Golf— Another Lesson in Humility


To quote my recently departed 95 year old friend Dr. Jim, “Golf is a way to ruin a good walk”. About three months ago I was driving somewhere with MK, and from that place that blurts out the truth I said, “I really wish I could have some guys to golf with. This Covid lockdown is making me stir crazy”. MK immediately began to go down a list of possible golf partners. I had big plans that my grandson Miko would be my golf buddy, but Covid sent him home to New Mexico.
The fates heard my request. Not a week later I got an email to reconnect with some longtime Pueblo buddies who need a fourth player for their foursome. I dusted off my golf clubs and reminded myself “just enjoy this, there is no need to believe that after more than a year lapse in playing that this will be amusing at least”. I showed up at the course, we were all wearing masks, we had individual golf carts, and we lined up at the first tee. Any golfer will tell you that the first tee shot brings a lot of pressure. There are always strangers watching, you have to go down your check list as you address the ball: breath, easy backswing, don’t squeeze the club, keep your head down and follow through. “Mark you’re up” (Oh please Lord of golf just help me get the ball past the ladies tee). Boom— there it went, straight as a string, 200 yds down the fairway… Senior Circuit here I come. Not so fast.
If my golfing life was a movie, I would borrow titles like: “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly”, “Agony and Ecstasy” “Lost World” and the classic Disney cartoon featuring Goofy “How to Play Golf”. Inconsistent is how I describe my playing these past two months. One minute my self talk is “Wow, you can still do this” followed by “What were you thinking”? I can say that playing about 10 times has been great fun. It’s the time with these great guys, and the golf is entertaining.
The last time I played with my dad Bill was in Alamosa. He was 74. He shot the best round of his life and then said to me “I never saw that coming”. It was soon after that he was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis. He told me later “If that had to be my last round of golf it was a fun way to go out”. Well, this I know— I am going to keep playing until I can’t.
Onward and Upward,

Mark

Humility

So now for an update on my newly discovered commitment to swimming for fitness and mental health.  My recreation center pool opened up this week for limited lap swimming.  I was beyond excited because our outdoor pool closed last Sunday.  Wednesday I showed up to begin on the first day of its opening.  As I was getting in the pool.  the lifeguard said “ You are the first member in that pool in over six months”.  That fact alone motivated me to knock off 40 laps—my new record.  

Yesterday every lane was full.  I had no particular goal in mind as I began to check off laps.  At about lap 32 (1/2 mile) the pool emptied out and I had it all to myself.  “I thought maybe I will shoot for 48 laps, my new record”.   When I got to 48 laps I had more gas in my tank. I thought “What the heck, I am going for a mile”.  Maybe it was adrenaline, or perhaps a result of about 34 days of training— I did it.  

There were no fireworks or finish line, just a twenty something young woman sitting on the life guard stand.  I got out of the pool, dried off, gathered my things and walked by the person assigned to watch after me.   “I just swam my first mile in over 50 years”.   “Oh”.  That was all. Then she looked away.  Ok, she had to sit there and watch some old guy chug through the water, but she could least have smiled.  I slumped off to the locker room without even a participation trophy. 

Humility is not a bad thing.  My life in the 12-step world has taught me about the “gifts” of getting ‘right sized’.  Within a few minutes I was able to laugh at myself.   “Dude… You just swam a mile” I said to myself out loud in my car.  

Today while swimming again, James the lifeguard, who introduced himself to me while I was swimming alone again, made my day.  “I noticed you are here on the days I work. You work really hard”.  “Well thanks, I am just glad to have the opportunity”.  “Keep it up, a lot of people go real hard for a week or two then you never see them again. How many laps did you do today”?  “I did 34”. “Wow, we just have to do 10 a day”.  

This time I left knowing that the only person I have to impress is me.  

Onward and Upward, 

Mark 

Planting Trees


Every Saturday morning at 9am, I rendezvous with a group of fellow 12- Steppers to have an in person meeting by the tennis courts at Washington Park. Today as I was walking towards our spot I saw a group of people getting training to plant trees. When we settled in we looked around and there were probably 15 trees getting ready to be planted by volunteers. I have been sitting here thinking for the last hour and a half about my love of trees.
The first trees I ever saw planted were five fruit trees I referred to in my recent blog called Alexander Circle. Today I witnessed people planting trees for the next generation and those to follow. Planting trees is an act of hope.
I have a friend who, every September, goes out anonymously and plants a tree somewhere on the planet. The idea of people planting trees during a global pandemic is an act of foresight, compassion, generosity, and optimism. In the early 1990’s we planted a few little Aspen trees in front of our home in Alamosa. A couple of months ago we drove by the home just to see how everything was doing. Those aspen trees are now 30 feet tall and thriving in the front yard of the house where we raised our kids.
Some of you who read my blog might remember that just a few months ago I wrote about “Joe” the Blue Spruce, which is now 10 feet tall. In a shameless plug I will invite you to go back and read that blog post and see the picture of how a two inch tree becomes a thriving urban giant. Currently, as I sit here from my perch in my lawn chair in Washington Park, I’m watching four different teams carefully planting trees, just as they were instructed to do a couple of hours ago.
In my nearly 20 years of living in this neighborhood, I saw massive tree destruction come, whether from a wind storm in the summer, or a blizzard in the winter, or late spring snow that came after the leaves were out. I’ve seen many a tree fall, cut up and hauled away but I’m also looking at a Weeping Willow tree that I know has graced this park for generations.
So here’s to trees and those who plant them, whether they be deciduous or conifers. May you live long and give shade. May the birds who sing from your branches or the squirrels who play tag with each other bring joy to all

who pass by. May your shade give rest to picnickers, lovers, and those needing hope.
Onward and upward, Mark

My Favorite Color is Autumn.

My buddy Jon sent me a picture today from the mountains. Jon is a great pal who I have come to know over the past 23 years. We are not, on the surface, a likely connection. Jon is a blue collar Viet Nam vet who built nuclear warheads for the DOD. I’m the first “preacher he ever liked”. I am not sure if that is because he liked my theology or I am never offended by his crude, funny, honest, takes on life. While he was in Nam flying in a helicopter, I was partying and protesting.

Jon loves the outdoors. This picture reveals the coming of fall in the Rockies. Hands down I am an Autumn guy. I love everything about it. I am not a “buy flowers” kind of guy. However, I could not pass up three colors of mums at Whole Foods yesterday. To me Fall begins my year. I am not sure if that goes back to my early school days. There was nothing like a new Big Chief tablet, crayons, and the smell of school to reboot my world.

This Autumn begins September 22nd. I admit it’s not the same with Covid lurking everywhere, and the haze of fire smoke which has covered the mountains for four weeks. I will take a drive soon through the mountains to soak in the Fall colors. My Bronco tickets are resting this year, the Rockies had their mid-summer collapse two months late, and we are playing playoff basketball. My internal clock is very confused. Some things seem in sync and other markers look like that moose that wandered into Greeley last year.

When I drive to Greeley from Arvada three days a week, I love taking highway 66 and 85 just to drive by the farms. Harvest is still going on and pumpkin patches are popping up. Jon’s picture was just what I needed. I plan on finding piles of leaves and crunching them with my feet. I am ready for some apple cider and popcorn. I can’t wait to spot my first ‘lipstick bush’ (a made up name) for these blazing red bushes that show off every autumn.

“For everything there is a season”… and I plan on enjoying this one—including carving up a couple of pumpkins.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

1960

Sixty years ago I had just entered the 6th grade. I was 11, Mr. Allen was my teacher and I remember it was a year of many new awarenesses. With the help of Google I will share a few highlights of a lynchpin year.

January 2– John Kennedy announces his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.

February 9– Adolf Coors lll, the chairman of the board of The Coors Brewing Company, is kidnapped in the United States, and his captors demand a ransom of $500,000. Coors is later found murdered, and Joseph Corbet Junior is indicted for the crime.

March 6– the US announces it will send 3,000 troops to Vietnam.

April 1– The 1960 US Census begins. There are 179,323,175 U.S. residents on this day. All people from Latin America are listed as white, including blacks from the Dominican Republic, European whites from Argentina and Mexicans who resemble Native Americans.

May 16 Theodore Mainman operates the first laser.

August 12– Dr Seuss publishes Green Eggs and Ham.

September 9– The first regular season game in the American Football League (established as a rival league to the NFL) takes place at Boston’s Nickerson Field. The Denver Bronco defeat the Boston Patriots 13–10.

Which gets me to my point. I have been a Bronco fan for 60 years. In August of 1960 the Broncos came to Pueblo to play an “inter-squad” game at the High School stadium. They had second hand uniforms that were yellow and brown with vertical stripes on the socks. I saw Gene Mingo kick a “toe style” 65 yard field goal. Pro football had come to Colorado.

On October 2nd the Broncos played their first home game where they beat the Oakland Raiders 31-14. I was there. My dad Bill, and two of his buddies took me to share in the inaugural home game. I was hooked.

Every year we would come to Denver to go to a game. I remember roaming around half empty stands half watching the game. I was a proud member of the Enid, Oklahoma chapter of the Broncos Monday Morning Quarterback Club, during the 1970’s. Thanks to Ruby Strain, who waited hours in line to get Super Bowl 12 tickets, I was in New Orleans to watch the Cowboys whip us.

In 1984 I had a lady in the Pueblo church give me her season tickets. I am a true fan. The high point of this journey was in 2015 When I drew Super Bowl tickets and I sat right behind Bill Romanowski to watch the Broncos win their third Lombardi Trophy… it’s been rough sledding since then.

In 1998 following our first Super Bowl win, I honored a bet with my daughter Amy and got a Bronco tattoo. A day later thanks to my brother Charlie, 9News got a close up of it and it went out on the national NBC news wire. This all began in 1960 when a young boy was given a gift by his dad.

I wonder what will be remembered about 2020.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Mr. Wishing Went Fishing

Every Sunday around four o’clock I have a date with a now almost 16 month old. Her name is Sofia. On Thanksgiving day of 2018, MK and I were walking out of a typical family gathering on a perfect November afternoon. The scene was familiar, 20 people gathered in a driveway all saying goodbye after a feast and football. I looked over at MK who was on the phone crying. “What’s wrong”? She took about a minute to get out this sentence— “Stephanie is pregnant”. You could have knocked me over with a spitball. Our then 45 year old daughter gave, birth the following May to a little girl named Sophia.

I got to meet Sofia in person twice this last year. The plan was to get out to California twice year and have them here a couple of times. So much for plans. Back in April we started a weekly FaceTime call to the Don Vito family. We have tracked her progress each week. From no teeth to eight, from peach fuzz hair to an emerging strawberry blonde. We sing songs, tell stories and now we have added weekly dance time. Oh yes, The Itsy Bitsy Spider is #1 on the charts.

I decided to see if I could find my favorite childhood book on Etsy. Sure enough, “Mr. Wishing Went Fishing” showed up on my porch wrapped with care. On the inside cover was written TO STEPHEN FROM UNCLE WILFORD—1953. This was my favorite childhood book which my parents read to me countless times. Good stories with great illustrations never grow old.

The story is about a grey bearded old sea dweller who, through a series of missteps, gets two fish to live in the fishbowl on his dinning room table. I read it twice just to make sure it was the ‘real deal’. My plan is that every week I will read the story to Sophia and show her the pictures. Right now Papa Mark lives in the screen, but his heart loves his grandkids beyond measure, and I will take whatever connections I can get.

My parents read to their kids and grandkids. I can still see my kids gathered in the living room to listen to stories again and again. Our capacity to create, share and remember stories connects us beyond time and space, yes to God. Mr. Wishing went to great lengths to assure that his first fish… Skipper, had a friend…Flipper. My little three year old who lives inside of me, relived every moment on my mom’s lap. My mom Pat, died 10 years ago Friday September 4, but her stories still thrive.

Onward and Upward

Mark

Swimming


I can never remember a time when I couldn’t swim. I do remember during a “polio epidemic” in the early 1950’s my parents saying “we can’t do swimming because of polio”. Then came the vaccine and standing in line at Ben Franklin Elementary with 100’s of folk to get our shots. We were members of a local swimming club and almost every day in the summer we would ride our bikes to the Belmont Club to spend hours in the pool. In the winter we went to the YMCA. I was never a fast swimmer but I could go for hours.
In college Phillips University had a great pool that was open until mid October, and then opened up again in April. I even took the Water Safety Instructor training and got my WSI. I will not name names but “skinny dipping” was a regular activity at midnight. One of our favorite teenage adventures was to to go to Stone City Reservoir towards Canon City, where you could jump off of cliffs ranging from 20-50 feet. I will never forget standing at the edge of the 50 ft cliff getting up my nerve to jump feet first. Out of nowhere Joanie Y. stepped to the edge and did a perfect swan dive, every bit spectacular as the divers of Acapulco.
My adult swimming became more an event accompanied by vacations, water skiing, and in 2000 I got certified to scuba dive. Two years ago I decided to start water aerobics as I was spending way too much time sitting. I found both the perfect Geezer exercise, and a community of fellow aging baby boomers. The exercise made a big difference and I found a home in the water again. Then comes Corona Virus, and a complete shutdown of the Apex Pool. About seven weeks ago our HOA pool was opened for very limited use outdoors. You have to sign up, follow all the social distancing protocol, etc. I decided “what the heck I will make up my own routine”. I have been an almost daily regular since.
About three weeks ago I thought maybe I should try swimming some laps. First it was 8, then 12, then 16 and 24. Yesterday I did 32 laps (1/2 mile) and you would have thought by my excitement that I won a medal. This six month hiatus of anything remotely resembling normalcy, has made me appreciate things I took for granted. They are keeping our pool open until September 29. I am trying not to think about what follows. My goal is 64 laps (1 mile) at least once. Who knows—maybe I will grow fins.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Uncle Paul “PO”

My dad Bill and his brother Paul, were 12 and 8 when their parents told them they were putting them on a train to Greeley, Colorado.  Their parents were native Coloradoans who had gone to Bellingham, Washington to start a business.  In 1932 they lost everything and had to send their boys to live with relatives in Weld County.  The brothers rode the train by themselves to a place they had only heard about. By 1934 Paul and Opal (my grandparents) had relocated to Colorado Springs.  They lived in an old Victorian home on North Royer Street.  I can still remember every smell, brick, and the creepy basement furnace in that house.

On December 7, 1941 their lives changed forever.  My dad was a sophomore at Colorado A&M, and Paul was a senior at Palmer High.  By January my dad was in pilot training in the Army Air Corp (which became the Air Force after WWII), and Paul enlisted in the Merchant Marine.  My dad became a glider pilot and flew one combat mission into Holland. He later flew copilot on a C-47, where he took supplies everyday up to the front line. Paul got to work on ships that supplied the troops fighting in the Pacific theatre.  They both were shot at more than once but returned in one piece to Colorado after the war.

In 1947 Pueblo was the “boom town”, whereas Colorado Springs was a sleepy, quaint, tourist retirement town. Their parents, who created a very successful business in The Springs, set them up with a similar business in Pueblo. They became co-owners of CLEAVER CARPET CENTER. From those who knew them well, Uncle Paul (who from here forward I will call by out family name—PO) was the shrewd and talented business man, while my dad Bill, was the super salesman who knew everyone in town.  At one time Cleavers had a small fleet of trucks, 15 employees, and was the classic example of a small successful business created by the GREATEST GENERATION.

These two brothers each had four kids, we were raised as one family.  Here is where the story takes a difficult turn. I will skip all the details except that, when in my 12-step recovery I had to write out a resentment list, PO was at the top. From my perspective it was a well deserved perch. In the early 90’s I went to a huge gathering of men for two days of inspiration.  My dad kept saying PO would be there. I know he hoped that we might find a connection. Long story short, PO’s youngest son, my cousin Johnny, ran into me in the crowd and asked me to sit with him. I love Johnny and so I said sure. By providence or chaos theory I ended up sitting for eight hours next to PO.  We made our amends to each other. My dad cried when I told him.

PO turned 95 a couple of weeks ago.  I called him and had a great conversation with him.  Last week as I was driving into a 12-step meeting in Washington Park, PO called me to make plans to get together at the end of the month. He is as sharp as ever.  “One of my goals is to live longer than my mother.  She died just short of 95, so I guess I have.  I don’t know if I will make 96, I am really ok either way”.

I can’t wait for next week where I have even more questions that PO can answer about my dad Bill, life and Grace.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

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