Getting around to a big project, 30+ years later

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

I posted this in a few of the pop machine forums on Facebook. It’d be great to get it out of the garage and keeping drinks cool…

I was nine years old when my ol’man drove me to a barn an hour away to buy this 1964 Lacrosse Pepsi machine, as seen in a classified newspaper ad, for $25.

It has no vending or refrigeration guts, and hasn’t since I bought it in 1987.

To collectors, I know it’s a worthless boat anchor— but you didn’t load it into the back of a 1985 Dodge Caravan with your dad and have it in your bedroom growing up.

It’s been relegated to the garage since I bought my own home 20 years ago, but I’d like to shine it up and get it cooling to keep beverages in my basement.

La Crosse Cooler Co., Model LC ILL 54 6. This machine dates back to at least 1964, which is the year that receipts inside the machine were dated.

I’ve read the Lacrosse systems are difficult to find. I’m not looking to create a showpiece here, and willing to try any harebrained scheme to be able to keep some pop bottles cold in this sucker.

It’s obviously less about having a soda machine and more about putting this one to use, finally, after more than 30 years.

Any ideas to rig up something would be appreciated.

Happy Birthday Number 68 to my ol’man in heaven

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This is my ol’man’s high school senior portrait— it’s the only photo of him that I ever remember him liking.

He was born 68 years ago today, December 10, 1951. He came a couple of months premature, and in 1951, that was usually a death sentence.

In a long gone, old tenement-looking building behind City Hall, Steven Patrick Cichon was delivered in a 4th floor apartment kitchen during a raging snow storm.

This was the fifth of eleven babies for Grandma Cichon. She put her newborn preemie in the oven to keep him warm until an ambulance could take him the few blocks up Niagara Street to Columbus Hospital.

Nurses quickly christened him right on the spot, not expecting the little oven-warmed baby to make it, but the fight was the first of many he’d win.

Although that first birthday was a rough one, Dad loved his birthday. It was his favorite day of the year.

Sometime around mid-September, he’d start reminding us that his birthday was coming up, and that he’d want a BIG PRESENT… the words said with his arms outstretched and his eyes opened wide.

By November, he’d be getting into specifics. Occasionally, he actually needed something, which was great. Otherwise, we’d have to come up with something on our own.

Despite what you might think about someone in your life, rest assured, that my father was indeed, the hardest person ever for whom to buy a present.

Until I turned 21.

The ol’man spent the last decade or so of his life barely ambulatory. He was a diabetic, and went through several unsuccessful surgeries to save his foot; the there were several surgeries to remove his leg right below the knee.

He was greatly weakened by all the surgeries, and laying in hospital beds, and never really got the hang of the prosthetic leg that he only rarely even tried on.

He would have disagreed, but he was wheelchair-bound.

Dad wasn’t a heavy drinker, but he did like the occasional, or slightly-more than occasional whiskey.

It was never straight— he’d mix it with just about anything. Iced tea, Diet 7-up, Diet Ginger Ale. His tastes changed often, but I think Ginger Ale was his favorite.

Even though he’d eat three doughnuts with impunity, he always drank diet pop because of his diabetes.

Ten years ago, at his last birthday dinner at his favorite Danny’s in Orchard Park, he tried to order a whiskey and diet ginger ale, but alas, like any other bar/restaurant in America, they didn’t have diet ginger ale.

He ordered something else, and when the waitress went away, he whispered to us, talking out of the side of his mouth, “No diet ginger ale? In a fancy place like this?!?”

The stuff he’d come up with, being a veritable shut in, is the stuff we remember him by.

Buying dad a bottle was great. He’d take a quick peek and put it right back in the bag… or maybe roll right down to his office and put it in the drawer so my mom wouldn’t know. (Yeah, right.)

Anyway, he couldn’t make it to the liquor store himself anymore to get a little booze. He was reliant on other people to bring him a taste every once in a while. And in what I now look at as my last great gift to my father, I was his hook up.

“Give me a big bottle of the cheap stuff, instead of that little bottle (of the good stuff),” he whisper to me.

I’d get grief for bringing him a little ‘Old Grandad,’ ‘Kesslers,’ ‘Philadelphia,’ or ‘Old Crow,’ because even a little too much would send his blood sugar out of whack. But it was his last joy in life, and I couldn’t deny him.

I’d get him the little bottle, though, with the hope that he’d only have one drink; try to stretch it out a little more. And that usually worked.

Father’s Day, birthday, Christmas. Dad knew what was coming from me, and part of the gift was giving him reason to devise some sort of ruse to make sure my mother “didn’t know” he’d just gotten some booze.

As he was executing said ruse, he’d quietly, but with the tone implying yelling, ask me why the hell I didn’t get him the big bottle.

Just like with most dads, my ol’man took more than his share of good-natured jibes from the family all year.

But none on his birthday. He loved that— it might have been his favorite part of the day.

He loved even more when someone would let one slip, and he was able to remind, “Not on my birthday!”

Though the polka classic reminds that in heaven there is no beer— on December 10, I know there’s cheap, crappy, blended whiskey in heaven.

And Dad’s drinking it by the gallon with plenty of diet ginger ale.

They must have it in a fancy place like heaven.

Dad made candy taste better with “And don’t tell your mother.”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My ol’man loved giving a kid a candy bar or a buck or an ice cream. Sure, us kids, but really any kid– especially if they weren’t expecting it.

“Don’t tell your mother,” he’d say, sneaking it to you on the backhand no matter who your mother was, and even if there was no need to sneak it– just because it seemed to be more fun that way.

The exuberant joys of his own childhood are what carried him through a more cloudy adulthood. The memories would come alive in those wide-eyed gaping smiles that were smeared with drippy vanilla or glossy with dreams of what “a green dollar!” could bring on the next visit to B-kwik or Wilson Farms.

Some of the same clouds that hung over my ol’man’s days now hang over mine, too… but in two different ways I’m double blessed for his example.

I have those chest swelling memories of my own rogue ice creams, packs of Luden’s Cherry cough drops, cans of diet Squirt, packs of M&Ms from the tiny stands inside big downtown buildings, and Birch Beers sitting at anyone of a dozen different bars.

All those memories are great, but even better, dad showed me the best way to recapture that joy is to light it in another life, and that might be the best gift of all.

So com’ere buddy… take this 20 and don’t tell your mom. Just use it for something good.


My ol’man drank whiskey & Ginger Ale from peanut butter jars and ate cereal in old margarine tubs. Remembering him this Father’s Day with a to-go coffee in an old strawberry jam jar from JAM Parkside.

By the way, my dad referred to himself as “your ol’man” to us kids. If I called him “Father,”  as one reader intimated I should, he probably would have slugged me.

 

Nothing like sharing a pop with my ol’man

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We moved around a lot growing up– I had been in seven different schools by the time sixth grade rolled around.

Even with the many bumps in the road, at the time it all seemed normal enough.

There was even the opportunity for some special moments which wouldn’t have otherwise happened.

Orchard Park Middle School was my third middle school in two years. We were building a new house, and it wasn’t done yet for the beginning of the school year, so my ol’man would pick me up from school.

We’d then have to wait for my brother and sister to get out of classes at Eggert Elementary.

To help kill the time, we’d pull into the Kwik Fill next to the pizza place on North Buffalo Rd.

Dad would send me in with a buck, and I’d grab a can of Diet Squirt which we’d share as we’d wait.

Years earlier, the ol’man would bring Squirt home for us from his gin mill. Well, the Visniak version of Squirt, anyway.

He’d fill up an old, used two-liter pop bottle with the pop gun behind the bar. Sometimes, he’d throw a couple of the small bags of chips hanging behind the bar into a Marine Midland cash bag to take home for us kids.

The Squirt was good, but better because of the company. I was happy to get to spend some time with Dad, even if it was just sitting with him in our ol’85 Dodge Caravan in a grammar school parking lot, just shooting the breeze about who knows what over a pop.

Working at Timon Feels Like Home: Part 764

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

One of the really cool things about my job at Timon is how family things get tied up unexpectedly.

Met a guy who is roughly the same age my dad would be… from roughly the same neighborhood.

Just chatting with him, he added a letter to two different words the same way my ol’man used to.

Cousint and concreak.

Musta been the way they said in the Valley.

I have to figure out a way to talk to this guy some more to see if I can pull out any other speech oddities he has in common with the ol’man. (like without being a creeper about it. hahaha)

Presidents Day reflection: The Ol’Man & LBJ

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My ol’man used to (somewhat proudly) tell the story about how he got suspended from South Park High School for ditching class to go see Lyndon Johnson speak in Niagara Square.

LBJ and Lady Bird with Buffalo Mayor Frank Sedita and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in Buffalo in 1966.In the 40 years or so I’ve had to let that story sink in, I think I have two takeaways.

The first is… When common sense dictates breaking a rule, do it. (There was nothing being taught at SPHS that day that could compete with seeing a President.)

The second is… common sense also dictates that you do your best to find an amiable solution to the breaking the rule. I’ve done plenty of things like skipping class to go see the President… but not while giving the finger to the guy who will paddle my ass and suspend me for doing it.

So thanks Dad and LBJ for the life lessons on this President’s Day.

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.

“Go up to the store to buy your ol’man a pack’a smokes.”

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 around the corner to Quality Food Mart at Seneca and Duerstein, and got the right brand of smokes.

(Tried to buy Marlboro for an uncle once and they literally chased me out of the store. Hahahaha.)

FOUND, finally: A pic of Dad’s bar

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I found one of my holy grails today, although I didn’t immediately recognize it.

Elk & Smith, 1969

As soon as I saw it, I liked this photo immediately– lots of interesting things going on there– Old ambulances, old license plate, great old tavern sign, a church bingo sign, a grain elevator… When I flipped it over to read the caption on the back, my heart skipped a beat as it sank into my stomach. This is Elk and Smith Streets!

About ten years after this photo was snapped, my dad bought the bar that was called Ceil’s Grill when this photo was snapped. Spent a lot of time in this place as a tiny, tiny little boy… playing with the jukebox, pool table, shuffle bowling, and of course, the pop guns.

So with this, I finally have a photo of the exterior of my dad’s bar, which I’ve been looking for literally for decades.

That’s St. Stephen’s Church with the Bingo sign, and the Buffalo Malting Elevator (both currently under construction for reuse.)

Previously found on Facebook in 2016: an interior shot of Dad’s gin mill. “Not a great shot… but the place has only existed in my mind for more than 30 years. I remember the two guys shown— Rich McCarthy and Dick Lobaugh– from those days at the corner of Elk and Smith. Spent plenty of young childhood Saturday mornings spinning on those barstools, and getting bottles of Genesee out of the cooler for some of the guys who’d still be hanging around inside the bar when the sun came up.”

The bar burned to the ground in 1989, a few years after my dad sold it. It’s been a vacant lot ever since.

My ol’man’s been gone eight years– but not too far…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

March 28th was Palm Sunday eight years ago– I remember because during the 3am hour, Dad had a heart attack in his hospital bed at the VA, and despite the best efforts of the ICU team, he died. That’s him, by the way, on the left with his older brothers Mike “Hooker” Doyle and Chuck Cichon.

Brothers Steve Cichon, Mike Doyle, and Chuck Cichon, c. 1958.

 
I knew the moment my ol’man left. I wasn’t there, but something woke me up from a sound sleep in the middle of the night and instantly, with something like an electrical pulse of knowledge, I just knew. It was knowledge that was filled with peace and light and beauty, but as I started to think about it, it made me terribly sad.
 
Thinking it was some kind of dream, I calmed myself down and fell back asleep, just in time for the phone to ring at 4:11am, with mom telling me to get to the hospital. I was the first to get there, and they told me they tried for 20 minutes but couldn’t bring him back.
 
I later figured out that his official time of death minus the time they spent working on him was the exact time I popped up awake in bed. Dad was gone and it was terribly sad, but also filled with peace and light and beauty.
 
It’s beyond current human understanding how or why the universe let me know dad was gone, and that everything was OK… but you can’t be the same after something like that, experiencing some connection to the great beyond.
 
I’m really just fine with not understanding it.. and just knowing that my ol’man’s soul and who his was lives on in me until I breathe my last breath.
 
It also leaves me knowing that somewhere in time and space, on a plane that’s just outside our human grasp, my ol’man is waiting for me with a big smile, some cheap whiskey, and some thoughts on Donald Trump.