The Ol’man’s still pulling one over on the VA

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

BUFFALO, NY –Been thinking about the ol’man today, so I’m wearing a pair of his pajamas… PROPERTY OF THE VA.

SteveVApajamas

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.

My ol’man lives on in the little things every day

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

vita;is

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.

Buffalo in the ’90s: ‘Race for the White House ’92’ hits Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Buffalo was the epicenter of presidential politics for one weekend in 1992.

Each of the men remaining in the race for the Democratic nod to challenge President George H.W. Bush in the November election had agreed to come to Buffalo for a question-and-answer forum at Shea’s Buffalo.

During the weeks leading up to the March 1992 event, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, former California Gov. (and now again the governor) Jerry Brown, and the front-runner, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, all agreed to attend the event.

Only days before the panel was set to convene, Tsongas dropped out of the race, leaving Clinton and Brown as the big names coming to Western New York and planning stops other than just the Shea’s event.

With story lines that might strike a chord with followers of the 2016 campaign, Clinton landed in Buffalo and was swept away to a $300-per-plate fundraiser hosted by Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Vince Sorrentino (far left), and Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski (far right), welcome Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton to Buffalo. (Buffalo News archives)

Meanwhile, Brown, the populist candidate who wouldn’t accept donations of more than $100, held his largest campaign event at the Broadway Market.

Presidential hopeful Jerry Brown speaks with Buffalo radio reporters Susan Rose of WBEN and George Richert of WWKB outside of the Broadway Market in 1992. (Buffalo News archives)

Clinton was also scheduled to make a stop at the Broadway Market that never materialized. But in the days long before instant access to information, my father decided it was a once-in-lifetime opportunity for him and me — as a high school freshman with a love of politics– to go see two men running for president on one day at one of Buffalo’s great venues.

Having been at the Brown event as a 14-year-old, it was exciting to see that I not only brushed arms with the man who is now governor of California, but also with people like Susan Rose and George Richert, both of whom I met the following year at WBEN.

While doing the research for this piece, I was surprised and excited to see a photo of those two — but words can’t explain my delight in finding a photo of my late father standing next to Brown inside the vestibule at the market. I’m sure I was standing next to my dad — it’s probably best for everyone that the photographer’s lens didn’t manage to capture my teenage awkwardness there.

The author’s father, Steve Cichon (dark glasses & mustache), about to shake hands with Jerry Brown at the Broadway Market in 1992. (Buffalo News archives)

“See, your ol’ man does all right,” I can imagine my dad saying, had he the chance to see this photo — a part of the history of Buffalo, the Broadway Market, presidential politics and my family.

Then-Syracuse Post-Standard reporter Patrick Lakamp (trench coat) on assignment covering presidential hopeful Jerry Brown crossing New York State. Lakamp has worked for The News since 1997 and is now the paper’s enterprise editor.

Cichon evolution: How CHEE-hoyn became SEE-shon

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Spelled Cichoń in its original form, my last name is Polish.

John & Mary Cichon with daughter-in-law Mary

My great-grandfather, Jan Cichon, came to Buffalo from what is now Milczany, Świętokrzyskie, Poland in 1913. He soon changed his first name to John, but never changed the way he pronounced his last name.

He said “CHEE-hoyn” as a little boy in the tiny villages he grew up in near Sandomierz in southeast Poland, and said “CHEE-hoyn” as a railyard laborer for National Aniline in South Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood.

Before John’s son– my grandfather– died in 2015, one of the many hours of conversation I had with him was how CHEE-hoyn became SY-chon (which is how Gramps said it) became SEE-shon (which is how my dad and most of my family says it.)

So, here is Eddie (SYchon) explaining how CHEEhoyn became SEEshon.

Gramps says that his mother and father– both from Poland– always said CHEEhoyn. He says when he and his nine brothers and sisters starting going to school, SYchon– the generally accepted German pronunciation– was introduced to them, and it stuck.

“You say SEEshon, right?” Gramps asked me. I told him that’s how my dad says it.

steve and gramps

“Well, your dad’s partly French,” Gramps said, cracking himself up so hard he started coughing.

I can’t find the audio– I recorded dozens of conversations with Gramps– but he also once explained that it was one of his sisters-in-law who started saying SEEshon. My grandma also said SEEshon, as did my dad, and now most if not all of the Cichons who are left in my family say SEEshon.

So that’s how my family has come to say SEEshon, although I answer to any other pronunciation from telemarketers who are just plain confused or from little old ladies wearing babushkas (or my Fair friend Jim!) telling me I say my name wrong.

A big hunk of baloney

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

My dad was a great storyteller, and most of the stories revolved around some kind of villain cramping his style.

They were fun, but you could see that 30 or 40 or 50 years later, he was still POed at Hawkeye Hayden.

But the best, warmest, aggression-free memories for the ol’man usually revolved around food– especially free food.

His Grandma Scurr would give him a quarter for the show and he’d be able to get 5 or 6 candy bars and watch cartoons all day at the Shea’s Seneca.

The meat packing plant near his house on Fulton Street once had a neighborhood cookout with all the hot dogs and hamburgers you could eat.

His dad was a night watchman at Paul’s Pies for a while… and he would bring home enough day old pies that everyone would get full.

He was always so happy telling and remembering these vivid all-you-can-eat tales, and the stories of great face-stuffings into adulthood were always part of his repertoire as well. He wasn’t a connoisseur of good food, he was a connoisseur of food.

“Man, I love soup.” “Man, I love eggs.” “At Manny’s, they give ya a hamburger this big!” “That was a really good fish fry, REALLY good.”

Before moving to The Valley and Fulton Street near my Grandpa’s family (Down the street from the Swift Meat Plant) when he was five, the Cichons lived at 28 S. Elmwood Avenue, Apartment 3, almost directly behind City Hall.

Dad’s favorite food story from that era involved “Good ol’Joe the Butcher.” His shop was right around the corner from where dad lived, and he’d “always give ya a big hunk of baloney.” The memory would fade to black with a smile, and a final, “Yep. Good ol’Joe the Butcher.”

Joe the butcher 1957 Buffalo Stories versionJoe the Butcher was Joe Battaglia. He came to Buffalo from Italy at the age of 5 in the 1890s. He ran his shop at the corner of Elmwood and Genesee (nearest landmark now would be the post office near Channel 7) from 1901 until he died in 1957. In finally tracking down his location and name, and then this death notice, I found his only son died a few years later and had no heirs. My ol’man may have been the last living person talking about this kindhearted man.

I’m happy to have finally dug up the full story of good ol’Joe the Butcher. He reminds me that doing something as simple and almost meaningless as ripping off a hunk of baloney can brighten someone’s day and possibly even brighten the rest of a person’s life.

Here’s to good ol’Joe the Butcher and to us all finding ways to rip off hunks of baloney.

Five years later, I miss my Ol’Man to the moon and back

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

Intellectually, I know there is no time or space in heaven, so today is just a glorious, random day in an eternity of glorious random days.

I further know in heaven, we have no need for our earthly contrivances, because in spirit we are perfection.

Intellectually, I know these things. It doesn’t mean I can truly comprehend what they really mean.

My dad went to his eternal reward five years ago today. It’s a wonderful blessing to firmly believe that our loved ones die from this life into a more beautiful forever.

In our perfectly human struggle to understand and explore what we can’t grasp, we often try to define the undefinable with comparisons to other undefinable things we’ve thought about a little bit more.

In 2006, Americans sent nearly 38 billion plastic water bottles to landfills. If laid end to end, that’s enough bottles to travel from the Earth to the Moon and back 10 times.

For some reason, an inconceivable number like 38 billion is easier to comprehend when we say it could make 10 round trips to the moon. This is silly, since most of us don’t really have a firm concept of how far away the moon is, besides really, really far away (which is where I would imagine 38,000,000,000 stacked water bottles would take me anyway.)

Sometimes it’s helpful for me– and any of us, I imagine– to picture our loved ones in perfection in heaven. Since we can’t understand perfection, we put it in earthly terms that we know aren’t even close to how things really are up there.

So my ol’man is in heaven. Five years today. He was recently joined by my mom-in-law there.  I smile that they are there, and that they are there together.

These two were a lot alike in their earthly lives, but one way sort of flashed at me this morning. They both loved cigarettes. In fact, they both smoked Parliament, until after years of being badgered by medical professionals and family, they both gave up the habit. But neither ever stopped thinking about– or talking about– smoking and the pleasure it brought them. It’s an eerily similar story for both.

I know if either one had been able to create their own version of heaven, it would have included a cigarette vending machine in the corner and an endless supply of quarters.  It also would have a kitchen table with ashtrays, mugs of coffee, and swirling smoke.

dad and pam smoke
The whole notion of these two smoking in heaven is ridiculous, and might even make someone mad. But it’s what flashed in my head this morning, and it fits. I love and miss them both.

I know heaven brings them the joy of smoking without even thinking of a puff, but some how for me, picturing them happy is easier with a butt in hand– like stacking bottles to the moon.

So today, I imagine Dad and Mom-in-law sitting at that heavenly kitchen table. They are talking and smiling, sharing a pack of Parliaments, and enjoying their heavenly life to the fullest, looking down upon all of us who love and miss them, their hearts full with the knowledge that we will all be together someday.

For us here, talking about how much you miss someone who is a piece of you is trying to put into words the indefinable. Dad’s been gone for five years, Pam for 16 days.

The yearning and sadness feels like the like the moon and back in both cases, but at the same time, the everlasting love from each is always as close as my heart.

Previous writings about My Ol’Man:

  • My Ol’man and Me: My dad died at age 58. I’ve really become accustomed to dealing with grief by writing about the people and things I love, and what it is and why it is that I love them. Written in the weeks following my dad’s death on Palm Sunday, 2010. The story of his last week alive, and a reflection of our relationship and time together. Read it here, and download it as a free e-book.

Astigmatism, My Ol’Man, and Leonard Nimoy

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

I got glasses in seventh grade. My vision was really bad and I didn’t really know. I remember looking at a pine tree out our front window, and being marveled by being able to make out the needles; not just seeing a big green blob.

Sixth grade was a mess. We moved to Orchard Park late that summer, and as a late add to every class, I sat in the last seat every time. I didn’t realize it was unusual, but I couldn’t see the board at all.

It’s because of all this, I taught myself the most memorable skills I learned in middle school.

As my grades suffered in Social Studies and Math because I was blind and sitting in the back, I figured out how to do two Mr. Spock moves: make my hand make the “live long and prosper” sign, and make one eyebrow go up while the other one goes down.
These are both actions which take some muscle memory, and had someone realized I needed glasses a year earlier, I might not have had an entire academic year to train those muscles.

Star Trek was one of those shows I watched with my dad a lot growing up. It always seemed to be on, which made him selective.

There were “dumb ones,” episodes Dad thought were stupid and didn’t stand up to the standards he set for the show.

We wouldn’t watch the dumb ones, but the good ones, my dad laughed at the jokes and cheered when they won every time like it was the first time he’d ever seen it. He especially loved Spock, and was lovingly amused at his different ways in the same way Captain Kirk was.

Spock was someone we could always agree on. He’s a great character. He’s forever denying his humanity; which, ironically, is one of humanity’s most prevalent traits.

Nimoy’s calm demeanor and resonant voice brought the best of Spock with him no matter what else he was doing. Dad and I loved him on “In Search of..” as well.

Not many people can specifically remember something striking they learned in sixth grade.

I learned to be a little more Vulcan, and therefore a little more human. And grew a little closer to my dad.

Thanks Leonard Nimoy. Rest in peace.

Death is never what It seems: Gramps, Dad, and how their passings changed things…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – With Ralph Wilson in the news, today I was talking with a few co-workers about death and dying.

The Ol'Man (my dad, Steve Cichon), Me, and Gramps (dad's dad, Edward Cichon). Just hanging out at the Msgr. Nash K of C Hall, South Legion Dr, 2008.
The Ol’Man (my dad, Steve Cichon), Me, and Gramps (dad’s dad, Edward Cichon). Just hanging out at the Msgr. Nash K of C Hall, South Legion Dr, 2008.

I’d found myself in the same situation as Mr. Wilson’s family over the last few weeks. While I had hoped that my grandfather would live forever, or at least til he hit a birthday worthy of a Willard Scott mention; the truth is, Gramps was 88, and had been in slowly declining health for over a decade. It was a mix of great hope and sad acceptance in thinking about Gramps for a long time, until he did pass away March 4th.

I grieve the loss of a simply beautiful man, but equally feel some satisfaction in accepting the simply beautiful long life he lived.

As is often the case with death, it’s not quite that simple. We’ll all be attending a service for Gramps on Friday, which is also the anniversary of my Dad’s death a few years ago.

In our little conversation around the coffee pot about Ralph Wilson and death, I was about to mention something about about Dad’s death, when I realized I didn’t know without thinking how long it had been.

I just barely controlled myself, with the thunderpunch of a thought that Dad died so long ago I can’t immediately remember.

It was four years ago. And four years later, that thought that I had to do math in order to remember how long it had been since I sat with dad, laughed with dad, talking with dad, yelled at dad… It was as if he’d just right now died all over again.

But having a Mass for Gramps on the anniversary of dad’s death is somehow appropriate for me.

Losing a father is a complicated, awful, inward, outward emotional mess. Dad was very sick, and for a long time, I had tried to steel myself for the inevitable– but there’s no way to prepare. Especially when the most difficult part of it all was completely outside of me and my control.

Gramps. Spending 3 years and 11 months talking with Gramps about my dad and the fact that he’s gone while trying to keep it all together was emotionally difficult beyond words. My dad was more than Gramps’ son, they were best friends. In his own illness, my dad thought more about Gramps’ well-being than his own. He called him 3 or 4 times a day. They kept each other smiling, and kept each other in line.

My dad’s last mission in life was doing what he could to take care of his dad. My dad never asked for much for himself, but I know if we would have had the opportunity to talk heart-to-heart with me before he died, dad would have told me to take care of Gramps. I did my best, which sometimes wasn’t good enough. A call to Gramps could be crushing, and frankly, I wasn’t always up to it.

It was generally heart breaking talking with Gramps. Four or five times in the course of a 90 minute visit, he’d talk about how much he missed my dad. I sat through it, discussed it, even encouraged it– despite those thoughts ripping the heart out of my chest and leaving me drowning in emotion every time. But of course, what ever pain I have dealing in the death of a father, I can’t even imagine the pain and emptiness of dealing with the death of a son.

Once I mentioned that I had some recordings of my dad. Gramps almost started to cry, his voice shaky. “I’d love to hear his voice again, Son.” I have not and cannot listen to the hours and hours of Dad I taped through the years. I just can’t bear it. I found a short conversation I recorded when my dad called me at work one time to wish me a happy birthday. It’s dad happy and full of life… which in his last few years wasn’t always the case. Still, most of the dozens of times I played the one minute phone message for Gramps, tears uncontrollably streamed down my face. A few times I felt nauseous. Gramps often cried too, but it was therapy he relished.

Despite being blind and practically immobile, I’m sure Gramps knew until his last breath exactly how long he’d been without my dad. If Gramps was still here, I’d have called him on Friday, the anniversary of Dad’s death. “Hi Gramps, It’s Stevie.” “Hello, son. You know your dad died 4 years ago today?” “Yep, I know,” I’d have said, trying not to sound too sad. “Wanna hear the tape?”

For four years, my mourning has been wrapped in the context of completing Dad’s last mission and being there for Gramps in sharing his pain and loss.

Right after he died, I wrote about what a perfect grandfather Gramps was to us when we were little. Now that he’s gone, I’m realizing pretty strikingly that once again, Gramps was helping me far more than I could have ever helped him in talking about and thinking about my ol’man.

 

The cars of our childhood

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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.

chevrolet_lumina_2
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.

aries-wood-panel
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.

spirit
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.

spirit-interior
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.

85-pontia-bonneville
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!!”

econoline-pickup

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.

greeg-ford-maverick
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

Dad knows best, so shut the eff up

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I did something great yesterday. I told myself to shut the f*** up, and I really meant it.

For a very long time, I’ve been doing an exaggerated impression of my dad, saying with disgust, “Just… shut… the f*** … up–”

He was not a fan of people annoying him by going “chirp, chirp, chirp” as he’d say while doing the blah, blah, blah hand motion.

Dad, 1984. He’d have preferred you just have an Old Milwaukee tall boy and shut up.
Dad, 1984. He’d have preferred you just have an Old Milwaukee tall boy and shut up.

Now, my dad was a great father and fantastic in many ways. In this case, though, he was fantastically lacking in patience, and fantastically succinct in his expression of that lack of patience.

That phrase, an exasperated, “Just… shut… the f*** … uuUUP–” came out of his mouth when he was at the end of his rope, but more “tired of it” than angry. Of course, that made it an expression commonly uttered by the ol’man, in that exact peculiar way. That strong suggestion would be offered to us kids, to my mother, to the dog, and to the TV when Don Paul was talking about something that didn’t have to do with whether it was going to rain tomorrow.

“Just… shut… the f*** … uuUUP–”

When I first started saying this phrase in this way in the company of my wife, she no doubt recognized the dramatic style as a nod to the Master of the cranky curse-riddled tirade. As time went on though, and as more and more of my personality (d)evolved into something closer to that of my ol’man’s– I think that phrase has become mine.

We are at a point where my wife knows I’m thinking it even before I do most of the time. She’ll smile, and say, “C’mon, say it.” Honestly, we both know I say it mostly for comedic effect. But as time wears on, that little kernel of truth which makes comedy funny– my actual living, breathing desire for that person to STFU… well, that little kernel seems to be growing into a greater desire for clamped mouths every time I say it. Soon, I too will be swearing at TV weathermen.

But yesterday, I was talking things over with myself, mostly being a whiny bitch, when out of nowhere, I realized what I sounded like in my own head, and had enough. I told myself to just… shut… the f*** … up. Dad would have been proud, because I meant it just as much as the ol’man meant it when Don Paul started cracking jokes about Thanksgiving leftovers one time in 1991 or so.

We all have problems, and even those of us who try to maintain a steely exterior, might sometimes get a little whiny in the doubts that share with ourselves about those problems. I know it’s not the solution for everything, but wow– realizing you’re always a loser when you play the self-pity game, and figuratively punching yourself in the face is really a great feeling.

So, the next time you start to feel all “woe is me,” remind yourself to just… shut… the f*** … up. Or call me to complain. I’ll be happy to channel the ol’man and tell you exactly what I think you should do.

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com