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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Buffalo, NY – This is my ol’man celebrating his birthday at the VA Hospital in 2007.
By Steve Cichon | email@example.com | @stevebuffalo
BUFFALO, NY –Been thinking about the ol’man today, so I’m wearing a pair of his pajamas… PROPERTY OF THE VA.
He made dozens of emergency trips to the VA Hospital over the last decade of his life, and was admitted for many of those times, and when he was admitted, there was often a conversation that went like this.
“Hey dad, so I’m going to bring you a Diet Spin (he loved the Tops generic diet cola) and an Autotrader… Do you want me to bring you some clothes to go home in?”
“Nah,” he’d say, “They’ll gimme a new pair of pajamas.”
My ol’man loved getting one over on the VA, and loved leaving that place with another pair of pajamas hanging on his back.
He’d make a half-hearted promise to bring the pajamas back to an orderly who couldn’t have cared any less. “These babies are the best around,” he’d say climbing into my car, tugging on his new NOT FOR SALE emblazoned loungewear.
He had a pretty decent collection when he died– unbeknownst to one another, my brother and I both kept a pair.
“The VA is the best hospital around,” he’d usually say on the trip from Bailey Avenue to Orchard Park.
“Man, this car rides great,” he’d mention, inevitably followed by, “but I do hate riding on this 33. I don’t know how people do it every day.”
Dad had another saying that I think meant something different depending on his mood.
“I wish him well,” started the ol’man’s classic phrase, “but wish him well away from me.”
When he was ambivalent, it sounded like he was saying he has no ill will towards this person, he just doesn’t want to see them.
If it was said with a touch of the caustic rage my ol’man always seemed to have bubbling just below the surface in case he needed it– well then, it sounded like an empty felicitation and a hope that you get the eff away and stay as far away as possible.
I had one of each of those well wishes today, and I avoided driving on the 33 (although I did have to take that damn 290 during rush hour.) Somewhere, Dad is smiling.
By Steve Cichon | firstname.lastname@example.org | @stevebuffalo
BUFFALO, NY — I could almost smell the Vitalis at Easter Mass this past weekend. The generations old tradition of tiny little boys with their hair slicked down to their heads for church makes me smile and melts away decades.
I have thick, wily hair, and the only time my ol’man ever cared about it not looking that way was on the way to church.
“Get over here,” he’d say, with clipped speech and some vague notion of annoyance… A Parliament 100 dangling from a corner of his lip.
One old hair tonic’s commercial told you “a little dab’ll do ya.” Dad must have never saw this commercial. After grabbing my forehead and shaking the life out of that bottle, the bathroom filling with the smell of slightly perfumed rubbing alcohol, he’d pull an ancient brush through my hair until it felt like my head was bleeding.
Potential scalp contusions aside, it’s really a great memory. The very way I was watching the slicked up little dudes and their proud young dads, was under the ol’man’s influence. Even phrases like “slicked up little dudes” and the quiet dry Cichon cackle that I couldn’t hold back as I watched were all Dad.
When I feel him living on, laughing when he’d laugh, smiling when giving a kid a buck, being a special brand of obstinate and crazy, it’s a great feeling. Especially when it’s been six years today since his heart stopped, he breathed his last, and he went on to his eternal reward.
We can’t help but remember our loved ones, and that can be sad. But when we bear witness to the little ways they live on, it’s beautiful. Love ya and miss ya, dad.