So this morning I was headed out to my regular downtown Saturday meeting. I grabbed a Cliff Bar off the top of the garage fridge and took my first bite. I heard that strange crunch of a foreign object in my mouth. Oh oh, there it was—a piece of tooth. As I was driving into town I made my call to Dr. Kate, my dentist for the past 24 years. “Come on in Mr. Pumphrey anytime before 12:30”. Believe it or not I was excited to see my dentist.
One of the realities of the ‘aging process’ is that you get to watch yourself fall apart in slow motion. I relate to the recent TV ad where the guy falls apart one limb at a time. Every few months another ‘something’ breaks. One call to Dr. Kate and the repair job begins. In a day of corporate medicine, ‘assembly line’ care- giving, my trips to the dentist are refreshing. I am treated like a person, a friend, and not a slot in the schedule.
I read an in-depth article about an 80–year long study by Harvard University about the number One key to a long, healthy and happy life. Bingo—Loving relationships and a sense of community. Which leads me to a concern I have about the future. I know that I share this concern with many of you. Even as I write this I realize I am speaking to a “blogosphere” grouping of folks that are connected through my meanderings. I just checked my Facebook account and it tells me I have 1,621 ‘friends’. Now I am not dismissing how I have enjoyed connecting with new and old acquaintances, or networks, or friends of friends. However, there is nothing like sharing a meal or a cup of coffee in a face to face space.
I left Dr. Kate’s office with a repaired ‘premolar’. What was even better was the time I got to spend with her and her assistant, Simon. Painless dentistry is okay, but what is better is spending time with a professional who really listens and cares.
Onward and Upward,
I suspect those of you who have been following my “finding the extraordinary in the ordinary” over the past seven years, have picked up that I am a bit of Real Coloradan Snob. I proudly confess that I am!!! My brag list is pages long. It contains: I was at the very first Bronco game in 1960, and there is a creek in Blanco Basin named after my grandmother Opal. I remember driving up I-25 the week it was completely opened from Pueblo to Denver. There is nothing that will get my hubris going about my pedigree more than conversations about skiing.
My first ski trip was on a weekend up the Lake San Isabel road to Glen Broden’s own personal ski resort. This WWII vet installed a rope-tow up the side of one of the Greenhorn Mountains. I was nine years old, armed with lace up boots and wooden skis with cable bindings. It was a YMCA outing complete with meagerly trained ‘instructors’. A rope tow consists of a rope-tow dragging along the ground that you grab with one hand in front of you, and the other grasping the rope behind your back. You would then squeeze your hands on the rope and if your arms stayed in their joints, you would shoot up to the top of the hill for a clumsy dismount.
In 1962 Monarch Ski area opened complete with both a T-Bar and chair lift. My dad became an investor and I still have a life time pass there. That same year Vail resort opened. I remember skiing there that year. There were only two buildings in the entire Vail valley. For the next 50 plus years I was blessed to ski all over Colorado and New Mexico. There is nothing like a morning with blue sky and fresh powder. There is a deep sense of freedom and peace that comes with skiing from the top of the mountain to the bottom.
Now my dive with me into “progress is not always”. What was once an experience that was affordable for many, is being reduced gradually to something for the privileged. Believe it or not, there was a time that skiing in Levis was considered cool. I know I sound like a character from my version of “Grumpy Old Men”. The reality of the ‘monetizing of anything fun’ is the Achilles Heel of capitalism— says the guy who paid $200 for his 1984 Bronco tickets and now pays 12 times that amount for the same.
My last run down the mountain was unplanned. It was eight years ago and I was on the top of Steamboat Mountain. My skiing partner had a
medical emergency and I followed the ski patrol toboggan all the way down the slope. He got through a horrible attack of altitude sickness and I hung up my skis. My bad knees basically said “you are done”.
Tomorrow is New Years Day. Our family tradition during my growing up was to book about 10 rooms at the Circle R Hotel in Salida for a week. My parents and their friends all had “adult” rooms and at least 20 kids were allowed their own space. Every morning we would have breakfast at the Spa restaurant before heading up to Monarch Mountain. I came to know every inch of that top of the Continental Divide perch.
In 2001 we took my dad, Bill’s, ashes up to Monarch’s ‘Sleepy Hollow’ to sprinkle them by a tree in a blinding snow storm. I will never forget the young guys getting my 79-year-old mom up there in a snow cat to join us as we put Bill to rest.
We then skied the rest of the day… and had great Italian food that night in Salida. From that day on I was able to ski at Monarch a number or times. There is a beautiful Spruce tree where his ashes were placed. I would stop there and give thanks for the dad who made sure all four his kids got out on the slopes before ever going himself.
Onward and Upward… and Happy New Year, Mark
Thirty six years ago I moved to Alamosa, CO which is in the center of the San Luis Valley. “The Valley” is the world’s largest Alpine Valley. I would call it a giant terrarium that sits one and one half miles up in altitude. It is 60 miles wide from East to West, and 120 miles long from North to South. Of the three routes into The Valley, you get to choose between Wolf Creek Pass from the west, Poncha Pass from the north and La Veta from the east. By far and away La Veta gets the most traffic, as it is the pathway to the front range.
Over the years I made hundreds of trips over La Veta. Most of our family lived in Pueblo and it was not unusual, between personal business and all things ministry, that I would go over the La Veta thirty or more times a year. It is a stunningly beautiful journey. Often there will be elk and mule deer everywhere. I once saw a battle between a mother deer with her fawn and three coyotes. I had no idea that the spin kick was perfected by a deer. I watched the battle go on for at least 10 minutes, then I decided to intervene. I walked right to the coyotes and scared them up the hill. Momma deer took her fawn and ran up the north mountain while I kept Wiley and his gang at bay. I have no idea whether or not they escaped, but it gave me a sense of satisfaction.
I have seen bear, fox, bobcat and antelope on my times up and down the pass. I was once in the most horrendous spring blizzard where I followed a snow plow at a snail’s pace for miles. Two years ago there was a huge fire that swept over thousands of acres surrounding the pass. In two years nature has already begun a rather spectacular rehab project, as new life is popping up everywhere.
A few weeks ago at the top of the pass I watched a real cowboy riding his horse—hat, chaps and all. However, there was something different about this scene. Upon a closer look he was talking on his cell phone. It just did not fit. What would John Wayne say? “Pilgrim, put that thing away lest I blow it out of your hand”!!!
Onward and Upward,
My usual meditative Friday afternoon lap swim was interrupted by the familiar sound of 200 kids on Thanksgiving break. The lap pool sits next to two pools that are designed for kid fun. The squeals, laughter, chatter and the general cacophony that is a universal sound filled the air. As long as my I was face down on my lapping the sounds were muffled, but when I touched the wall to turn around the relentless exuberance remained.
My 42 hour-long laps were rewarded by time in the giant hot-tub, which even put me closer to the pool party. About every three minutes there was an ear splitting squeal. A guy in the tub said, “That kid does that every time he goes down the water slide”. This opened up a conversation among five strangers in the hot tub about the universal sounds that come from playgrounds, or swimming pools.
I shared that no matter what country I was in, the sound was the same. Whether it was school yards in China or Costa Rica, there was not discernible difference in sound. We lived for five years across the street from an elementary school. We could sit our on our deck in the morning and have our coffee and be serenaded by the same sounds of childhood joy.
In a world that seems off its axis, my heart was joyfully recalibrated with kid-joy.
Onward and Upward, Mark
O some of the great privileges of my life in pastoral ministry are the opportunities I have to be present at every transition in a person’s life. Today I was honored to preside at memorial service for a marvelous person. Judy was a woman of many gifts. At the core of her being Judy was a teacher.
Her death was a result of her desire to live. She faced a surgery which carried with it a 50/50 outcome. From the start she was clear that she would rather die living than live dying. Without the surgery death lurked every day at her door. She knew the odds when she entered into the very complicated all day operation. Death won, but it took nothing from a life very well lived.
Now I want to talk about teachers. My first teacher was Mrs. Hance, who ran her 1st Grade classroom like a drill sargent. It must have worked because I learned how to read and do math in my head. I have been very fortunate to have had many great teachers from the first grade, through a doctorate.
My grandmother was in the first graduating class at what is now the University of Northern Colorado, that allowed women to go to school. Her first teaching job was at a one room school in Blanco Basin, Colorado. School ran from April to October as the winter was so challenging. You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but then wherever they are becomes a teaching moment. I loved staying with my grandparents where Opal was always the teacher. Whether she was correcting my grammar or setting up crafts projects, 1851 Royer St. in Colorado Springs was a place of learning.
So my mother, sister, daughter son, daughter-in-law, nephew , cousin and niece-in-law are all teachers. All of them love teaching and students love them. All of this reminiscing about teachers almost makes me want to go back to school.
Thanks again Judy for reminding me no—for teaching me about the importance of a lifetime of learning.
Onward and Upward,
Well, I have taken a three week ‘blog leave of absence’ but I am excited to be back. I was on a 10 day road trip to Texas to visit daughter Amy and the grandkids. Mattias, who is now a freshman at Tarelton State, invited us to his new home to see his place and go to jazz band practice. By Texas standards it is a middle sized University—with about 13,000 students. We drove to the campus and began our search for Mattias. We arranged a meeting spot and he came zipping on his electric skate board. He said, “The hard part is finding parking and we have to deal with “Dorothy”
He began to describe the all powerful Dorothy who is the ‘boss of all parking’ at TSU. “She is relentless, she loves giving tickets, and she cuts no one any slack. Last year she gave the president a $25 dollar ticket which he paid. She starts out at 8am in her little white cart and hands out tickets all over the campus until 5pm. She eats lunch in her cart over by the student center where she picks off unsuspecting victims”. I was disappointed in that I never saw Dorothy.
We saw his dorm which, if you haven’t seen college “dorms” lately, will create a bit of “We never had that—JEALOUSY”. If it were an apartment in Denver it would rent for about 3K a month. It comes complete with a 74” HD TV, private room, kitchenette and furniture. We headed over to the fine arts center after artfully dodging Dorthy with my handicapped pass. It was nearly 5pm and we decided to take our chances with Dorothy and with encouragement from Mattias’s professor, we parked in the faculty section. He said, “She never comes here after 3—she lurks around the athletic complex”.
We got to go listen to the Jazz Band rehearsal. Tarelton is noted for an outstanding music department and we were not disappointed. I heard great music and instruction that gave both music education and history as to the various artists and composers to which we were listening. The highlight for us was being able to hear our grandson “T” play the lead sax for the classic “Pink Panther”—which came complete with a history lesson on the composition.
I was a bit nervous returning to our car as The Legend of Dorothy lurked in my mind. We made it!!! We were free and clear with no yellow tags placed on our windshield.
You have to admire the Dorothys of this world—they do their job. I asked “T” to describe her to me. “Well, she is about 5’3” with grey hair. She wears a blaze orange vest with a badge”. I could see her in my ‘mind’s eye’. I asked “T” if she was well known on campus. He said, “Everyone knows Dorothy, she is an icon”. If you want to become famous to 13,000 students, do your job.
Onward and Upward, Mark
Maybe because my last name is Pumphrey which I admit is quirky, I have had an affinity for pumpkins since I could remember. Pumpkins are never called Humpkins but I have been called Mike Humphrey for more times than I can count. I am not sure what the allure is for the golden gourd, which used to come in only one color. Now orange is still the color of choice but there are now white, blue, warty (a hybrid cross with a diseased looking gourd) and sizes from almost micro pumpkins to the 1300 pounders.
Simply stated by this “Autumn Lover”—pumpkins make me smile. My three to four times a week drive to Greeley takes me on the NW Parkway. There is still some farm land on that route and in 2017 during my first year, I noticed two big fields to the south in which probably 80 acres of pumpkins were planted. Sure enough, when mid-September came the vines died off to reveal a “pumpkin extravaganza”. It was a self serve pumpkin patch, which sometimes had dozens of folks looking for the perfect pumpkin. After Halloween there were still thousands of “unchosen” orbs lying out in the field. What came next were the cows.
My now departed farmer friend from Pueblo filled me in on pumpkin farming. Mind you, that during the high holy days of October, DiSanti Farms sometimes sends two semis a day loaded with pumpkins up I-25. Nearly every year of my 18 at South Broadway the truck dropped of a couple of huge bins as a donation. This is a paraphrase of what Jimmy told me about pumpkin farming. “It is the easiest thing we raise. You water them maybe three times, and as long as you don’t get hail they raise themselves. The harvesting is a bit hard because it is all hand work. What we don’t harvest we turn the cows loose on. They love those things. In one week there won’t be a pumpkin in sight”. You beef lovers just think you are gettin ‘corn fed’ beef— be ware you burger might taste a lot like a Pumpkin Latte.
Which now leaves me to the ‘vegan pumpkin cheese cake’ I just consumed. I am not much for coffee creamer but ‘pumpkin spice’ will get me every time. I am a pie lover and pumpkin will often be my sin of choice. MK makes a mean pumpkin bread and granddaughter Sofia is a pumpkin muffin consumer.
One of my favorite memories of church fun were the nights that a group of us would gather to carve up about 30 pumpkins. We used them to decorate for the organ “Spooktacular” that we held for years in that beautiful South Broadway Christian Church historic Victorian sanctuary. The Great Hall smelled of pumpkins for days. To have almost three dozen Jack-O-Lanterns in that space in which a brilliant organist (Frank Perko, also from Pueblo) preformed, with an overflow crowd, filled my Pumphrey/ Pumpkin heart. We had 9–News there to show that even churches know how to have fun.
I am not much of an artist. I got a ‘circle-D-Minus’ in wood shop. I think I got maybe a C— in Metals. However, you put a pumpkin on a table in front of me and my inner Michaelangelo comes out. Well, I might not be that great but I have made more than one Jack-O-Lantern that brought smiles… after all, that is what pumpkins were made for.
Onward and Upward, Mark
I am going to use my time with you this week to talk about the Viet Nam war. I am not a vet. I graduated in 1967 from HS and got a student deferment. When the lottery came in 1970 my number was 350. I was supposed to be born on June 28–which would have given me 57. There were 64 Viet Nam deaths from Pueblo, County —I knew two of them. But first to this movie which I saw yesterday.
One of the joys of my life has been welcoming into my life my step- daughters 38 years ago. Stephanie was 10 when we met, she is now 49. 21 years ago I had the privilege of performing her wedding to Patrick. I remember asking Patrick “What drew you to Steph”? He was quick to answer “She is NOT from California”. At that time he was an assistant editor in the film business. What I knew about that is that he worked long hours with the hope of someday being a Senior Editor. Well, that happened. Three years ago he edited “Green Book” and we got to see our seven-month pregnant daughter on the Oscar stage while the Oscar for best picture was awarded. Recently he was made a lifetime member of the Academy.
This past year he was working on a movie called “The Greatest Beer Run Ever”. He shared a bit about the movie and what I knew is that it is based on a true story. Simply, it is a story of civilian that decided to bring beer to his buddies who are all over Viet Nam. I had watched the trailer which perked my interest, and we decided to go to “Opening Day” at a theater in Boulder. I was prepared to laugh, which at many points I did. What I was not prepared for was how well the brilliant storytelling accessed the tragedy that is war.
I have found myself reliving those times and thinking a lot about two friends who lost their lives in Viet Nam—
Pat Lucero. Pat was a year older than me. To be with Pat was to feel special. He was the Quarterback on our football team but that never went to his head. My Junior year we hosted an exchange student from Belgium. His hame is Paul, and he remains my “big brother”. Paul was the soccer style kicker on our team and he became fast friends with Pat. What this meant is that I got to hang
out with them. It was a couple of months after I graduated that I got word that Pat, who had volunteered for the Army, had been killed. It seemed surreal. There is now a library bearing his name built on the very ground where he died. There is also a twin library in Pueblo’s lower east side which carries his name. I know that all who loved him would rather have Pat smiling in our midst.
Leslie Williams— he was a quiet kid who was part of my youth group at Central Christian Church. He did not seem like the warrior type but he also volunteered for service. Leslie was in a control tower near Saigon when a wounded helicopter slammed into the tower, killing everyone.
In 1981 I returned to Pueblo and became the associate minister at Central Christian Church. Leslie’s parents were in the church and would often just sit with me at pot-lucks “We just like being around someone who knew our son”. They wore their grief without shame, as do the millions of families affected by war.
Back to the movie—I would not call it an “anti-war” movie. Rather, it just tells a real story about friendship which continues today. All of the survivors of this story live near each other in Florida. Peter Farrelly, the Director stays in touch with them all and worked hard to keep the story real and honest—with help from “the boys”.
The musical score alone goes deep into the memory bank of this baby boomer. Thanks Pat, and Leslie—your names are on a wall in Washington DC, I really wish they were on some grandkids’ lips.
Onward and Upward, Mark
When your home becomes the gathering place for every kind of bird that either lives or flies by the Front Range, lessons in inclusivity come with it. You soon learn that the invitation to the aviary species that goes out “FREE FOOD AT THE PUMPHREYS’ ” does not discriminate. MK has become the “Daddy” Bruce Randolph of Whisper Creek. “Daddy” was known in Denver for creating one of the largest Thanksgiving Day food distributions in the nation. This year will be the 57th annual, with a total number of those fed to exceed 10,000.
When we first began this bird feeding program, we were thrilled with the occasional visit from a Yellow Finch or a House Wren. It used to take three days to empty the feeders, now it takes half a day. We have been discovered by thousands of birds. An Audubon book sits near our kitchen table. We are not official “birders” but we do love the energy they bring. There are days we see birds we can not identify. They range in size from almost humming bird size to the overly plump pigeons that somehow have moved in.
When I was in London a few years ago, they were having a huge debate over the feeding of pigeons at Trafalgar Square. The mayor got in trouble by calling pigeons “rats with wings”. I took the mayor’s side. I have a number of pigeon memories. My favorite happened in 1975 on the San Antonio River Walk. We were on a boat on the San Antonio canals, being served a family dinner. I was with my former in-laws and we were being serenaded by a Mariachi band. At a moment when the patriarch was getting ready to prepare the blessing, a pigeon placed a huge poop right on his forehead, that ran down his nose. He was generally an easy going, fun loving guy, but this giant blob of white, green, black and brown dripping on to his food, was too much. Someone else prayed.
We now are a favorite eating spot for up to 15 pigeons—I stay clear when they are flying around as I know their desire to sh__t on clergy. There are now also ring neck doves, which are an invasive species. I suppose every baby boomer who buys a new home out here could be called the same. This was once a beautiful ranch tucked right in front of the mountains.
Occasionally I will hear a church, including the ones I have served, say “Everyone Welcome”. Mostly what that can mean is “everyone I am
comfortable with is welcome”. I recently heard “But what if those kinds of people show up”? Well, I have experience with pigeons, grackles, fake doves, and a very mean variety of black birds. “All means all”— I have real problems with groups that then try to brand themselves with flags, stickers, symbols, sayings, etc. If you truly are feeding whoever comes you don’t need a Rainbow Flag, or an American Flag, or the “Don’t Tread on me” with an AR—15 silhouette.
Ok, pigeons still irritate me but they actually do feed on the seed that the little cute guys have lost on the ground. Someday I will write about the “herd of bunnies” we have running around our place. Yes, “herd of bunnies” is a proper description—just ask my daughter Amy, who lost a bet to me.
Onward and Upward, Mark
In 1933 two seventh grade girls formed a friendship that would last their life times. One girl was from Clarinda, Iowa and the other from Basingstoke, England. It was purely a random draw that brought the two girls together. They began writing to each other, at a time when it took a letter at least a month to cross the ocean and find its destination. They continued to write through high school and college. One of the girls went to the University of Nebraska and the other to the equivalent of a teacher’s college in England. When the war hit in 1941 they continued to write as best they could.
Pat (my mom), graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1942 and began her teaching career as a kindergarten teacher in Grand Island, NB. Connie married a British soldier and began her teaching career. The war did not stop the sharing of their lives in letters. In 1944 Connie wrote Pat to tell her that her husband had been killed in North Africa. My mom said her tears stained the beautiful fountain pen ink letter from her widowed friend. Pat found herself and her teacher friends dancing at “Dime a Time” fundraisers at the USO events for the thousands of B-17 pilots departing to Europe, from the base in Grand Island.
The war ended and my mom married my dad Bill. They had met at a church picnic in Colorado Springs— and Connie met Arthur, who had returned from the battles in Europe. Bill and his brother started a business in Pueblo, and Arthur became a ‘Bobby’ in London. The letters continued about once a month and soon they were talking about their growing families.
A very early memory I have is a package arriving at Christmas time full of treats, Rupert Comic books, and the smells of a foreign country. I do know that when I was about five, we sent Godfrey Superman comics, saltwater taffy, and books for the adults. The exchange of packages came every year.
In 1953, we got a wonderful surprise package that had all sorts of Queen Elizabeth II Coronation memorabilia. It included a sterling silver replica of the Coronation Carriage. It is proudly displayed in MK’s shadow box in our hallway. About 15 years ago Connie called my mom to tell her that
she saw on the UK’s version of ‘Antique Roadshow’ that one just like it was worth a large chunk. Queen Elizabeth was truly one of the “Greatest of the Greatest Generation”. Mom and Connie shared a deep respect for her and the way she lived across half of one century and well into another.
They both had the privilege of meeting face to face. First in England, and then in the US during the 90’s. I will never forget Connie telling my kids at the dining room table about D-Day. “I was out hanging laundry on the clothes line and then hundreds of planes began to fly over. I knew it was the invasion. I just prayed for all those young men, as I knew many would not come home”. That Sunday, Arthur read the scriptures at FCC in Alamosa. Richard Burton would have done no better.
One last word on Queen Elizabeth. I was not prepared for the depth of grief I experienced as I watched her amazing life reviewed. I thought often of the pen pals who walked their lives with her. For them she was more than a hero or role model, she was truly a queen who was a mom.
Onward and Upward, Mark