33 Years

On August 1st I celebrated 33 years in recovery. It’s always a challenge to talk about alcoholism, particularly my own 24 years of alcoholic drinking, and its consequences. AA is clear that anonymity is a personal choice. I debated as to whether I should tell this bit of “my story”. Hey, it’s my blog and the gratitude I feel is something I want to share.

I was not looking for recovery, it found me. Alcohol is a strange substance. Nine out of ten adult drinkers do not have a problem with the addictive qualities of C2H5OH. However for the 10% that do, all bets are off. I will skip my “war stories” but suffice to say I should be dead. Alcoholism is the #1 health problem in America. I won’t get on my soapbox because I have learned that, as AA has taught, “it’s a program of attraction, not recruitment”. It is a progressive, chronic, fatal disease. However it is also treatable. This I do know— there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic.

In 1995 I was at an AA meeting at my old, old church in Alamosa. It was a Monday noon in June. About 10 of us were just getting started when a dapper older man asked “Is this the meeting listed in the newspaper”? We welcomed him and he sat quietly in our circle. Near the end of the meeting he said these words I have never forgotten: “What I am going to share is not to draw attention to myself. I am headed to San Diego to the 60th anniversary AA World Convention. I am the last surviving member of the original 100 AA members. I was 22 when I had my last drink. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Over time it never gets better, it always gets worse. It is said that one practicing alcoholic negatively affects 17 people directly. Just the same, I have found that recovery is also progressive. One recovering alcoholic positively affects 17 people”. My experience is, that is 100% true.

I was given the gift of recovery. The more you give it away the more you have, but you don’t give to get. You give simply because of gratitude. When I am 76 I will have been sober half my life. There is a pretty good chance I might make it to 76. All because 85 years ago two alcoholics, Dr. Bob and Bill W. found that together, with grace and truth they could stay sober, one day at a time.

In Japan the special birthdays are 11, 22, 33… etc. I am shooting for 55.

Onward and a Upward,

Mark

Miko


This week I had the privilege of spending four days in Avon, CO (Eagle River Valley) with my grandson Miko. He turned 20 this week. He was born smack in the middle of 2000. We talked about being 20. “20 is age Purgatory, you are too old to be a teen, and too young to claim any benefit of being an adult” mused Miko.
The fact that he wanted to hang out with his grandpa is his birthday gift to me. From his days as toddler to now this young guy, puts a smile in my heart. When he was in first grade he asked his teacher if he could bring me to school as “show and tell”. I went and loved sitting in the cafeteria at the table with the kids. I spent the whole day there, he still smiles when we talk about it.
I can see him in my memory bank at the kids’ area in the Cherry Creek Mall, where they had giant fruit in a closed area where kids pulled off their shoes and went wild. Miko is the athlete I wanted to be. He could fly over the bananas, cereal bowl, giant strawberries at “Road Runner” speed with the coordination of a gymnast. I would burst with quiet pride as I watched other adults drop their jaws at his antics.
Miko is gifted, yet one of the kindest and most humble young man I know. He has been gifted with a very integrated intellect. Our conversations vary from politics, economics, theology, sports, the arts or current events. For the past three days we have covered them all.
Dr. Jim Strain, a recently departed pediatrician and great friend, said, “Grandkids are our reward for surviving our children”. He said on another occasion “I like to think of God as our HEAVENLY GRANDPARENT— you love your grandkids as deeply as you love your children, yet you have some healthy space between you. I have been blessed with eight grand kids and this week I got to enjoy one of them.
Miko has changed his academic focus from premed to filmmaking. He has already made a fine eight minute movie on the Covid 19 pandemic. Here is the link:
https://vimeo.com/418541027/8597a6004d

Enjoy!!!
Onward and Upward, Gramps

1532 Alexander Circle


In 1955 my parents got a VA loan to buy a brand new home in ‘Belmont’. This was the first planned development in Pueblo, Colorado to provide housing for the influx of the Greatest Generation couples that were fueling the BABY BOOM. I have very distinct memories of trips to the lot that was staked out, the digging of the basement, and moving in to my own bedroom, complete with ‘Cowboy’ wallpaper. The smell of brand new permeates my six year old memories.
The house was a Cape Cod motif with knotty pine cabinets throughout. This particular street had 38 houses on one very long block. I can still tell you who the original occupants of each house were. My mom Pat, told me once that there were 92 kids living in those homes. On a mid summer’s evening the street was packed with kids playing ‘hide and seek’, ‘red rover’, ‘kick the can’, and ignore your parents “Come Home”!!!!
As the years moved on ‘1532’ became the hub of the wheel. Hospitality was my parents’ middle name. The place knew no strangers. My dad put in the best basketball backstop and hoop in our spacious driveway. Everybody was welcome to play at The Pumphrey slab. We had more than one NCAA player spend hours there.
When I returned home in the 70’s the back patio became the center for ‘patio therapy’, which often went until well after midnight. Oh yes, I forgot my dad also installed a back yard lighting system that allowed for volley ball, badminton, croquet, or general goofing. We had five fruit trees and on a good year I could grab a peach, apple, pear or plum, as I ran the Toro by them.
My kids talk about 1532 as their happy place. When their parents split in 1978, it was a place of stability, joy, and the smell of fresh baked everything, and my dad’s lounge chair— called The Throne.
Dad died in 2000 and Mom moved out two years later. We had an epic estate sale that went on three days. We filled a construction site dumpster, and gave away two truck loads of donations after dividing the ‘good stuff’ among a bunch of folks.

Last week I drove by 1532 and it looked loved and cared for. I saw a bike parked out front, and the basketball court was still there. I wondered if the crayon graffiti we left in the cubby holes upstairs was around.
I talked to my daughter Amy today about 1532. She said, “Funny you should bring it up. My children’s sermon is about it tomorrow. I was sure when we sold it, that it was gone forever. Not true,1532 lives within my heart and memories. It shares treasure that neither “moth nor rust” can destroy”.
There is nothing better than having your own child confirm your lives together.
Onward and Upward, Mark

DiSanti Farms

For 55 years 1532 Alexander Circle was the “hub of the wheel” for ‘coming home’ and experiencing a sense of connection. We sold the family home 15 years ago, and I had a need to find new anchoring points.  I have moved over 23 times since I headed off to college in 1967.  I have accepted it’s not any one of those residences.  I am currently very happy where we live but it has no history, no family gatherings, no parties, reunions, and our kids live in four other states. So, when I drive through our ‘grow up’— home town of Pueblo, our car almost always finds its way to DiSanti Farms and their market.

The DiSantis have been farming in Pueblo Country for four generations. My connection with this delightful family comes through  Mary Kay. Her best friend growing up is the DiSanti matriarch— Roseann, mom of four, super grandmother, and the widow who now runs this amazing farming operation.  Kroger features them in their stores throughout the state.  They raise: radishes, onions, all sorts of peppers, corn, melons, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, squash, beans, peas, and massive numbers of pumpkins.  A year ago I asked Dominic, a farm grown son, what was the best day to find all of the great produce. “Ah, that’s easy, August 11, we have it all”.

This week we made a test run to the farm on our way back from Pagosa Springs.  We loaded up with the first fruits of summer.  The cantaloupe were amazing.  Once you have had a real cantaloupe it spoils you forever.  The same can be said for the sweet corn… we have to wait for the tomatoes… I already have a reminder for August 11th. When we go to visit this special place there is always an energy that permeates the air. Last week I watched farm workers loading up to work the fields in 100’ heat. Jimmy DiSanti, the patriarch, died a couple of years ago at too young an age.  In years past I would go with Jimmy as he talked in Spanish to his workers.  “Many of these families have been with us for 20-30 years.  They are great people.  They take good care of us, and we do the same”.

Last Monday we headed back up North with that marvelous smell of fresh produce in the car. It has not disappointed—the cantaloupe would rival caviar, and the squash-corn hash beats filet mignon!!!  The best part of the stop at the farm was the reminder that in life all we have  are relationships and experiences… and sometimes they come together and taste like Italian watermelon 🍉.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Pagosa Springs

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In 1953 my grandparents Paul and Opal, took a four year old Me on a very memorable road trip.  They came down from Colorado Springs to pick me up on a tour through Colorado.  The first stop was at a town I vividly remember by its smell, Pagosa Springs.  The natural mineral hot springs put out a distinctive “rotten egg” sulphur aroma that indelibly left its imprint on my olfactory memory.  This week the moment I pulled into Pagosa Springs the file was opened into 67 years of numerous visits in this most special 7345’ mountain valley, tucked on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass, and 62 miles east of Durango.

The first night of that road trip with my grandparents was spent at a ranch up Blanco Basin, owed by Red and Ruby Sisson  (historic settlers in this valley). From 1912-14 my grandmother Opal taught school in a one room school house in that valley. She got room and board with 30$ a month salary.  Opal was 21 years old, and was in the first graduating class from what is now The University of Northern Colorado (Greeley) that “allowed” women to go to college. I have very distinct memories of sleeping by a pot bellied stove and a visit by a black bear.  From Pagosa we went to Mesa Verde, The Million Dollar Highway, and finally The Black Canon of the Gunnison. We did stop by Paonia, Opal’s childhood home.  We made the trip in a brand new Gold Chrysler Imperial, which was about as big as an aircraft carrier and had a backseat as big as my bedroom.

In 1984 Mary Kay and I began a 36 year relationship with this magical place when we ‘bought in’ at the Wyndham resort here. It is on a ranch Wyndham bought from Art Linkletter in the 70’s.  We have been here dozens of times.  Our kids skied at Wolf Creek, we have hosted family gatherings, shared it with numerous friends and family nearly every year. We have been to the annual Blue Grass festival and returned home smelling of ‘mineral springs’ for days.

This 2020 Pandemic year Wyndham Pagosa opened two weeks ago with all sorts of Covid protocols.  We decided we would go, knowing that there would be no hot springs, meals at local restaurants, or casual browsing through the galleries.  Three days ago I read about a “new comet” named NEOWISE which passes by Earth every 6600 years.  We decided to get up at 4am to catch a look.  We were not disappointed.  There is no light pollution here and the mountain sky provides a clarity that no city can touch. There it was spraying out it’s tail in the NE sky, just over the tops of San Juan peaks.  I filled another Pagosa memory today in my brain and heart.

My Grandparents planted seeds that grew over a lifetime…I hope I am doing the same.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

“Joe”

IMG_2354It was a Colorado spectacular last Sunday of October in 1998. There was a buzz on at the church, and we were headed after worship to a Bronco game.  Mary Kay got a phone call from her brother Dan.  Her face fell, I knew something was wrong. “My Dad was hit by a car and he is in surgery”. He was making his usual Sunday rounds taking communion to ‘shut-ins’ and was one block from home when a truck came over a hill way too fast and broadsided Joe.  We gave our Bronco tickets to our daughter Amy and headed to PUEBLO. 

We got to St. Mary’s hospital to be met by all 9 of MK’s siblings, and lots of nephews and nieces.  Sitting quietly in their midst was my mom Pat, who came to be with the family.  Her Dad was in surgery with a broken neck.  A couple hours after our arrival the surgeon came out to tell us he had died.  Just two days before I had played golf with this very vibrant 81 year old.  Joe Wodiuk did not know a stranger.  He sang lead in a barber shop quartet, built a steel fabrication business from the ground up, and survived three years of combat in the South Pacific in WWII. His parents had immigrated through Ellis Island from Poland. Joe was kind, generous, funny, smart and loved by an entire community.  I was privileged to conduct his funeral at St. Pat’s Catholic Church. It was a laughter through tears day. 

The following Memorial Day my Mom  gave us a little sprig of a Blue Spruce which which she had gotten at her church where they were given to plant in honor someone who had died. It couldn’t have been 4 inches long in a clear plastic tube with instructions as to how to grow it.  We named the tree ‘Joe’ and it was put in a little pot on our back sun porch.  In about four years Joe moved to our Capital Hill garden. By 2009 it was about two feet high.  In April on 2009 our house was left hanging on a cliff when 14 shoring piers collapsed leaving our 105 year old house hanging on a 30 ft. cliff. Joe, was clinging to the edge of the abyss. The story of our destroyed house would fill a 12 volume book set.  We potted Joe in a big pot and asked our friend Johnny P. to care for him until we figured out where we were going to move.  A year latter we transplanted Joe to park at South Broadway Christian Church. It was a slow start but Joe adjusted.

Last week a group of 12-steppers met in the park on a Sunday night.  This photo is our  “Joe” taken last week. I told a group of people the story of Joe as we sat in a circle, six feet apart, with masks, sharing in our recovery.   One of the group texted me later to say how much the story of Joe served as a symbol of hope and resilience. 

Joe grew from four inches to ten feet in 21 years, and has moved four times.  Every Christmas my friend Rod puts Christmas lights on our Joe. It stands alone in the yard.  50,000 cars a day drive by Joe who is just another handsome  tree🌲 pointing to the heavens. 

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Two Goodbyes in Two Weeks (Bye-Bye Red)


Last Wednesday we drove to Colorado Springs to have a life time friend do our taxes. South of Castle Rock, a red warning light came up on my dash— YOUR TRANSMISSION IS OVERHEATING SLOW DOWN. This is sort of like getting an almost flat tire while driving to Dental 911. We feathered the car in to The Springs, the light went off and we got our taxes done. Now to deal with a sick car. Red was a 2014 Outlander Sport with 161,455 miles on it. This car has been a supporting actor in this blog. Nearly 9,000 different people have ridden in it, oftentimes commenting “What a nice car”.
I have had three cars in my life that I truly bonded with; a Gold 1963 Chevy Impala Super Sport convertible, a 2001 Montero SUV, and this simple 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport named ‘Red’. It’s a silly thing to bond with a car, but I spent some of the most interesting, joyful and sometimes painful moments driving Lyft riders or commuting to Greeley. Red was not fancy just reliable, easy and cheap. Until Wednesday.
I got the call from the mechanic Thursday afternoon, “We thought it was an easy fix, sorry you need a new transmission”. “How much are we talking (thinking three to four $thousand). “Well, we tried to find a used one, the new one will be right at $10,000”. Mic drop… “Well, it’s time to get a new car”. “Yep, probably. Sorry”. “Oh, I am not going to blame the messenger. I can’t get it until Saturday”. “No problem, we will see you then”.
Today I said my goodbye to Red. It’s just a thing, a car, but not!!! It could drive through blizzards better than any car I ever had. About four years ago we had a huge March blizzard. I remember picking up passengers that said “Everyone else cancelled on me”. I went past two big 4-wheel drive trucks who couldn’t negotiate a hill. I patted Red on the dashboard.
2020 has been full of good byes: no trips with my boys, no gatherings at church, no baseball, no Lyftingmeup Lyft rides, no golf, no having coffee with friends, no in-person 12-step meetings, no Balkan cruise.
Okay, today I picked up the nicest car I have ever owned. I told myself before this happened that when the day came to say “Bye Red” I was

going to get a “once in a lifetime car”. It’s beautiful, comfy, and it comes with training sessions to teach me all about the ‘bells and whistles’. Ok, it’s a BMW X3. Right now, it doesn’t have a name, it’s too smart for its own good, and not exactly a preacher mobile.
I can hear Red say “Okay Mr BMer you will never give a Lyft ride to a 40 year old going to her third round of chemo.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Bye Bye Mountain View

In 1955 my parents built a home in Belmont. It was in the middle of a long block at the top of a spacious hill, on Alexander Circle. I can still remember moving in and the smell of brand new everything. It was a two story ‘Cape Cod’ house that became the ‘hub of the wheel’ for fifty years of Pumphreys and innumerable folk who were welcomed with the gift of hospitality. The backyard of our house faced East. You could see all the way to Kansas (almost). It was what we called The Prairie, which was a dream playground for a young boy. It was there that we built forts, caught lizards, bull snakes and tarantulas. Each morning you could watch a sunrise the way God intended without one structure on the horizon. In 1962 the dream ended—roll out the houses.

When we moved to the edge of Northwest Arvada it reminded me a bit of 60 + years ago. This time I was the interloper who was so happy we had a little but fun “West Mountain” View. If I sat just right at our dining room table or outside on the North Patio, there were the mountains. Well, goodbye View. The few acres between us and Indiana Street are being turned into a strip mall with two story slabs. I can’t wait…not!!! I had hopes that it would be an irritant but not block the view. No such luck. So, for the second time in my life the wheels of progress have run over open space.

As I sat out on the patio yesterday with my cup of coffee, watching them erect I-beams directly in my line of sight, I took pictures with my heart. I still have the ones from my childhood, they can’t be erased, destroyed or ruined. Progress…not perfection.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

June 15th

This Monday is June 15th. It was 43 years ago that I found myself experiencing a paradox that has shaped my faith since then.
Molly— I was her chaplain at the Enid State School. At that point in history what was “normal” seems crude at best and inhuman at worst. She was one of 1000 residents who were “placed” in an institution. It’s official name was— and I share this to remind us how ignorance haunts us— “The Enid State School for the Mentally Retarded”. She was a ‘ward of the state’. She was born with spina bifida and was raised in public institutions. Molly was really a delightful young teen who pretty much won the hearts of the whole campus. Everyone knew Molly. She negotiated her wheel chair all over the campus. She was a ‘star’ at The Chapel where I led a team five seminary students. As chaplains, we were given carte blanch support from the superintendent to be creative advocates for all of the residents.
Molly got sick in April. It was a mystery to the medical staff. One courageous social worker decided to try to find her family. They were found, and seven of them came 200 miles to meet their daughter, and sister. I was given the task to be in her hospital room when the reunion took place. It was a very beautiful and bittersweet moment. “We were told by the doctor when she was born to pretend she never existed”. They spent every day for two weeks with her as she slipped into unconsciousness. However, she shared the joy of a few days of being with her family.
On June 15 my son Mateo was born at a hospital three blocks from where Molly had slipped into a coma. That morning I held this most amazing 8 pound 10 ounce boy. I cried with joy. Then I went those three blocks to pray with a family who circled the bed where a 15 year old girl was living her last day. Afterward I headed to my office at ESS.
It was early afternoon and I sat by my desk trying to grasp life and death. I heard the door to the chapel open. The sound of braces dragging across the floor and down the concrete steps meant it was “Sparky” (Albert) who came by every day to inquire about his friend Molly. I dreaded the conversation. Sparky had CP. He was another resident who had no business being in an institution. He was bright but his body struggled to

do what I took for granted. He crawled on the couch in my office and he asked “Hoooowwwwwssssss Mollllllllllyyy”? I looked him straight in the eye. “Sparky, she’s not going to make it”. He looked at me and spoke these words “Theeeeerrrrrreeeee iiiissssss aaaallllwwwwaaaayyyysss hhhhhoooooppppeee”. Silence was all I could offer. We went up the stairs together, Sparky would never allow me to help. He got in his wheelchair and I said “Thanks Sparky, for being Molly’s friend”. He smiled.
Today I know it is still true—hope in the midst of a global pandemic, social unrest, and political chaos is hard to find, yet it keeps me going. Happy Birthday Mateo!!!
Onward and Upward Mark

Come Help


My four and one half year Lyft career ran from October of 2015 until the first week of March 2020. Yesterday I got a message from Lyft that they would pay me $400 to start driving again. My heart was ready to roll, however the reality of being a 70-year-old, type 2 diabetic overruled my desire to do my part. It wasn’t the money that was the draw, it was clearly the human connections. I am soon to begin month four of this unwelcome “stay-cation”. Lyft was very clear that the demand was far outstripping the availability of drivers. I am still conflicted. When I figured out just how difficult and dangerous Covid-19 is I listened to the scientists. We have a long road ahead. I also have heard it said again and again that I am in the high risk category. My first priority when I came to my senses was that I am no good to anyone dead. I have dodged many bullets in my life, some self inflicted and others random fate.
In the summer of 2010 Mom was hospitalized with a heart condition. Most likely while visiting her I contracted MERSA— aka “the flesh eating bacteria”. I spent six days at St. Joe’s Hospital running from the grim reaper. I never thought it was the end, however a couple of medical folks told me “You are very fortunate”. Mom died the day I was released and I went to that strange place of grief and grace. In 2013 with the help of Daughter Amy, Mary Kay, and my wonderful church at South Broadway, I went to the New Start program at the Weimar Center near Sacramento. In those 18 days I changed my health. I became a plant based eater. My diabetes is now completely managed without insulin. I have lost a whole lot of weight and my doctor calls me a ‘medical miracle’. However, I am not bullet proof. Two of the things I love doing the most—singing in a choir, and driving for Lyft are “very dangerous” in Corona World.
So… I sit here on my back patio watching birds coming to dine at our bird feeder. I have watched a family of Golden Finches grow from two to six. The back patio has become an Audubon exhibition that grows every day. Each day I watch a squirrel pretend that I can’t see him raid the birds’ food. I continue to enjoy the health of plant based living. My 12-step life has made me a ‘master zoomer’ as I attend meetings on screens, which are okay but not the same as “being in the rooms”.

Yes, Lyft, I hear you. I can’t help and that makes me very sad. You are a great company who gave me a chance to learn so much from complete strangers. In the mean time bird feeder needs refilling.
Onward and Upward, Mark