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.

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.

The Ol’man & Fruitcake

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

As I continue to evolve into my father, with great anticipation, I bought a fruitcake today.

My ol’man would excitedly exclaim, “Man, cut that up! I LOVE fruitcake!” to no one in particular, because no one else would eat what I assumed was rotten dreck.

He probably did share the fruitcake with the dog– especially if it was Casey.

Well just now, I ate a quarter of this thing between taking the photo and writing this. Dad would be proud of my broadened holiday palette… but if I ever get a taste for that shrinkwrapped Hickory Farms sausage he also loved— please just put me out of my misery.

Fruitcake is plenty tasty. I think my distrust for it stemmed from its resemblance to another of one of my dad’s favorite processed meat products– olive loaf.

 

As my ol’man taught us, it’s not enough, but “thanks”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My ol’man taught us respect for everyone, and as a veteran, he made sure that we understood that veterans deserved extra respect.

We always gave a buck to the dusty, shriveled World War I vets who were selling poppies outside the grocery store and the bank.  In this increasingly cashless world, when I don’t have a dollar and wish I did, Dad’s lesson from these hundreds of times echoes in my mind. “You always you make sure you have a buck for something like this,” he’d tell us, giving one of us a crepe paper poppy with a green wire stem.

For as long as I can remember, we regularly spent time at the VA Hospital, whether to visit Dad, go to an appointment with him, or to visit one of our many relatives who received care there.

Now my ol’man really didn’t care much for rules, especially if they didn’t make sense to him. “No visitors under 14” was an edict he ignored with relish. “People who are sick need to be cheered up,” I know he thought, “and what have I got that will cheer people up? These little lemons!”

I’m not talking trying to slip in a 12 year old, either. I remember visiting the bedside of my dad’s Grandpa Scurr at South Buffalo Mercy Hospital. I had just turned three when he died, so dad looked at the age limit as plus or minus 11 years.

A couple years later, dad snuck us into the VA hospital to visit my mom’s grandfather. Grandpa Stephen J. Wargo spent the second half of World War II as a Navy mechanic fixing planes on Guam, and he and my dad got along great—which wasn’t always true for either one of these irascible men named Steve.

Getting over on Mercy Hospital to visit a sick grandpa was one thing—my ol’man had been gleefully giving nuns the business since the days when he was kicked out of St. Stephen’s Grammar school in the Valley on Elk Street.

He was a little more careful at the VA, though. While not quite the military, the Veterans Administration Hospital was really just about the only place I’d ever seen my father “behave” for a prolonged period of time. At any other hospital, the rule was stupid. Period. Same rule at the VA, but he’d employ the kind of protocol he learned in the Marine Corps—if we’re going to bend a rule, we’d better do it carefully and for good reason.

So when the elevator dinged for the right floor on our way to visit Grandpa Wargo, Dad stuck his head out of the elevator looking both ways to make sure the coast was clear, before grabbing and jerking my hand and my brother’s hand with a very direct, “c’mon.”

In the early 80s, every floor at the VA still had a smoking lounge, usually right next to the elevators. With purpose, Dad threw open the door to the smoking room and threw us in. “Don’t move,” he told us as he left to go get Gramps.

There was a friendly elderly black man in a bathrobe in the lounge, probably just trying to enjoy a smoke. I can’t be sure of the exact words, but dad asked something along the lines of, “Can you keep an eye on these animals while I get their grandfather?”

Almost four decades later, I can’t forget that guy’s smile and his standing in front of us… Holding his bathrobe open to hide us in case someone looked in the room. It’s powerful when just your presence can make people smile, and we made quite a few people smile with a few bent rules and only a small dose of secondhand smoke.

Later, when dad was spending more time in the VA himself, we’d often get to know his bunkmates. Especially when it was clear they didn’t have visitors or family, dad would adopt them—meaning we’d adopt them. I’d call dad to see if he wanted anything before going to see him. I’d usually bring a paper and a good cup of coffee, but he usually wouldn’t ask for anything– unless his buddy needed something.

All this is to say I hope that I carry with me and share my ol’man’s respect and honor for those who have served. I don’t always have an extra buck in my pocket, but there aren’t a lot of folks selling poppies, anyway.

But on Veteran’s Day (and everyday), when I meet someone who has served or see someone who is outwardly representing their service with a hat or bumper sticker, I offer a firm handshake, a look in the eye, and a thank you.

It’s not enough, but nothing’s really enough. It’s my honoring my dad, my dad’s service, and the sacrifice of every man and woman to ever wear the uniform.

Thank you.

Sign of the times

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When I was a kid at Holy Family grammar school in South Buffalo, I loved election season. Watching the news with my dad every night, I got to know all the players on the local scene, and through my ol’man’s instant, savage analysis, I always knew who was a good guy and who was a chump.

That was fun, but just as exciting for me was driving around and looking at all the big colorful lawn signs.

We never had a sign on our lawn, but like a lot of South Buffalonians in the 80s, my grandparents usually had one for Mayor Griffin or one of the Keane brothers (Assemblyman Dick or Councilman Jim) stapled to the front of the porch.

Some kids liked to drive around looking at Christmas lights or spooky Halloween graveyards— but during political season, Dad would take us the long way to grandma’s house, maybe down McKinley Parkway, to look at all the political signs on the big lawns.

In some kind of simplified kindergartner way, I loved and appreciated the artistry in the varied designs and executions.

“Fahey At Large” might as well have been by Rembrandt or “LoVallo” by Monet.

Well done paint on wood was always eye-catching, but far more rare than it’s sloppy-stenciled cousins which seemed to be everywhere. But the printed signs were like works of art to me. The color choices. The fonts. Was it plain or well designed? How did they look after rain? Did the staple job detract from the sign?

Something, too, about three houses in a row with the same sign in the same spot. Or the uniqueness of a single sign among dozens of signs for “the other guy.”

Then and now, no where does all this drama play out better than Potters Road between Mount Mercy and the city line.

Unlike the manicured and rolling expanses of green on wide and open McKinley, houses seem almost on the street along some parts of Potters.

And it seems like just about everyone on Potters is in the game, maybe even why they moved there in the first place. The manic jumble of lawn signs make the tight ride even more claustrophobic if not thrilling, with the dozens, even hundreds of signs over those few long blocks next to the creek, including many that you wouldn’t see anywhere else in South Buffalo.

Potters during Election time has always felt like the lights of Times Square or the Vegas Strip to me… and this time, it’s my name out there… on a great sign designed by my friend Jake Wagner.

Wow, ya know? Kneeling next to a sign with my own name on it on Potters Road, 14210.

It’s really a lot of work and easy to get caught up in the grind of running for office– it’s nice to be reminded of how amazing all this is every once in a while.

I can’t wait to serve as your next Erie County Clerk. More on my plans at steveforclerk.com.

Scary brass lizards and memories of Father’s Days past

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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.

Lessons from Dad

Happy Father's Day weekend! 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.

Posted by Steve Cichon for Erie County Clerk on Friday, June 16, 2017

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.

Happy Fathers Day, everyone.

My ol’man, pizza, and the Dukes of Hazzard

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s my favorite Dukes of Hazzard moment.

I was in First Grade, and “The Dukes” were just about the most popular thing in the world. Maybe tied with Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. The early ’80s were a tough time in South Buffalo– and my dad had a tough time finding work.

Billboard outside of City Hall in the late ’70s, placed there by Bethlehem Steel’s union workforce.

Plants closed and he sold the bar at Elk & Smith. He tried teaching middle school history but couldn’t get in full-time, so he lived and worked in Massachusetts for almost a year while we lived on Allegany Street off Tifft near South Park.

Of course we missed dad– and money was tight. There were more 20-cent letters flying than $5 long-distance phone calls being made. I can’t imagine what it was like for my ol’man to be away, and for my mom to be home with us three, a full-time job, and no car.

It was a Friday night and we took our baths early to be ready to watch those Duke boys. We were sitting at our little plastic table in the living room—all ready for “Tic-Tac-Dough” and “Jokers Wild” to end and Waylon Jennings to sing about “two good ol’boys, never meaning no harm…” when the front door burst open.

Dad with us kids just inside the front door of our house on Allegany Street…. probably taken just as he was leaving for Massachusetts one time or another.

Not only had my ol’man pushed our AMC Spirit to the limit speeding home from Massachusetts, but he had the sense to stop at Mineo’s South (when it was on the corner of Tifft & South Park) on his way home to pick up a large pie. Pizza, like long distance calls, wasn’t often in the budget and extra special.

I’m not sure a six-year-old heart could be any more full.

This glorious Friday night was probably about the best night of my life up until then… Dad was home, we were eating pizza, and we were watching the Dukes. All was right with the world.

That’s me (left) with my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, c.1982

Celebrating my ol’man’s birthday

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Happy birthday to my ol’man– who if on this mortal coil to celebrate, might very well have mixed up some terribly weak iced tea in the blue container you can see on the counter in this late 80’s pic.
dad-at-the-sink
He then would have mixed that barely-iced-tea with some turpentine-like cheap blended whisky in that plastic McDonald’s Super Size cup to celebrate this, his 65th birthday.
Dad was always an original, and usually did whatever sounded right to him, no matter what anyone had to say about it. By the way, the look he gave me for taking this picture is also the one he’d give me for writing this nonsense and sharing this photo.
It’s become a bit of a tradition to do a fat shot of Dad’s favorite whiskey on special days of remembrance– like his birthday, Father’s Day, the day he died.
When you go into the liquor store and buy a plastic fifth of Kessler, the assumptions people make about you aren’t great— but anything for my ol’man!
I used to buy my dad a good (or at least better) bottle of whiskey for his birthday so I wouldn't have to do a shot of this crap with him... He'd probably be upset now that he's gone, I'm drinking "the good stuff" without him. "Steveo, that Kesslers is smooth as silk," he'd say. Hahaha. Happy birthday, dad.
I used to buy my dad a good (or at least better) bottle of whiskey for his birthday so I wouldn’t have to do a shot of this crap with him… He’d probably be upset now that he’s gone, I’m drinking “the good stuff” without him. “Steveo, that Kesslers is smooth as silk,” he’d say. Hahaha. Happy birthday, dad.

 

The shot glass is one of the few remaining artifacts from the gin mill he owned at Elk & Smith Streets in The Valley, and if he never drank a shot of Kessler out of it, he’s certain to have lined up the explosive half of hundreds of boilermakers in this indestructible vessel.   You need something indestructible to serve a drink that could also be used to strip varnish off a footlocker and clean rust off a chrome bumper.
dad-jim-beam
Because my dad’s hands didn’t work that great in his last few years, the brand of whiskey I’d buy him was less important than the plastic bottle. He really wasn’t supposed to have it at all with all his medical issues and medication– but how can you not visit the easiest way to bring joy to his broken body and soul. I had to do it.
Of course, dad liked a drink… but I think there was more joy in getting the bottle and “hiding it” from my mother than there was in actually drinking it.
Happy birthday, dad!

An appreciation of the sacrifice of veterans

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Buffalo, NY – This is my ol’man celebrating his birthday at the VA Hospital in 2007.

The Ol'man.
The Ol’man.
It’s very rare to have served our country and not have left some piece of your mind, spirit, sanity, or body behind to ensure the freedom and tranquility of Americans and good people all over the world.
 
The sacrifice of those who have served is the cornerstone of America’s greatness. Having never worn a uniform, I can’t fully understand all the complexities of that sacrifice, but I do spend everyday– and today, especially– in awe of what men and women in uniform have done and continue to do for me personally and for every other American, personally.
 
Thank You.