Having old tools around helps connect you to the people who taught you to use them.
Grandpa Cichon would get you all the hammers, work gloves, flashlights, and blanket-lined denim work coats you could ever want from National Aniline. I wish I had saved more of that stuff. I remember donating the work coat he gave me to the Salvation Army when I was in high school. I hope someone is still using it!
There were always flashlights and work gloves– and we had a bunch of Grandpa Cichon’s hammers at our house– but the only tool I every remember seeing at Grandpa Cichon’s house was an old pair of pliers that grandma kept in the drawer and used for just about everything.
Grandpa Coyle was a union glazier and glassworker who didn’t believe in measuring tapes.
He had at least a dozen rules. I snagged one off the final pile heading to the Salvation Army.
I love the little poch marks made by molten something... I like to imagine it was from plumbing with lead. When I told Gramps that I replaced an old lead drain in the basement with PVC, there was real sadness in his eyes.
Gramps loved rusty tools– his basement was a tool and mismatched piles of junk wonderland. He’d be happy to know that I am happy with one of his rusty, obsolete tools.
Buffalo, NY – I miss visits with Gramps… I’d call him ahead of time to make sure he didn’t have an appointment at the VA, and to ask if he wanted a hot dog (with sweet relish and slivered onions) or a couple of TimBits.
“A lil’bit of both would be good,” he’d say, cracking himself up with that laugh that makes me cry to think about.
Like so many people of his generation, he grew up during The Depression without much to eat. He loved eating food and talking about food and sharing food.
In his years at the nursing home, our conversations usually involved what he had for lunch, breakfast, and maybe dinner the night before. He was always offering you the bag of chips that were on his nightstand or a piece of candy.
Visiting his house, you could barely get in the door before he’d read you the whole menu.
“Hallo dere son!” he’d yell out as you walked in, without pause adding, “Can I get you a sandwich? How bout a cold pop? You could make us a cup of coffee?”
I’d usually put on the kettle for a two cups of instant coffee for us, which he always seemed to enjoy– if not the drink, then the drinking it together.
There was always coffee, and there was always pop. Lots of pop. Too much pop. The first time she went to Grandpa Cichon’s house, Monica asked why there was so much pop. It’s funny the things you grow up with and don’t notice until someone points them out. The hall leading to the kitchen always had dozens of cans or bottles of pop stacked high. Like a store display. As one of ten with ten kids, Gramps always bought everything in bulk when it was on sale—whether it was needed or not.
While there was no greater connoisseur of junk food than Gramps, his junk food muscles were wearing out at the end of his life. He couldn’t eat more than 2 or 3 Timbits after lunch, and while he’d finish a hot dog, you could tell he was struggling to finish.
“My eyes are bigger that my stomach,” he said one time, “even though I’m blind.” Again with the laugh. All the junk food lead to diabetes which robbed Gramps of his sight for his last few years.
The loneliness he felt at the end of his life was painful to all of us. He was the last of ten kids still alive, nearly all his friends had died. Even a couple of his kids, my dad included, had passed away. But Gramps kept plugging. His goal was to live longer than anyone else in his family. His mom lived to 87, his sister Mary to 89. He wanted to be 90.
Gramps finished in second place. He died peacefully a couple weeks after his 88th birthday. While he might have been disappointed to learn he didn’t make 90, I know he would have been satisfied with his final moments.
Because he was blind, an aide would help him eat lunch. Halfway through, she noticed he hadn’t moved in a while—and he was gone. Gramps died eating lunch, which makes me smile every time I think of it.
What also makes me smile is that first conversation in heaven with my dad.
“I just had a delicious lunch, son. I wish I could have finished it.”
BUFFALO, NY — Today, February 14, 2016, would have been Grandpa Cichon’s 90th birthday.
Grandpa Cichon… or as he was better known…
“I told them, ‘Just call me Eddie Cichon.'”
Edward Valetine Cichon was the full English version. Some how I feel like I should be buying someone Skin Bracer or Old Spice on Valentines Day… even though Gramps is now smelling good up in heaven– no cologne necessary.
I’m blessed to have recorded about 26 hours of mostly stupid and fun conversations with my grandfather in the four years before he died.
There are plenty of great stories and fun moments in there… i have to make more time to share more of them.
BUFFALO, NY – Spelled Cichoń in its original form, my last name is Polish.
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.
“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.
Gramps tells the ol’man and me his full Polish name: Edward Valentego Wojtek Stasiu Cichoń!
By Steve Cichon | firstname.lastname@example.org | @stevebuffalo
What a beautiful day outside.
Seeing small kids playing with someone who looked like their grandfather in Delaware Park just now takes me back 35 years to a similar scene in Cazenovia Park, on a similar beautiful just-before-Christmas day. The only difference— unlike these carefree kids, all was not right in my world.
It was a quick run across Seneca Street from Grandma and Grandpa Cichon’s into Caz Park, and Gramps loved taking us for a walk whenever he was not on his way to work at the track (Buffalo Raceway) when we’d stop over on a Saturday morning.
The walk part of the walks were longer in the winter, because our visits to Caz weren’t punctuated by a visit to “the swings, and the slides, and the horseys,” as Gramps always called the playground in a sing-song kind of way.
We’d come back to Grandma’s house from taking these walks nearly frozen by the harsh South Buffalo winter, and really having earned our hot chocolate with real marshmallows.
But this day wasn’t one of those days. Much like today, the grass was green and lush, the sun was shining, and instead of shivering we were probably sweating—unnecessarily overdressed in layers on a 50 degree day, for fear that the Blizzard of ’77 would quickly revisit Seneca Street while we were on our 90 minute hike.
And despite the beautiful weather, this day, there were no swings to play on—the city parks department was much more rigid about taking swings down in those days. It was by date, not by weather forecast.
Anyway, this day I’m thinking about, we were on one of our epic walks taking in most of Cazenovia Park from the ball diamonds to the ends of the golf course. I should have been enjoying the warmth—and not a flake of snow in sight, but I wasn’t.
There was growing concern in my Kindergartener heart, and I had to share it with someone I could trust. Gramps was the man, for sure.
“Grandpa,” I asked, probably with doe-like eyes fluttering, “if Santa’s sleigh doesn’t work because there’s no snow, how will he be able to deliver our presents?”
“Santa has a helicopter, son,” he said reassuringly without skipping a beat. I’m still warmed by his reassurance.
I don’t remember what I was hoping Santa would deliver that year, but I know I was excited to deliver to Gramps—no chopper necessary—a gift bearing the brand name Skin Bracer, Old Spice, or Hickory Farms. He always loved our presents no matter what they were.
Gramps was special because he had the mind of a man and the heart of a child. We should all be so blessed.
Both of my grandpas typify what Labor Day is about.
Grandpa Coyle was poor, and I think it’s fair to say didn’t have many prospects, until his boss at the Boys Club helped get him an apprenticeship with the Glaziers Union. After years as a glass worker, he ran Local 660 for decades.
Grandpa Cichon started as a laborer at National Aniline, but learned a trade to become a tinsmith. He put in 40 years there.
Both men’s willingness to work hard for better lives for themselves and their children is now also being enjoyed by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Sure, organized labor is about 40 hour, 5 day work weeks… But to me, it’s about building American families for generations.
Labor Day also makes me think of my time as a union member, when the company that owns Channel 4 locked out half of our NABET-25 bargaining unit.
Technicians (studio crew, engineers, master control operators) weren’t allowed to work through contract negotiations, while newsroom staff (producers, photographers, editors) were forced to work with (incompetent) replacement workers.
As someone who has only ever wanted to show up and do my job, it was a time I’ll never forget– when the owners of Channel 4 wouldn’t let some of its hardest working, longest tenured employees come to work to provide for their families.
I don’t always agree with every union stance, but whenever I hear someone say unions are past their usefulness, I pray that they never learn first hand how useful a union can be.
By Steve Cichon | email@example.com | @stevebuffalo
I don’t think we always realize how much better we live these days.
Both Grandpa and Grandma Cichon had little siblings killed when they were hit by cars on the streets of South Buffalo.
The Buffalo Evening News’ morbid coverage of Grandma Cichon’s little sister’s death is incredible. Mary Lou Scurr was about a year-and-a-half old when she was run over while playing in a toy car in the street.
This photo was on the front page, above the fold, May, 1935. Grandma’s little brother Gordon—who was only hours before a witness to the accident which caused the death of his little sister– posed next to the wreckage of the accident. Judging by the description of the scene, it’s fair to assume this mangled car had blood and possibly other remains of his baby sister in it.
Sadly, Gordon Scurr’s next appearance in the news was 11 years later, while in high school, he died of a rare glandular disorder.
Two years later, Grandpa Cichon’s little brother was killed in a similar fashion.
Roman (also called Raymond) Cichon was five years old and fascinated with trucks. He liked to go to the junk yard at the corner of Fulton and Smith Streets in The Valley to see the trucks in action.
His big brother, my grandfather, used to take him there. The way he told it, while Gramps was stealing an apple off a neighbor’s tree, Raymond was “mangled” by a truck. That word “mangled” was one Gramps often used with us in the hundreds of times we crossed Seneca Street to go from his house to Cazenovia Park.
In his 88 year life, the death of Raymond may have been what caused him the most sadness; even worse in some ways than the unbearable loss of 4 of his own children. As he talked about it, I could feel his guilt in not being right there to save his little brother. His use of the word mangle is the only hint of what the scene looked like—but frankly it’s enough.
In the end, it certainly wasn’t Gramps’ fault– and the truck driver lost his license. Raymond was killed when that truck bolted onto the sidewalk ran him over.
He was buried at St. Stanislaus cemetery near where another baby Cichon, Czeslaw (aka Chester ) was buried after he died from cancer as a baby.
I wish Gramps was around to share this with him, just got it today. This is his dad’s 1893 baptismal record from Obrazow, Poland. Says Jan Stanislaw Cichon was born in Glazow, Radom, Poland to Jozef and Agnieszka (nee Korona.) Like all the records from Poland at this time, it’s written in Russian.
My dad lived his life hating this man, who treated him poorly for a variety of reasons. Because of some genealogical research I was doing, my dad talked to my grandpa about this guy only days before Dad died… and Dad made some peace– which I know gave my grandpa peace, too. They both had tears in their eyes, as Gramps said, “Pa really was good, son. He was just sick.” Jan Cichon spent the last decade of his life mostly drunk, self-medicating after cancer of the jaw and throat saw the lower half of his face horribly pained and disfigured.
Finding this record, even a few months after Gramps’ death, closes some kind of loop for me. Much of who I am traces back to my dad and his dad… and the way Gramps talked about his dad– It goes back to him, too. A part of me that I’m really proud of was born to a couple of Polish peasants in Southeast Poland in 1893. I’m glad to know it.
Just got this today– I wish Gramps was around to share this with him. It’s his dad’s 1893 baptismal record from Obrazow, Poland.
My dad lived his life hating this man– his grandfather– who treated him poorly for a variety of reasons. Because of some genealogical research I was doing and questions I was asking, my dad talked to my grandpa about this guy only days before Dad died… and Dad made some peace– which I know gave my grandpa peace, too.
They both had tears in their eyes, as Gramps said, “Pa really was good, son. He was just sick.”
Jan Cichon spent the last decade of his life mostly drunk, self-medicating after cancer of the jaw and throat saw the lower half of his face horribly pained and disfigured.
He spent a lot of time sitting on the porch of his house, which directly across the street from the home where my dad spent most of his childhood.
Dad’s memory of his grandfather was a mean and ugly man who spat and threw empty liquor bottles at him.
But literally days before he died, Dad came to peace with the fact that this wasn’t the whole story. (It rarely is. Ya know?)
Finding this record, even a few months after Gramps’ death, closes some kind of loop for me.
Much of who I am traces back to my dad and his dad… and the way Gramps talked about his dad– It goes back to him, too. I’m really proud of the part of me which was born to a couple of Polish peasants in Southeast Poland in 1893. I’m glad to know the history of it. I know Gramps would have loved to know, and I think my ol’man would have found some satisfaction in it, too.
By Steve Cichon | firstname.lastname@example.org | @stevebuffalo
BUFFALO, NY – Anyone who knew my Grandpa Cichon knew there was a certain joyfulness in his voice– always. His heart was always smiling, and that showed through in his voice. I might count on one hand the exceptions in the 36 years I knew him.
One notable time was when the full service gas station guy screwed him on the amount of gas he pumped into Gramps’ car. Gramps probably asked for $5, which he figured should have about filled up the tank. We barely got a block up Seneca Street when Gramps threw on the brakes and made a hard u-turn back towards Petro USA.
“You goddamn horseball!,” Gramps screamed out the window, as my brother and I barely contained our laughter, sitting on the red plush seats in the back of the black 1985 Pontiac Bonneville. We’d never seen Gramps like that, and I think that’s pretty much the only time I ever saw Gramps really mad. Again, it was also one of the few times I saw him more serious than filled with joy.
Now gramps was blind, and didn’t around well for the last few years of his life. Some men in that situation would want, say, booze snuck into the nursing home. Not Gramps. Donuts or hot dogs with slivered onions and sweet relish were all he wanted. I’d usually bring him one or the other, sometimes both.
Over the course of 90 minutes, I’d hand him 3 or 4 timbits. Once I made a joke or said something stupid about donuts. Again, one of the few times I ever heard him this serious. “Son,” he told me with the tone of life and death at stake, “Donuts are as good as gold.” I was satisfied there was nothing greater I could do for him than visit and bring chocolate timbits.
The “beautiful” food they served was always a topic of conversation. Food was Gramps’ all-time favorite subject, perhaps a left over affect of growing up in the Depression when there was never enough to eat. The last time I visited with Gramps, he was talking about how they’d served kielbasy that afternoon. Kielbasy is the Polish plural of kielbasa, and we’ve always called Polish sausage (ka-BAAS-ee) in my family.
I wasn’t sure what to think, though, when Gramps’ tone turned a bit hushed and he got somewhat serious, maybe as serious as I had heard him since he bawled out the South Buffalo gas station guy almost 30 years earlier.
“Now son,” he started, with a gravity which set me on the edge of me chair, straining to get close and make sure I didn’t miss anything. “Son, what’s your favorite? Do you like the smoked or the not smoked?”
The most serious conversation I’d ever have with my beloved grandfather, the man who my Uncle Tom called “the best polack who ever lived,” was about “kielbasy.” Polish sausage. Good ol’ Edziu wanted to know my freaking Polish sausage preference. It’s really about the most marvelous thing ever, really.
“I usually take one of each, Gramps,” I said, telling the truth, but also not wanting to really show my hand and potentially disappoint Gramps in something that was obviously so important to him. But then I gave up the goods. “If I had to choose one though, I’d probably take the smoked.”
“Me too,” Gramps said to my relief. “Know how I like it? Burned up a l’il bit, with horseradish mustard on rye bread. My ma used to make it the big pan with the lard for the pierogi. She made the pierogi big, and cooked ’em in lard, not butter.”
With Easter upon us, there’s been plenty of social media talk of Polish sausage. All I can think about is Gramps’ favorite– kielbasa on rye bread with Weber’s mustard. I’m doing it this Easter. I’m bringing the rye bread and Weber’s just to make sure.
I’ll bite into that Old World combination of flavor, and think happily of Gramps. The hunk of kielbasy won’t be fried up in lard, but that sounds like something maybe to look forward to sometime soon.