did then was make yourself older to make it less scandalous (or to get a better job to help feed your kids).

I think a lot about what had to have been a beaten up heart behind a tough as nails exterior. I think about the personal sacrifices she swallowed for her 11 children, including putting the second of those kids up for adoption and keeping that pain and sacrifice alone inside her heart.

I used to think it was funny or weird that she would refuse to say goodbye– it was always happy, and it was always , “Toodleoo!” and, of course, she was right. She knew the people you loved never leave you, so there’s no reason to ever say goodbye.

Lessons from Grandma Cichon in life and in death

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandma Cichon died 23 years ago today.

Cancer had been cruel in the horrifically painful way the vitality and dignity of this strong, larger-than-life woman was slowly drained from her… as if it melted drip by drip undetected into the couch she’d spent her last few months barley living on.

I can feel every tear and recite each prayer I offered the last time I visited with her. It ruined my guts, but I prayed for God to end her suffering.

I was blinded by tears and a twist in my stomach as I went over the bridge next to the old Seneca Mall, driving back home.

She died a couple of days later, and the pain was even worse that my prayers had come to pass. I was 18. I didn’t know what to do with myself, especially with everyone else despondent… with Grandpa refusing to let go of her hand.

The only thing that made sense to me in the moment was leaving to go to work. It didn’t necessarily feel right, but nothing really did. So in I went.

There aren’t many things I’d do differently in life, but that’s one. In that moment, I don’t think I knew that I family that I could lean on.

In that moment, I don’t think I knew I had family that leaned on me.

I felt unimportant and isolated and left to figure it all out of myself, which I did– for a very long time– by just ignoring whatever it was, and soldiering on.

It was a great life lesson, one of many grandma taught me. I can hear her laugh and her telling us, “tootle-oo,” but never goodbye… it can’t have been that long.

More and more, I hear her laugh in mine, and feel the same unbridled joy she did when expressing it.

And this just writing this proves that I’ve caught on to what Grandma knew with her salutations- there are no goodbyes when you live in someone’s heart.

Like each of my grandparents, she’s so much of who I am. It isn’t possible to be any more grateful. Each of them so full of love, and each so different and different in the way their love was shown.

The only right thing to do is to continue to turn out and offer up that same love to the world in their honor… especially today, for this beautiful, tough, artsy, survivor mother of 11.

The every day is filled with memories of those who make us who we are

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This Hertel Avenue litter triggered an instant memory flashback:

Hey Steve-o, here’s a couple bucks. Go to the store and get your ol’man a pack of smokes. Your grandmother, too. And get yourself a candy bar, ok?

Even at 6 years old, Dad didn’t have to tell me to get him Parliament 100s or Grandma Kools.

There was never a note that I remember… and never a problem so long as I went to the corner deli and got the right brand of smokes. ( I tried to buy Marlboro for an uncle once and they literally chased me out of the store. Hahahaha.)

That was Grandma Cichon with the Kools.

Grandma Coyle, like my dad, smoked Parliaments. But the only thing she’d send us to B-Kwik for regularly was rolls for dinner.

Sometimes we’d stay late at Grandma Coyle’s house, and we’d take our baths there.

Sometimes, Grandma Coyle would have a beer– in an old school pint glass just like this one– while reclining on the couch watching TV.

It fills my heart even now to think about walking into the living room on Hayden Street in our pajamas, and seeing Grandma smiling as we walked in, all freshly scrubbed.

She smiled every time we walked into a room… and if that isn’t the greatest thing ever.

I’m so glad I decided to have a beer tonight– and that it took me to this story.

Grandma Cichon didn’t tell you you were special– she cultivated what made you special

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s been 22 years now– and sad for me to think about the fact that I’ve been without Grandma Cichon longer than the time we were here together. But there’s happiness, too, of course…

She’s so much a part of who I am, what I do, and the way I do it… She’s very much here with me. She never said goodbye when someone would leave, it was always “Toodaloo,” with a smile and the knowledge we’d be seeing each other again soon.

After helping raise her six brothers and sisters, ten kids and a million nieces, nephews, and random kids from the neighborhood by the time she got to me– she had an incredible way of finding the thing she could help develop in a person and quietly make an impact.

When I was 6 or 7, she saw something in me that displayed a love of Buffalo History– and gave me a wonderful Buffalo historical photo-filled magazine (which of course I still have– I’m a pack rat just like her.)

More than just a love of history and the past, Grandma loved what was new and exciting, too. She took us kids on the bus from South Buffalo to Hertel Avenue for the first year of the Italian Festival in its new location there.

She took us (again on the bus) to the “new show” when the new downtown movie theaters opened. Of course, her handbag was filled with cans of Faygo pop and that cheap waxy candy from D&K.

When I was 8 or 9 and started sneaking up to watch Johnny Carson’s monologue, she was the only person I knew who also watched Carson, so she was the only one I could talk to about all the great jokes. It was Grandma Cichon who suggested that I might like David Letterman, too… Even though I was in fifth grade and his show started at 12:30am.

Uncovering Buffalo’s history and trying to make people smile are the very foundation of who I am– in no small part thanks to Grandma Cichon. But it’s not just me, it’s dozens of people, and the people they’ve since touched.

She was really tough, and definitely not the type to tell you that you were a special snowflake. But even better, she saw what was special in you, and without pomp, circumstance, or self-congratulation, she helped you cultivate it, whether you realized it or not.

What would have been her 90th birthday comes up on July 4th. She remains a definitive example of The Greatest Generation and a definitive example of a wonderful grandma.

Hearing (and feeling) Grandma’s laugh in mine

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandma Cichon died 21 years ago today… I don’t know that I’ve ever had such difficulty wrapping my mind around a length of time.

I can hear her laugh and her telling us, “tootle-oo,” but never goodbye… it can’t have been that long.

But more and more, I hear her laugh in mine, and feel the same unbridled joy she did when expressing it.

And this post proves that I’ve caught on to what Grandma knew with her salutations- there are no goodbyes when you live in someone’s heart.

Like each of my grandparents, she’s so much of who I am. It isn’t possible to be any more grateful. Each of them so full of love, and each so different and different in the way their love was shown.

The only right thing to do is to continue to turn out and offer up that same love to the world in their honor… especially today, for this beautiful, tough, artsy, survivor mother of 10.

Remembering “Cheap Gourmet” Doug Smith

Doug & Polly Smith, c. 1985, WIVB-TV

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I got to know Doug Smith while we were both working at Channel 4, but I loved him long before then. Thinking of him makes me think of my grandmother.

Grandma Cichon rounded up us kids and we took the bus from Seneca Street near the city line all the way up to Hertel Avenue for the first Italian Festival in North Buffalo after years on the West Side.

In perfect Grandma Cichon fashion, we prettyquickly walked up and down through the rides and games –it wasn’t much different from the Caz Park Festival we were used to… And then, eschewing the pricier Italian Sausage or ravioli, we ate lunch at the Burger King at the corner of Hertel and Delaware.

And since we were so close to K-Mart, Grandma couldn’t resist running in, which we did (probably for air conditioning, I’d guess, more than anything else.)

In the parking lot leaving K-Mart, heading for the bus stop, I think I spied him first. A real-live celebrity from Channel 4. Doug Smith! Right there! The guy with the convertible Beetle! In the flesh!

As if that wasn’t enough, Grandma– in her breathy, asthmatic voice– started moving toward him shouting, “Doug! Doug! Oh Doug!”

She knew him in her role as the longtime President of the South Buffalo Theatre on South Park Avenue.

“Oh Marie, how are you my darling,” he said, overacting the part, maybe even kissing her hand.

Italian Festival, Burger King, Doug Smith, and Grandma knows him! What a day!

Doug Smith would have made me smile even if I’d never met him… but that he was always great— and that he always makes me think of my grandma is really a bonus.

Then again, I think Doug’s the kind of guy that evokes layers of memories for plenty of people around Buffalo.

He was one of a kind– and warmly touched so many lives. He died today at 81. Rest in Peace, Doug Smith.

Mr. & Mrs. James Scurr of Seneca Street, South Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Buffalo, NY- I was three years old when Great-Grandpa Scurr died– But I have two distinct memories of him.

My aunt set me this great photo of my great grandparents... Mr. & Mrs. James Scurr of Seneca Street. He was born in North Shields, Tynemouth, England, and she was born Margaret Doyle in Coatbridge, Scotland... shortly after her family moved from Banbridge, Down, Ireland.
My aunt set me this great photo of my great grandparents… Mr. & Mrs. James Scurr of Seneca Street. He was born in North Shields, Tynemouth, England, and she was born Margaret Doyle in Coatbridge, Scotland… shortly after her family moved from Banbridge, Down, Ireland.

One, I was afraid walking up a dark staircase to his apartment at the corner of Seneca & Fairview, and however that fear manifest itself… (screaming or crying or whatever) made Grandpa Scurr laugh, as he was backlit and spooky, standing in the doorway at the top of the staircase. It was the same laugh that his daughter, my Grandma Cichon, had. It’s probably because of him that I laugh when little babies cry. Their liveliness brings me joy, just like it did him.

My only other memory of him, is visiting him in the hospital. I can even remember the shirt I was wearing… It was purplish-blue with a giant grasshopper on it. He had a tube in his nose, which kind of scared me, but his smile made me feel safe. He reached over and patted my hand. My dad was great about sneaking us kids into the hospital… Knowing that seeing little twerps is usually as good as any medicine they can feed you.

I was 11 or 12 when Grandma Scurr died… But I have no memories of her. She suffered from dementia for many years, and I know my dad had a hard time dealing with that– this woman who he loved so deeply was gone in mind as her body feebly lived on. I don’t think I ever went to visit her. I wish dad had taken us, and I wish I had the memory of making her smile.

Marie T. Cichon (July 4, 1928 – June 25, 1996)

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandma Cichon died twenty years ago today, but she’s still with me every day… She had a very different sensibility. Bullheaded but free-spirited. Artistic and cerebral but very well grounded in the realities of the day-to-day world of having ten kids.

steve and grandma cichon

She would have been the eccentric aunt on a 60’s sitcom— certainly not the mother in heels and pearls, although she played that role pretty well from her D&K sandals and housecoats.

She never said goodbye when someone would leave, it was always “Toodaloo,” with a smile and the knowledge we’d be seeing each other again soon.

Lately, I find myself laughing out loud in joy at the sight of animals and small children having fun. One of many mostly… um… flaky behaviors I cherish… and trace back to this lady.

I know I also trace back some of the things I like most about myself to her.

She exuded independence– not in a screaming 1960’s radical way, but just by being herself. Grandma instilled that quiet sense of independence in me.  She encouraged and foster my interest in politics and funny people. It was probably sleeping over at her house that I watched Carson for the first time—and saw the nightly combination of those two worlds. I wasn’t older than 12 when she told me that I would really enjoy David Letterman. Now, she didn’t exactly tell me to watch a TV show at 12:30 in the morning, but she kinda did. And I’m glad I did.

Grandma also treated me as an equal in our discussions about the world. She never discounted my thoughts or opinions. It was sitting at her worn out white formica kitchen table, with the little 13-inch black-and-white TV always running in the corner, drinking Red Rose tea or instant coffee that she showed me that way.

It’s a fantastic vantage point to live from—to try to find the common ground to build a bond, as opposed to finding or reverting back to your self-perceived superiority over someone else. Grandma showed me, by example, that just because I’m older or more experienced or smarter or whatever-er… that my opinion doesn’t count any more than yours.

As this 2016 Presidential campaign plunges on, I can only imagine the political discussions she and my ol’man are having over heaven’s version of that kitchen table set with instant coffee and chain-smoked cigarettes (His Parliament, hers Kool.)

Hahaha, I’m chuckling out loud at the thought. Just like grandma would have.

 

Adventures in Grandma Cichon’s kitchen

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

BUFFALO, NY — A few years after it was published, when I was in grammar school, my grandmother gave me a copy of this amazing issue of The Buffalo News magazine. This cleaner copy is newer to the archives– I still have the well-worn one Grandma Cichon gave me more than three decades ago.

buffalo mag

This great 64 page work is filled with hundreds of historic photos and stories—so many of the great places, events, and people that were a part of Buffalo during The News’ first 100 years of publication.

Seeing the photos and getting my first glimpse at how Buffalo once was immediately triggered a love for and a desire to better understand, collect and share our area’s past when I first introduced to it by means of an old newspaper tucked into in grandma’s buffet drawer when I was in first or second grade.

Grandma’s buffet was piled high with every kind of crap imaginable, including, thankfully, old newspapers. The dining room buffet was only used for supper on holidays like Easter or Thanksgiving—even though she still called the evening meal “supper” when it was pizza from Pizza Shanty or fish frys from Trautweins on Seneca Street. That we’d eat in the kitchen off the Corelle “Butterfly Gold” brown-flowered plates which everyone’s grandma seemed to have in the 70s and 80s.

butterfly gold

She’d entreat us to “sit in the parlor” when it got too crowded out in the kitchen, but mostly, Grandma liked people in that room where she seemed to live.  She sat at the far head of the table smoking Kools, drinking instant coffee, and watching Channel 17 on the little black-and-white TV in the corner of the kitchen counter.

The problem was she had ten kids, and all kinds of grandkids and all their friends and they’d all be in the kitchen when she was trying to cook.

“Everyone into the parlor!” she’d say in her high, breathy, asthmatic voice… There were often so many people for dinner, she’d say “small bums on the board!” She had a piece of wood that she’d put across two chairs, and three or four of our tiny bums would fit on there.

We’d all sit there waiting for Gramps to get home from work– The front door was a straight shot to his seat at the head of the table. He’d walk in, put his coat on the banister, sit down and say the fastest grace ever– “BlessOLordgiftsboutreceiveChristLordAmen.”

It came out as one word, but it was prayer, and that’s how our meals were blessed at Grandma Cheehoyn’s house.

Paging through this old Sunday insert still leaves me with a great yearning to understand how things used to be, and why these old ways are important to us now and in the future. The News Magazine and its progeny have enlightened and inspired me for as long as I’ve been able to read, as have Grandma Cichon and all the other great storytellers who have been a part of my life…

And since thinking and writing about this, I’ve had the insatiable urge for instant coffee. Like I did for grandma so many times, I think I’ll turn on the kettle– but unlike at Grandma’s, I don’t think there’s anyone here who’s going to light a smoke off the gas flame of the stove as the water boils.

 

The 1930s South Buffalo vehicular tragedies in my family tree

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

I don’t think we always realize how much better we live these days.

Both Grandpa and Grandma Cichon had little siblings killed when they were hit by cars on the streets of South Buffalo.

The Buffalo Evening News’ morbid coverage of Grandma Cichon’s little sister’s death is incredible. Mary Lou Scurr was about a year-and-a-half old when she was run over while playing in a toy car in the street.

marylou1

marylou2This photo was on the front page, above the fold, May, 1935. Grandma’s little brother Gordon—who was only hours before a witness to the accident which caused the death of his little sister– posed next to the wreckage of the accident. Judging by the description of the scene, it’s fair to assume this mangled car had blood and possibly other remains of his baby sister in it.

Sadly, Gordon Scurr’s next appearance in the news was 11 years later, while in high school, he died of a rare glandular disorder.

gordon

Two years later, Grandpa Cichon’s little brother was killed in a similar fashion.

Roman (also called roman3Raymond) Cichon was five years old and fascinated with trucks. He liked to go to the junk yard at the corner of Fulton and Smith Streets in The Valley to see the trucks in action.

His big brother, my grandfather, used to take him there. The way he told it, while Gramps was stealing an apple off a neighbor’s tree, Raymond was “mangled” by a truck. That word “mangled” was one Gramps often used with us in the hundreds of times we crossed Seneca Street to go from his house to Cazenovia Park.

In his 88 year life, the death of Raymond may have been what caused him the most sadness; even worse in some ways than the unbearable loss of 4 of his own children. As he talked about it, I could feel his guilt in not being right there to save his little brother. His use of the word mangle is the only hint of what the scene looked like—but frankly it’s enough.

roman1 roman2

roman4

In the end, it certainly wasn’t Gramps’ fault– and the truck driver lost his license. Raymond was killed when that truck bolted onto the sidewalk ran him over.

He was buried at St. Stanislaus cemetery near where another baby Cichon, Czeslaw (aka Chester ) was buried after he died from cancer as a baby.