Doing some crazy 1000+ result wide cast searches on one of the ancestry websites came back with a great hit, and gave me the info to order my great-grandfather’s parents’ marriage certificate from the New York City archives. His name was misspelled when transcribed, and her name is actually Kotis… but somehow it popped up.
It’s the first time I’ve been able to find anything on either of them from before the 1910 census, when they lived in Pennsylvania coal country– and told the census worker that they came from Hungary in 1906.
From Marion Heights, Pennsylvania, they moved to Abby Street in South Buffalo around 1917, and Julius got a job a few blocks away at Donner-Republic Steel along the Buffalo River.
He died in January, 1919, leaving his widow with six kids and a very limited knowledge of English.
I wish I had a photo of him– especially since his first name is my middle name (I was named after his son, my mom’s grandfather, Stephen Julius Wargo.)
Elizabeth Wargo lived until 1962– and is fondly remembered by many of her great-grandchildren (including my mom.)
The best part of opening up an old newspaper to look for something specific… is taking your time to get there. Yesterday, in a 1979 edition of The Buffalo Evening News, I had a memory flashback as I quickly scanned a Tops ad.
When I was at Holy Family grammar school, we went home for lunch… But a couple of days a week, when mom was working, I walked the extra block to my Great-Grandpa Wargo’s house with a can of Hy-Top chicken noodle soup in tow for Grandpa W to heat up for both of us.
In the side door and up a few steps to the kitchen, where everything was ancient– but pristine. The giant gleaming white stove with chrome accents was in newer shape than our stove at home, even though it was 30 years older. The same could be said of the also gleaming white counter tops, laminate with gold flecks, in full-1950s style.
The table where we ate the soup was even older, enamel but sturdy. My mother and grandmother likely ate soup for lunch in the same spot at the same table where I sat on those early 80s afternoons.
We had to be on our best behavior around Grandpa W, and there was certainly a “get-off-my-lawn” air about him, with his wiry gray hair, glasses like Dennis the Menace’s dad, and clothes that were a bit worn and a bit too big on the man after whom I was named.
He was a notorious curmudgeon, but I can’t conjure up an image of him without a smile on his lips and happiness in his eyes. I have another 40 years to work on it, but that’s the kind of curmudgeon I’m aiming to become.
I wish I knew how to describe the smell at Grandpa W’s house… I’ve asked and nobody knows what I’m talking about. It was slightly sweet, and maybe a bit like licorice, but not quite so pungent.
The thought of that smell makes me feel tucked in with a kiss on the forehead without a worry in the world.
Olfactory memories ignited by the grainy image of this can– the exact red-and-gold labeled can I remember from those special meals.
As a first grader, the soup produced from that can was enough for Gramps and me to have lunch– but then there was also enough left for him to have some soup for dinner, too.
I think ol’gramps would be happy with the nearly-threadbare shirt I’m wearing at the moment, but I’m afraid he might be disappointed if he thinks his namesake would eat a third of a can of soup for dinner.
Anyway, all of this swelled up in my eyes and my smile in a brief moment as I pushed forward flipping through the pages of that 40 year old newspaper. I eventually got the article I set out to find, but that’s not nearly as thrilling as finding what I didn’t know I was looking for.
Seeing this guy on the window sill in our dining room fired up a Father’s Day memory.
This is one of a couple of brass lizards that were in hidden in the dining room plants at the house of my great-grandpa and namesake, Stephen Julius Wargo.
Especially when they were dirty, these things looked real– and one time, when Gramps sent me in to water his plants, one of these really scared the life out of me — which was probably the whole idea. It made good ol’ Grandpa W. laugh and laugh. “AND DID HE LAUGH,” as Grandma Coyle would say, laughing herself.
My mom always made her Grandpa Wargo oatmeal cookies for all holidays, including Fathers Day, and his big grin showed it was just about his favorite present ever, every time.
When Great-Grandpa Wargo died, his daughter, my Grandma Coyle, gave me a few of his things–including this brass lizard.
Seeing it makes me remember Grandpa Wargo and Grandma Coyle, and think about my mom and the gallon sized bag of oatmeal cookies, closed with a twist tie, which we gladly delivered on our Father’s Day travels of long ago.
Of course, I think of my own ol’man on Father’s Day, too… I made a video about it for my campaign for Erie County Clerk.
My dad would always refer to himself as “your ol’man” when talking to us kids.
He died seven years ago, but so long as I’m around, he lives every moment in my heart and in my actions. So although my dad isn’t here physically to take part in my campaign, with your help, I’ll be bringing his sense of common sense to the clerk’s office.
By Steve Cichon | firstname.lastname@example.org | @stevebuffalo
It’s never been a conscious effort to replicate the junk piles of my ancestors, but even when I was young, I was fascinated by the grandparents who surrounded themselves with interesting stuff.
Grandpa Wargo’s house was a packed menagerie of wonderment, made even more special by the fact that everything was at least 30 years old and in like new condition. It was very neatly kept, but there was a lot of it, and much of it very exotic to my eyes. It was also the smell, which was something akin to, but not quite, anise-like. When we’d visit, he’d make me sit on the newspapers that he would pile up on the springy couch so that I could “flatten them out.” My dad and I painted his front railing once, and the can of black paint he procured from the basement looked like something he smuggled out of his job at Pratt & Letchworth in the 1930s.
For as tidy, new, and organized as Grandpa Wargo’s stuff felt, Grandpa Coyle’s was just as messy, piled, and chaotic. The 1880’s basement on Hayden Street was filled with old dishwashers, a ringer wash machine, my uncles’ old sporting equipment, and hundreds of scraps of wood, door knobs, bits of glass plate, and rusty tools. It really would have been a childhood paradise were it not for the healthy dose of fear created by the medieval looking rat traps hiding around most corners.
The moment you walked into Grandma Cichon’s front door, there was an overloaded, wall-to-ceiling bookshelf. It was in the little foyer between the screen door and the heavy door in the Seneca Street Victorian– in the place where most people might put coat hooks. It was an eclectic haphazard collection– one of many eclectic haphazard collections spewn throughout the old South Buffalo house. Our coats would go on the carved oak newel post.
Even though I admired the gargantuan clutter clatches of my grandparents, I fostered no plan to replicate them. Yet here I am.
Having lived in our own big old house for 15 years, I’ve collected enough rubble and detritus to make the junk-accumulating pioneers in my life proud. I don’t think the pride would come from the stuff, though– it’s the type of thinking the stuff represents.
How am I supposed to fix something when it breaks, if I don’t have a basement crushed to the gills with useless bric-a-brac which could one day be the missing piece in making sure the door knob stops falling off the front door? I’m sure people do it– fix without junk– but I learned how to fix stuff by watching Grandpa Wargo and Grandpa Coyle. Step one was always go stare at your junk for a while, and hope a solution jumps out at you.
I would love a clean, sanitized basement without frankly embarrassing piles of mad-scientist/Rube-Goldberg-looking junk everywhere… But I’m afraid– and it’s a real fear– that I’ll lose some part of who I am without the stuff. How do I move onto step two in the repair process without step one?
I’ve been thinking about how to fix the door knob for weeks, and the answer is not in the basement junk. Both grandpas would be happy with my solution, I think… It’s going to start with the same long stare– not in the cellar, but on the “nut and bolt” aisle at Home Depot.
It seems to work more and more like that these days, with my rusty old stuff in the basement acting as more of a security blanket than as useful things. If I can continue to think this way, the upcoming basement clean out should be easier. (LOL.)
What started me writing today, though, is my books. I’ve always had books and always had a bookshelf. For as long as I can remember. When we bought our house, I built and stained immense wooden bookshelves on both sides of the exposed brick of the chimney in our office. I loved idea of being surrounded by books, and that one day I’d have those shelves filled.
Of course, now it looks like a ladies guild buck-a-bag sale in there. Books are piled on the floor and on the desk and, in a trick I learned in Grandma Cichon’s front hall, sideways on top of books properly upright on the shelves.
Most of the books I buy these days are Buffalo and Western New York histories and reference volumes. These are all keepers– Both old and new– all filled with information you can’t find online. Online. There’s the rub.
The first quarter-century of my book collecting came before the Internet and the e-Book. I have half a shelf of really great dictionaries, thesauruses (thesauri?), and wonderful language resource and reference books which have gone untouched for at least a decade. Wonderful history texts, too. Spine literally not exercised in ten years.
There are also the paperbacks which for decades I so vigorously foraged. Classics, interesting old biographies, best sellers of decades’ past– anything that might make for a good vacation or rainy weekend read down the line. Most are now dust-covered and more forlorn-looking than when I plucked them from a yard sale or library fundraising pile.
The most complicated group of books are the ones that mean something to me. Not the stories; the actual books. Some are transplanted from that mythical shelf at Grandma’s… Some even have her writing in them. Plenty were Dad’s, annotated in his very heavy handed, unintelligible scrawl. With still others, holding the book takes me to the place where I read it. Physically, mentally, emotionally.
The problem with all these books are they are as much bricks as books. They are of little tangible use to me, and they actually take space away from my Buffalo book collection which I use quite vigorously and enthusiastically.
I know I won’t be using them as books– well, only insofar as anyone uses books as window dressing to look learned when their bookshelves are examined.
I’m not exactly happy with myself over this, but I’ve completely forsaken the smelly paperbacks with degrading paper for the tablet. A piece of me has died just writing that sentence, but it’s true. And there isn’t likely any going back.
And while I have warm memories of dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri?) in every room of my house, for better or worse, the World Wide Web is really a remarkable resource in these areas. I’m not sure what Grandma Cichon would have thought of this, but it’s the cold truth.
I sat down to write this tonight as I was having an existential crisis while trying to cull out the jetsam and flotsam of book collection. I don’t want to be someone without great books, but I don’t want to be a phony, either.
There will certainly be room for the Buffalo books and most of the meaningful ones, too– although I may have to find a less reflective day to decide where that meaningful line is drawn.
Maybe a box or two might make it to the attic for further reflection, but those smelly paperbacks (which believe me, I still love!) will likely be boxed up and shipped out for their next rescue. I’ll drop them off with the same hope that people have when they drop off dogs and cats at a shelter, but the reality will probably be the same.
I hope my paperbacks– some of which have made 4 or 5 moves with me– will find a good home on a good bookshelf somewhere. Maybe they’ll even be read on the MetroRail on the way home from work… or maybe they’ll be read as the big raindrops hit the window and the smell of percolated coffee wafts through the air inside the slightly muggy-but-now-cooling-off state park cabin.
But we know the truth. Anyone who wants to read Huckleberry Finn can either download it– or at least find a copy where the pages don’t disintegrate and break from the binding with each advance in the book.
I always loved that struggle, and felt somehow more high-brow in the low-brow of it all. Now I feel high-brow when I read great novels on my phone instead of cruising on Facebook.
It’s not better or worse. It’s the same and it’s different. It’s a soul crushing crisis.
By Steve Cichon | email@example.com | @stevebuffalo
My great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Wargo, holds my grandmother, June Coyle. Lizzie came to America from Hungary in 1906… 10 years and six kids later, she was widowed in a foreign land. Working as a wash woman, she earned enough money to feed her kids and buy the home she’s standing in front of– 527 Hopkins Street in South Buffalo.
I’ve been looking at this photo pretty much my entire life. It was in the big blue photo album that grandma had in her sewing room.
I remember the awe I felt when grandma said something along the lines of “that’s me with my grandma.”
For all the time I spent studying this photo and a few others which were probably taken the same day almost 85 years ago, I never once noticed the outfit– the uniform– my great-great grandmother is wearing.
She was a domestic servant. The 1930 census says she was a “laundress” with a “private family.”
In essence, she was one of the downstairs people on Downton Abbey. Right down to the shoes, her dress looks like something you might see Daisy wear on Downton.
Looking at this photo of my grandmother and her grandmother, and thinking about her hard work and sacrifice swells me with thanks.
All that is beautiful in our lives is the result of so much sacrifice by generations of people who couldn’t even imagine us… It’s really humbling. This tough little immigrant woman fought through life for me.
When you get to know your ancestors, it’s hard to take credit for anything. Realizing the generations of sacrifice offered so that I had the opportunity to live the life I do is the ultimate exercise in modesty.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!”
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.
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
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.
By Steve Cichon | firstname.lastname@example.org | @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.