Scurr Family Mystery solved

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Through the 1800s, Grandma Cichon’s father’s family were sailors and sail makers in North Shields and Tynemouth in Northeast England.

After brothers George Henry Scurr and William Gordon Scurr were killed at sea during the Great War, their mother Mary Alice would walk to the sea every day and just stare, awaiting a return that she knew would never come.

With sadness, Mary Alice, along with George Henry Sr., and eventually sons John and James, moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and then Buffalo, New York, USA.

My grandmother was the daughter of James Scurr, and among her things was this photo… of a group of people on a beach.

For the 20 years or so I’ve had this photo, I’ve never known anything about it. Not who, not where, not anything. It was with photos that belonged to my great grandmother, so I assumed that this was her family—and through the years, to no avail, I’ve searched dozens of beach photos from Ireland and Scotland for any sign of these landmarks.

No avail— until today, when I was having a cup of tea with my Aunt Elaine, also daughter of James Scurr and Grandma’s youngest sister.

She was talking about visiting the Longsands and the beaches of Tynemouth, and her description made me think of this photo.

After an hour or so of searching for historic photos of Longsands, I knew I was in the right area, but I wanted to find another photo with the building or the walkway or the giant wheels to prove it conclusively.

A mile or so north of Longsands is Cullercoats, so I searched that, too. The first image I clicked on had the building, the walkway, and the giant wheels! What a great feeling after so many fruitless searches…

It’s wonderful to know that the photo was taken at the Cullercoats Life Saving Station, no more than two miles from where the Scurrs lived until the early 1920s.

Perhaps over the next 20 years, I’ll figure out which of these folks are my Scurrs- but knowing these are my relatives or people loved by my relatives, enjoying a day on their local beach is good enough for me.

I’m really obsessed that I can go there and take almost the same photo right now!

Grandma Cichon’s BBQ Hamburgers

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s not a Polish dish, but it is a sacred and beloved meal of Buffalo Polonia: the Barbequed Hamburger.

This is my version of Grandma Cichon’s version, which was her version of the BBQ hamburgers my great aunts used to serve at the family gin mill, The Sport Den, on Walden Avenue near the city line.

Grandma Cichon’s BBQ Hamburgers

2lbs ground beef
Envelope of onion soup mix (which Grandma Cichon put in EVERYTHING)
Bottle of BBQ sauce (Kraft would have been more Grandma Cichon authentic, but a generic version of Sweet Baby Rays was all I had.)

Thoroughly mix meat and soup mix with hands, shape into burgers on the small side.

Heat up a big pan, let the burgers brown on one side, then flip to brown the other. Add bottle of BBQ sauce, and then half a bottle of water.

Cover and simmer until they look done. Cut one in half if you’re not sure.

These were really good… Grandma Cichon was right— onion soup mix makes any crap delicious!

The July 4th Birthdays of Grandpa Coyle and Grandma Cichon

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandpa Coyle was born 90 years ago today. This is him on the diving board on his 57th or so birthday.

He was born on the 4th of July and created for himself the American dream: He was raised in utter poverty in a broken alcoholic home, but persevered to learn a trade, become a professional, and along with my grandmother, create a beautiful family that honors his story by our very existence.

Of course, if he was here with us, I’d have to sum that all up with, “Happy Birthday, Gramps… can I get you a beer?”

Can’t say for sure this is her birthday, but we spent quite a few of Grandma Cichon’s birthdays at the cottage she’d rent every year at Sunset Bay.
(L to R that’s me, my ol’man, cousin Tracy, Aunt Sue, and Grandma.)

Grandma Cichon was born on July 4, 1928– which was a shock to my dad to hear after she died… he always thought she was born in 1926.

She was only 16 when my uncle Mike was born, and apparently what you did then was make yourself older to make it less scandalous (or to get a better job to help feed your kids).

I think a lot about what had to have been a beaten up heart behind a tough as nails exterior. I think about the personal sacrifices she swallowed for her 11 children, including putting the second of those kids up for adoption and keeping that pain and sacrifice alone inside her heart.

I used to think it was funny or weird that she would refuse to say goodbye– it was always happy, and it was always , “Toodleoo!” and, of course, she was right. She knew the people you loved never leave you, so there’s no reason to ever say goodbye.

Lessons from Grandma Cichon in life and in death

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandma Cichon died 23 years ago today.

Cancer had been cruel in the horrifically painful way the vitality and dignity of this strong, larger-than-life woman was slowly drained from her… as if it melted drip by drip undetected into the couch she’d spent her last few months barley living on.

I can feel every tear and recite each prayer I offered the last time I visited with her. It ruined my guts, but I prayed for God to end her suffering.

I was blinded by tears and a twist in my stomach as I went over the bridge next to the old Seneca Mall, driving back home.

She died a couple of days later, and the pain was even worse that my prayers had come to pass. I was 18. I didn’t know what to do with myself, especially with everyone else despondent… with Grandpa refusing to let go of her hand.

The only thing that made sense to me in the moment was leaving to go to work. It didn’t necessarily feel right, but nothing really did. So in I went.

There aren’t many things I’d do differently in life, but that’s one. In that moment, I don’t think I knew that I family that I could lean on.

In that moment, I don’t think I knew I had family that leaned on me.

I felt unimportant and isolated and left to figure it all out of myself, which I did– for a very long time– by just ignoring whatever it was, and soldiering on.

It was a great life lesson, one of many grandma taught me. I can hear her laugh and her telling us, “tootle-oo,” but never goodbye… it can’t have been that long.

More and more, I hear her laugh in mine, and feel the same unbridled joy she did when expressing it.

And this just writing this proves that I’ve caught on to what Grandma knew with her salutations- there are no goodbyes when you live in someone’s heart.

Like each of my grandparents, she’s so much of who I am. It isn’t possible to be any more grateful. Each of them so full of love, and each so different and different in the way their love was shown.

The only right thing to do is to continue to turn out and offer up that same love to the world in their honor… especially today, for this beautiful, tough, artsy, survivor mother of 11.

Grandma Cichon’s Goulash

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The garage is cleaned out, the Bills are winning, and Grandma Cichon’s goulash is ready for dinner. Perfect fall day.

It’s not really much of a recipe…. It’s churning out lotsa food by a mother of ten. I’ve played with the recipe before— but today it was pure Grandma Cichon as I remember her making it.

Recipe:

In a big heavy pot, brown a pound of the fattiest ground beef you can buy (it gets dry tasting with 90 or 95) with an onion, a green pepper, and garlic salt and pepper. Cook off as much fat as possible. Add a large can of diced tomatoes… and a large can of whole peeled tomatoes (I eyeball whether its too juicy… and sometimes drain the whole tomatoes… sometimes not.)

With the spatula I chop up those whole tomatoes… let that simmer.

Cook a pound of macaroni (or shells) firm (if it says 7-9 minutes, I go 7). Drain well and mix into the big pot.

I let that mixture cook a little… then turn it off. It’s much better if you can let it stand for an hour. Even better when reheated the next day.

The every day is filled with memories of those who make us who we are

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This Hertel Avenue litter triggered an instant memory flashback:

Hey Steve-o, here’s a couple bucks. Go to the store and get your ol’man a pack of smokes. Your grandmother, too. And get yourself a candy bar, ok?

Even at 6 years old, Dad didn’t have to tell me to get him Parliament 100s or Grandma Kools.

There was never a note that I remember… and never a problem so long as I went to the corner deli and got the right brand of smokes. ( I tried to buy Marlboro for an uncle once and they literally chased me out of the store. Hahahaha.)

That was Grandma Cichon with the Kools.

Grandma Coyle, like my dad, smoked Parliaments. But the only thing she’d send us to B-Kwik for regularly was rolls for dinner.

Sometimes we’d stay late at Grandma Coyle’s house, and we’d take our baths there.

Sometimes, Grandma Coyle would have a beer– in an old school pint glass just like this one– while reclining on the couch watching TV.

It fills my heart even now to think about walking into the living room on Hayden Street in our pajamas, and seeing Grandma smiling as we walked in, all freshly scrubbed.

She smiled every time we walked into a room… and if that isn’t the greatest thing ever.

I’m so glad I decided to have a beer tonight– and that it took me to this story.

Grandma Cichon didn’t tell you you were special– she cultivated what made you special

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s been 22 years now– and sad for me to think about the fact that I’ve been without Grandma Cichon longer than the time we were here together. But there’s happiness, too, of course…

She’s so much a part of who I am, what I do, and the way I do it… She’s very much here with me. She never said goodbye when someone would leave, it was always “Toodaloo,” with a smile and the knowledge we’d be seeing each other again soon.

After helping raise her six brothers and sisters, ten kids and a million nieces, nephews, and random kids from the neighborhood by the time she got to me– she had an incredible way of finding the thing she could help develop in a person and quietly make an impact.

When I was 6 or 7, she saw something in me that displayed a love of Buffalo History– and gave me a wonderful Buffalo historical photo-filled magazine (which of course I still have– I’m a pack rat just like her.)

More than just a love of history and the past, Grandma loved what was new and exciting, too. She took us kids on the bus from South Buffalo to Hertel Avenue for the first year of the Italian Festival in its new location there.

She took us (again on the bus) to the “new show” when the new downtown movie theaters opened. Of course, her handbag was filled with cans of Faygo pop and that cheap waxy candy from D&K.

When I was 8 or 9 and started sneaking up to watch Johnny Carson’s monologue, she was the only person I knew who also watched Carson, so she was the only one I could talk to about all the great jokes. It was Grandma Cichon who suggested that I might like David Letterman, too… Even though I was in fifth grade and his show started at 12:30am.

Uncovering Buffalo’s history and trying to make people smile are the very foundation of who I am– in no small part thanks to Grandma Cichon. But it’s not just me, it’s dozens of people, and the people they’ve since touched.

She was really tough, and definitely not the type to tell you that you were a special snowflake. But even better, she saw what was special in you, and without pomp, circumstance, or self-congratulation, she helped you cultivate it, whether you realized it or not.

What would have been her 90th birthday comes up on July 4th. She remains a definitive example of The Greatest Generation and a definitive example of a wonderful grandma.

Minch: the ancient Irish peasant dish

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Known as “minch” in my family for generations, I love me some 19th century Irish peasant food.

My poor indigent ancestors probably used the cheapest meat available— probably lamb in Ireland 200 years ago, ground beef on Seneca Street 100 years ago.

Grandma Cichon (and her mom Grandma Scurr) made it with peas, but I like corn.

Minch
*Pound of the fattiest hamburger you can find
*small onion chopped fine
*salt & pepper
*tbsp corn starch
*bag of frozen corn (or peas, but I like corn)
*5lbs potatoes

Peel, cut, boil potatoes for mashed potatoes.

Brown meat and onion, cook off the grease. Add salt, pepper, frozen corn and water to cover. Bring to a boil. Dissolve corn starch in cold water, then add to meat and corn. Bring to a boil then simmer. The longer it simmers, the better.

Ladle meat mix over mashed potatoes, and be ready to add salt.

To do it right, you have to eat two bowls.

Hearing (and feeling) Grandma’s laugh in mine

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandma Cichon died 21 years ago today… I don’t know that I’ve ever had such difficulty wrapping my mind around a length of time.

I can hear her laugh and her telling us, “tootle-oo,” but never goodbye… it can’t have been that long.

But more and more, I hear her laugh in mine, and feel the same unbridled joy she did when expressing it.

And this post proves that I’ve caught on to what Grandma knew with her salutations- there are no goodbyes when you live in someone’s heart.

Like each of my grandparents, she’s so much of who I am. It isn’t possible to be any more grateful. Each of them so full of love, and each so different and different in the way their love was shown.

The only right thing to do is to continue to turn out and offer up that same love to the world in their honor… especially today, for this beautiful, tough, artsy, survivor mother of 10.

Remembering “Cheap Gourmet” Doug Smith

Doug & Polly Smith, c. 1985, WIVB-TV

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I got to know Doug Smith while we were both working at Channel 4, but I loved him long before then. Thinking of him makes me think of my grandmother.

Grandma Cichon rounded up us kids and we took the bus from Seneca Street near the city line all the way up to Hertel Avenue for the first Italian Festival in North Buffalo after years on the West Side.

In perfect Grandma Cichon fashion, we prettyquickly walked up and down through the rides and games –it wasn’t much different from the Caz Park Festival we were used to… And then, eschewing the pricier Italian Sausage or ravioli, we ate lunch at the Burger King at the corner of Hertel and Delaware.

And since we were so close to K-Mart, Grandma couldn’t resist running in, which we did (probably for air conditioning, I’d guess, more than anything else.)

In the parking lot leaving K-Mart, heading for the bus stop, I think I spied him first. A real-live celebrity from Channel 4. Doug Smith! Right there! The guy with the convertible Beetle! In the flesh!

As if that wasn’t enough, Grandma– in her breathy, asthmatic voice– started moving toward him shouting, “Doug! Doug! Oh Doug!”

She knew him in her role as the longtime President of the South Buffalo Theatre on South Park Avenue.

“Oh Marie, how are you my darling,” he said, overacting the part, maybe even kissing her hand.

Italian Festival, Burger King, Doug Smith, and Grandma knows him! What a day!

Doug Smith would have made me smile even if I’d never met him… but that he was always great— and that he always makes me think of my grandma is really a bonus.

Then again, I think Doug’s the kind of guy that evokes layers of memories for plenty of people around Buffalo.

He was one of a kind– and warmly touched so many lives. He died today at 81. Rest in Peace, Doug Smith.