Thank You For Serving: some vets who’ve had an impact in my life

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

Buffalo in the 20’s: Booze Bust in The Valley

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

dryraidelkst

BUFFALO BOOZE BUST… Wouldn’t it have been great if Irv Weinstein would have been around to write Prohibition stories? The papers were filled with them almost every day.

I like this one in particular– because it took place in a bar my ol’man would buy 55 years later.

The text is a bit hard to read:

The Buffalo Sunday Express Sunday December 27, 1925

Cleverly concealed caches of liquor were found hidden under the floor of the barroom in the saloon at no. 807 Elk street, owned by John Doty. A large copper tank, to which were attached two spigots and a siphon, was hiding places for two dozen quarts of rare old whisky.Under the floor and on the stairway were 100 quarts of alleged liquor. Doty will be arraigned on Monday.

In the late 1930s, the path of Elk Street changed as South Park Avenue was created out of several South Buffalo and First Ward streets. What was number 807 Elk –at the corner of Smith Street– in 1925, is now 207 Elk (sadly, a vacant lot.)

I’m a hoarder, but it’s ok: I hoard cool stuff

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

There are two kinds of people: Those that save, and those that throw out. Me? Um, are you really asking? The problem is, I have bunches or really cool stuff that make other people jealous. Stuff that I don’t need, and would be happy to get rid of, until someone reminds me how great it is.

I really have a hard time watching TV shows like “Hoarders,” because I know I’m only a bad break in life away from being that way. Every piece of nonsense I own has a story, and a possible future use. Every once in a while, I get brave and do a little cleaning. I bring a few bags to the curb, a few bags to AMVETS, set aside another pile for future eBay sales.

As a junk collector of some renown, and having produced two books and millions of web hits to staffannouncer.com mostly through the efficacious use of my junk, I now not only find my own new junk, but have people bringing it to me. I’m like Oscar the Grouch… “I LOVE TRASH!!”

I use the pejorative junk, because that’s mostly what it is to most people. But just like some amazing people can turn utter refuse it amazing art, I can turn old magazines and newspapers and store receipts and slightly soiled napkins and other nonsense into memory joggers for people. I love it, but it’s dangerous. It’s like a heroin addict working in a methadone clinic.

I’m making light of it, but it really is a borderline problem. I have rules about what I allow myself to even look at, let alone buy. Paper stuff, as in two dimensional things are OK. And it has to be related to Buffalo. Local stuff only. These are all things that I can share with people on my website, and allow them to share in my love of my junk.

I’m slowly weeding out of my piles—err collection– anything that doesn’t fit into those categories. I have huge stamp, coin, and sports cards collections that someday I’ll get rid of… Doesn’t fit the profile, even though these collections date back to when I was 6 or 7 years old.

This was the stuff I wanted in 1st and 2nd grade. There was an antique store on Seneca Street near my Grandma Cichon’s house. Grandma Cichon, an unabashed garbage picker, junk collector, and total hoarder. Anyway, in the window of that antique shop, there was an Iroquois Beer light. It was $10, and I was saving up to buy it. I was 9 or 10. My grandmother bought me that light for Christmas that year. Major encouragement in junk collection. You losers were getting Transformers, GI Joes, and Barbie dolls. Me? Iroquois Beer lights. Old Buffalo stuff. I couldn’t have been more happy. Of course I still have it.

pepsimachineAll this came to mind as I thought about the old Pepsi machine in the back of my garage.

I was 12 or 13 years old, and had $20 or $25 burning a hole in my pocket. I wanted something cool to spend it on, and *the* place to look for cool stuff, aside from SuperFlea, was the SwapSheet. Should you not know, this was a weekly newspaper filled with classified ads from all over Western New York.

I remind you that we lived in Orchard Park, when I found the very sparse ad (they charged by the word) that said something like “PEPSI MACHINE. $25. (Wilson)” That’s the Town of Wilson, waay up north in Niagara County. I called, and made arrangements. He still had the Pepsi machine. It was soon to be mine.

I can very clearly remember sitting on the school bus on my way to Orchard Park Middle School thinking how cool it was going to be to have a Pepsi machine in my room. It was going to be like Silver Spoons, where Ricky Schroeder had all those video games in his living room. There were so many questions I forgot to ask. I was picturing a tall machine where the front was a light box, with some vintage illuminated Pepsi logo on it. He said there was a light. It’s all I thought about for days. Not that I did math homework anyway, but I’m sure I didn’t then.

What made me want to write about this was thinking about my dad in all this. He was generally an impatient man, didn’t know how to get anywhere, terrible with directions, and not very mechanically inclined. There weren’t many times in my childhood that all these obstacles were overcome solely for my benefit, but getting this Pepsi machine was certainly one of those times. I know my ol’man was probably just as excited as I was about getting this thing as I was; it was the only way it could have happened.

I know we had to pull the back seats out of our 1985 nightwatch blue Dodge Caravan. This almost certainly involved cursing by the ol’man. We then had to drive from Orchard Park to a farm in Wilson. I know we spent at least an hour getting there, and got lost at least once. More cursing. We pulled up to the garage, and the guy opened the door…

I was terribly disappointed by the short, ugly not all-that-lit-up 1965 Pepsi machine of which I was about to take delivery. But I really couldn’t say no, especially after the long ride— So somehow, this heavy, molding barn smelling, one-time automated purveyor of ice cold soft drinks was loaded into the Caravan, and was driven back home to OP with the back hatch open.

I tried to fill it with the then-available 16 oz glass bottles, but they were too long, wouldn’t fit. The way the slots were rigged, you can’t put cans in the machine. It was made for obsolete 8 oz glass bottles. I had an ugly pop machine which I couldn’t fill with pop. Neither the coin mechanism nor cooling system worked. I had fun yanking them out and taking them apart, and dropping the weight of the beast by a little bit, anyway. There wasn’t much else I could do it with it.

It was a cool enough thing to have in your room, a Pepsi machine, even if it was a dumb disappointing one. It was in my room until I moved out of my parents’ house. For the last dozen years, it’s sat in the back on garage, and I’ve given it very little thought.

Until today. Trying to be droll in explaining on Facebook that I have too much junk, I mentioned I even have an old Pepsi machine sitting in my garage. This was meant to leave people with a sense of, “My goodness! What massive amounts of total crap this guy has!”

Instead, it was met with, “How cool! Can I be you friend because you have a Pepsi Machine? I will buy it from you for millions of dollars!”

First of all, where were you people when I was in middle and high school and needed Pepsi machine friends. But second, it made me think, maybe for the first time ever, as this clunker as something more than a boat anchor and a net negative and drag on my life.

Yesterday, I probably would have given it to someone to take it out of my garage, which would have made my wife immeasurably happy.

But just like that, today, it’s a very nostalgic piece intertwined with my relationship with my dad, my relationship with junk collecting, and something I’m trying to figure out how to get restored to at least look (and smell) good.

It’s the problem with being someone who keeps things. When you want to get rid of something, you have to strike while the iron is hot. Because it doesn’t take much to decide that something you were just ready to get rid of has all the sudden become a treasured heirloom.

I’m a scofflaw. Don’t judge: Why you won’t see me leaving the library with books….

This is embarrassing, and I feel like I have to explain myself.

I love libraries. I mean, even for people who love libraries, I love libraries. I was a library aide at Orchard Park Middle School. On the off chance I had lunch or an off period in high school, I was in the library.

I can honestly say, in college, I probably spent more time wandering the stacks at the Lockwood Library– and learned more there– than I did in class.

I know the Grosvenor Room at the downtown library like the back of my hand. I can tell you almost to the shelf where many of the best books or collections of books are located in that glorious room. And though it was likely the vinegary smell of disintegrating turn of the century pulp paper that caused it, I wept for a moment when I stumbled upon my own book in those stacks. It really means that much to me, seeing my book there, I’ve never felt more like a legitimate author and historian. It meant so much more than having the finished books in my hand, or seeing them for sale at a book store.

I’ve even had the honor at speaking at the library. Downtown. Right between the escalators. About the book I wrote, available for borrowing from the library. Available to you, that is. But not me. You see, I don’t have a library card.

“WHA-A-A-A?,” you ask in a stunned voice. And it’s something that shames me; it really does. I can’t get a library card. Don’t hate me when I tell you that my library card was revoked when I was in middle school. A few hundred dollars in fines and lost books.

It wasn’t me. I know that no man in prison is guilty, but I’m really not. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but it was my scofflaw father who left me in this dire strait.

It was well known by the South Park High School Library, the Daemen College Library, the Niagara University Library, and, yes, the Buffalo and Erie County Library that my ol’man wasn’t too good at returning books. He would tense up at the thought of calling this theft, but that’s pretty much what it was.

I don’t know if he’d ever planned on returning volume after volume and it just got away from him, or whether he really thought one day he’d take them back when he was done with them. But suffice it to say, once when he was trying to write a book about world religions or something (It kept changing, and he rarely finished a project) he drove me to the library, and asked me to take out this big pile of big books. I was in 6th or 7th grade, and these were graduate level theology texts.

Somehow these books wound up in the same place where my parents kept my $120 in First Communion money for “safe keeping.” Neither the books nor the cash was ever seen again.

I had assumed the books were returned, until one day I tried to take out a book and sirens blared and an armed guard escorted me out of the library. Not really, but they said I owed hundreds in fines and loss charges. Dad promised to pay. Never did. I ribbed him about it for years, and always said he’d take care it. Didn’t.

There was always that thought, though, that if I really needed a library card, I’d go get a check from the ol’man and it’d be all set. Now I’ve got nothin’.

A few years ago, I applied again, but they bounced me. Its a shame I live with, but now feel a little better for having it out in the open.

Aside from good ol’books, one could go through a history lesson in audio/visual media in looking at what I’ve been barred from borrowing. I haven’t been able to take out record albums, VHS movies, CDs, movies on DVD, and now books for my NOOK.

So don’t tell me about how you can borrow e-books from the library. I’ve spent a lifetime (at least since I was 13) convincing myself that if a book is good enough to read, it’s good enough to own and put on the shelf.

And since I’m not shelling out that couple hundred bucks anytime soon, it’s something that I guess I’m going to have to continue to believe.

Donuts & Booze: Happy Birthday 60th Birthday, Dad

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

Today my ol’man would have been 60 years old. I miss him, but he’s really not that far away… He fills my heart and my brain.

For example, were he around today, it would’ve gone like this: We’d walk in the door, and he’d yell in an exaggerated voice, “WHERE’S MY PRESENT? DID YOU BRING ME A DONUT?”

He was racked with pain and depression most of the time towards the end, and it was always nice to see him happy and fired up.

Now as far as that present, I think he knew more often than not what I’d be giving him, but I don’t think he allowed himself to expect it. To add the gravitas of it all, I often brought it over unwrapped in it’s natural state.

The boisterousness would instantly turn to whisper, and his Marine Corps-bred instincts would kick in.

DAD DRINKING AN OLD MILWAUKEE TALL BOY, 1984
DAD DRINKING AN OLD MILWAUKEE TALL BOY, 1984

“Don’t tell your mother,” he’d much too loudly whisper, brown bottle in hand. As he’d begin to think of a good hiding spot, it would dawn on him.

“Why didn’t you get me the bigger bottle?,” he’d demand, back in that same tone as Where’s my present but at a hushed volume.

It was an ongoing discussion between Dad and me. He’d rather have a $7 two gallon jug of whiskey from the paint thinner aisle of the liquor store, but I’d always buy him one of those smaller, flat-plastic-flask-shaped bottles, like you find laying around the park on a Saturday or Sunday morning. The kind of bottles they keep behind the counter. The kind of bottles Kesslers or Old Grandad don’t usually come in.

Dad wanted more, and wanted it to be cheaper for me. I wanted to give my ol’man a taste, but not too much. He was a diabetic, was on about a million pills. The booze messed with his blood sugar and some of those pills. He didn’t care. He liked a little whiskey in his iced tea or diet ginger ale or diet lemon-lime.

The bottle also had to be plastic, because the diabetic neuropathy dad had in his hands was so bad, he could barely feel them. His hands didn’t work too well.

So it was a small plastic bottle, and I was happy to be the ol’man’s hook up. Of course you hope he’ll live forever, but if you told my dad that by giving up booze he’d live another six months, he would have comically shoved a glass in your face and told you to Fill’er up.

He smoked on and off from the time he was in grade school, and ate more donuts than any other diabetic heart patient in the history of man. Those were his choices. And though they made me sad, and I’d encourage otherwise constantly, I couldn’t make the decision for him. Same with the booze. The only thing stopping him from having a drink was his inability to get to the liquor store.

Now he wasn’t an alcoholic or anything, but he liked a drink. And didn’t care what it did to him. His rough physical state of well being was actually better than his sorry emotional state, so making him happy was important to me. And I’m pretty sure getting that bottle as a gift made him happier than the actual drinking did.

Also, inevitably would come the reminder that we had to be nice to him because it was his birthday, and because he was moving soon, and not going to tell us where he was moving to.

“Some honey just told your ol’man he looks like he’s about 28,” he’d say, just like he had at probably every birthday since he was 29.

Dad died way too young, but I’m glad not before at could laugh at his stupid jokes and the dumb things he’d say over and over again. I see a few people I’m close to finally appreciating their parents as people for the first time, and enjoying them with all their faults. It’s tough with parents, because it’s literally a lifetime’s worth of baggage we carry in dealing with them.

For dad’s birthday, please do him the honor of trying to accept some of the stupid stuff your mom or dad might do. And please give them a hug and tell them you love ’em.

I did that all the time with dad, and it still doesn’t feel like it was enough.

Happy birthday, ol’man.

My Cardiac Adventure: What I learned on a trip to the hospital

Its with mixed emotions I find myself morphing into my dad more and more on a daily basis.

stevehospitalI’m really amused by some of the small things, and, in the way that slowly seeped into my being after spending so much time with my ol’man, I just don’t give a shit (pardon my language, but it’s Dad’s way) about some things, and just find it a waste of time to think about it.

Over the years, and especially since he died, I’ve stopped resisting, and actually started enjoying being more like my father. That is, in every way but one.

A big part of the reason Dad’s looking down on us now is because he didn’t take care of himself.

To be certain, he had a load of health problems, from a bad back, to Diabetes, to leg amputation, to heart disease; the last of which actually killed him.

And while those are all serious, Dad treated them less than seriously. He’d ask me to bring him donuts in the hospital while he was in the ICU recovering from diabetic coma. It’s not that he didn’t care; I just think he was a little overwhelmed by it all, and donuts seemed to help.

I’ve been acknowledging to myself for a while that I really need to get on blood pressure and cholesterol meds; that cleaning up my diet hasn’t done enough. The problem is, there’s always a good excuse to not go to the doctor- starting a new job, new book coming out, whatever.

Until it comes to a head at 3:30 one morning, and what the hell.

It felt kind of like heartburn, but a little more intense with a slightly different sensation. As I normally do when I get heartburn, I chugged a little Pepto Bismol. Didnt do a damn thing. The dog was looking to go out, so we went downstairs. The walk up left me feeling worse. My arms started to hurt. I really didn’t think I was having a heart attack, but I really didn’t know what was going on. I just knew it was different than anything I’d felt before, and also that my dad never felt any of the heart attacks he had, even the big one that weakened his heart to the point it stopped pumping a week later.

I tried to go back to sleep, but the combination of pain and anxiety lead me to think, “if this doesn’t stop by 4:30, I’m waking up Monica to take me to the hospital.”

That’s what happened. Ridiculously high blood pressure and family history had them run a battery of tests, including a stress test. That stress test is why I spent the night, because they couldn’t do one until the next day.

All the tests were fine, and they were making fun of how well I did on the stress test (they stopped at 13 minutes. I would have kept on going.)

So I have “heart like bull,” and all is well. I will be going on blood pressure, cholesterol, and GERD meds, like I probably should have a year or two ago. And I will take them. Like dad, I put it off. Unlike dad, I will take them, like the cardiologist said.

I do have to admit, though, given that the hospital was a setting dad did so well in– both mentally and physically, I can see why he liked it in here. He really did, for all his complaining, enjoy his stays in the hospital.

I really do feel bad that people feel bad that I’m in here (I’m writing this as I await discharge), and feel even worse that people feel the need to come visit. I feel and know I am extraordinarily blessed for both, but now have a better understanding of why dad used to say, “Why don’t you guys go home?”

I used to wait until he asked me to go home three times before I’d leave. I always broke my heart when I’d have to leave before he told me to “get outta here.”

monicahospitalI was in here one night, and had 7 visitors, including Fr. Duke Zajac, who was visiting people anyway, but I feel blessed to have had his company, and the company of all my family who were here. I resisted the urge to tell them to go home; except for Monica. She wasn’t very happy with me when I told her she could go home, but I think she understands. Or maybe not. I never fully understood dad until now.

Just like dad, I got in trouble a couple of times for being too respectful to nurses. “Ma’am?,” said one today. “I have your chart here. We’re the same age.” My response was, that anyone who has my life in their hands gets all the respect I can muster.

Although I respect everyone I encounter, and calling a person sir or ma’am is part of that respect my ol’man instilled in me. If you can’t handle respect, thats your problem, not mine.

Also, like dad, surprisingly, I enjoyed the food. I’ve been visiting people in hospitals my whole life, thinking that the meals look and smell like dog food.

But it was with a combination of hunger and excitement that I welcomed last night’s dinner of gluten free pasta with meat sauce. It was really amazing. I laughed thinking of my dad, as just like him, I stopped just short of licking the plate… Though I might have had there not been people watching.

I kicked it up on the dadometer when today’s lunch came. Now I was starving, having not eaten breakfast because of the stress test. When the tray showed up with an egg salad sandwich on gluten free bread, I told Monica (who didn’t go home), ” I’m not eating that.”

I’ve never eaten an egg salad sandwich. Ever. It looks gross. I was an extremely picky eater as a kid, and some of those things I’ve held onto, like egg salad. So I’m not eating it. But I did eat the green beans, and pudding. And then I unwrapped and inspected the egg salad sandwich. Took bite. By the time Monica looked up, the sandwich was just about gone. Best egg salad sandwich I’ve ever had. That’s something my dad would have said, even if it wasn’t the ONLY egg salad sandwich he’d ever had.

So, I really don’t mind being like my ol’man in most ways, but I think my quick stop in the cardiac wing of the hospital will wind up being a lot like that egg salad sandwich.

They were both interesting, in many ways probably necessary, and even a little enjoyable , but from here on out, I’ll be doing everything necessary to make sure that this is my last trip to the hospital, and to make sure that’s the last egg salad sandwich I’ll eat for a long, long time.

Fathers Day 2011: Some Thoughts on All the Fathers in my Life

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

Happy Birthday, Dad… His First in Heaven

Today is the 59th anniversary of my ol’man breathing his first breath, born December 10, 1951. He was born a couple of months premature, and in 1951, that was usually a death sentence.

Born in the middle of a raging snow storm, on the 4th or 5th floor of a big tenement-looking, now long-torn-down apartment building right behind City Hall, my grandmother put him 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 preemie to make it, but he did.

Dad and Uncle Ed, Dec. 10, 2007. He may have been celebrating it at the VA, but he still loved his birthday.
Dad and Uncle Ed, Dec. 10, 2007. He may have been celebrating it at the VA, but he still loved his birthday.

Although that first birthday was a rough one, Dad loved his birthday. It was his favorite day of the year. Around 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; there were then 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. He was, for all intents and purposes, wheelchair bound.

Dad wasn’t a heavy drinker, but he did like the occasional, or slightly-more than occasional whiskey. It was never straight, but he’d mix it with just about anything. Iced tea, Diet 7-up, Diet Ginger Ale. Though his tastes changed often, I think Ginger Ale was his favorite.

Though he’d eat three doughnuts with impunity, he always drank diet pop because of his diabetes. At one of his last birthday dinners at his favorite restaurant, Danny’s in Orchard Park, he tried to order a whiskey and diet ginger ale, but 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, was often pretty damn good.

dadwhiskeyI think this is from Fathers Day, but you get the idea. He’d put it right back in the bag, or roll 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 he’d always try 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.

As is the case with almost any loving father, dad took more than his share of good-natured jibes all year. But none on his birthday. He loved it. And loved even more when someone would let one slip, and he’d remind, “Not on my birthday!”

Today is the ol’man’s first birthday in heaven. Though the polka song says there’s no beer in heaven; 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.

The Real Steve Cichon: A Tribute to My Relationship with My Ol’Man

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Immediately following my dad’s death, I wrote down just about everything I could think about him. It turned into a short book which I published and distributed at the interment of his cremated remains several months after his death. 

This is this preface to that book. A link to a  pdf copy of the book follows.

olmancoverMy ol’man, Steven P. Cichon, died Palm Sunday, 2010 at the age of 58. Losing a parent is unimaginable, even when you spend the decade up until the death imagining it over and over again.

My dad was a very sick man the last 8 years or so of his life. He lost a leg to diabetes, and had a very serious heart condition. He made regular trips to the hospital by ambulance, and spent weeks at a time in the hospital.

During those times when he was very sick, I tried to prepare myself for his death. Tried to think it through; imagine what it might be like, so it would all be easier to deal with.

No dice. You’ll read that it’s all unimaginable. An extension of yourself is gone. There’s a hole in your heart. All sorts of vital information is gone. It’s like somebody lit the reference book you’ve used your whole life on fire. You’ll read, too, about quite a few things I’d do just for dad, that I sadly have stopped doing.

He’s been gone about two months as I write this, and it’s still hard. I have no doubt that it always will be. But putting all the swirling emotions I’ve felt into writing this has been wonderful.

It’s the story of my dad’s last week on this planet, and the story of his life on this planet, and, mostly, the 32 years he spent on this planet as my Dad, and Dad to Greg and Lynne.

Click to begin download or read below.

TheRealSteveCichonWeb

The Real Steve Cichon: A Tribute to My Relationship with My Ol’Man

From the Preface:

olmancoverMy ol’man, Steven P. Cichon, died Palm Sunday, 2010 at the age of 58. Losing a parent is unimaginable, even when you spend the decade up until the death imagining it over and over again.

For the last eight years of his life, my dad was a very sick man. He lost a leg to diabetes and had a very serious heart condition. He made regular trips to the hospital by ambulance, and then spent weeks at a time in the hospital. Often.

During those times when he was very sick, I tried to prepare myself for his death. Tried to think it through; imagine what it might be like, so it would all be easier to deal with.

No dice. Many of us know that it’s all unimaginable. An extension of yourself is gone. There’s a hole in your heart. All sorts of vital information is gone. It’s like somebody lit the reference book you’ve used your whole life on fire. You’ll read, too, about quite a few things I’d do just for dad, that I sadly have stopped doing.

He’s been gone about two months as I write this, and it’s still incredibly hard. I have no doubt that it always will be. But putting all the swirling emotions I’ve felt into writing this has been wonderful.

It’s the story of my dad’s last week on this planet, the story of his life on this planet, and, mostly, the 32 years he spent on this planet as my Dad, and Dad to Greg and Lynne.

Download PDF: The Real Steve Cichon

Purchase book: 46 photos, 56 pages. Paperback.

Read it here: