November 22, 1963


A couple of weeks ago in my blog called Elections, I made reference to this date. This Sunday will be 57 years from that mark of time. I want to expand on the ‘death of innocence’ that occurred that day. It was my first of several “I remember exactly where and when” moments. I was walking down the hall after 4th hour Gym. We had the third lunch and like most 14 year old boys, we were tripping each other, punching, joking and hungry as badgers after hibernation. We were met in the entrance to the cafeteria by our coach and gym teacher Mr. Clay. He was crying, “President Kennedy has been shot”. That was all he said. We went on into the cafeteria and it was eerily silent. It was Friday, and in Pueblo which was half Catholic, that meant fish sticks. They sat on my tray staring at me.
A few minutes later Mr. Wilkerson our principal, came on the PA and said, “We have received confirmation that President Kennedy is dead”. Mrs. Kline our math teacher, burst into tears right in front of us. “Excuse me, just put away your work and please be quiet”. We were. The next thing I remember doing was going to basketball practice. It was weird. What was usually noisy and raucous was lifeless. Finally our coach said, “I need to go home and I am sure you do too”. I got home and my dad had already come to be with my mom. They were Republicans, but John Kennedy was their age, a WWII vet with a family. Although they did not often agree with his politics he was our President. That was a Friday and Thanksgiving was very late that year.
We never had a chance to really find out why Lee Oswald did what he did. Books and movies galore have speculated, but on Sunday the 24th right in front of our eyes, Jack Ruby took revenge into his own hands and killed Oswald and took away any chance of finding out the why. Conspiracy theories abound ~ so what? Tomorrow is the 22nd and like many of my generation, I revisit this marker in our teen years.
Today’s youth don’t have a day, but rather a year—2020. No school, life on the screen, families stressed to the breaking point, and an election where the truth has been sacrificed for power and political courage is in very short supply.
I call my grandkids and kids often. I need to hear their voices and see their Face Time faces. I am totally alone this week in our home. MK is in

California helping our daughter Stephanie and family move from a small condo into a home. I am thrilled for all of them. I am not feeling the least bit abandoned but grateful.
On Thanksgiving day my plan is to go to Burger King and buy two Impossible Burgers with a large order of fries. I will eat one for lunch as I FaceTime my various family units around the country. The other will be my ‘left overs’ that will comfort me for the third and final football game I watch. I will find myself wondering more than once how the world might have been different had Lee Harvey Oswald missed his target from the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository. Ironically, I was in the exact spot with my son in law Christian on a November 22nd not so many years ago.
Tomorrow around noon I will take few minutes and ask God for direction in these uncertain times. I suspect the answer will sound much like Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you? Do Justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God”. Amen
Onward and Upward, .
Mark

Cutting My Own Hair


Every two weeks MK pulls out our $19.99 hair trimmer kit that came complete with a black and yellow guide, “Haircuts for Dummies”. Other than a couple of nicks on my ears, we have learned over seven year—a drill that works. A #2 all over—and to quote my mom I am “Slick as a whistle”. I am amazed at two things after my haircut—how much hair I grow in two weeks, and how much of it is gray.
Well, MK is getting ready to respond to Grandma 911 out in California with our now 18-month-old Sofia. They are moving and the baby’s mom, Stephanie, is trying to work full time—Grandma MK to the rescue. She has left me a two page list of all the things I need to remember and do. She left out cut my own hair.
On my way home from swimming this afternoon, I decided that I needed to try to cut my own hair. I had hit the two week threshold, and if I really screwed it up she could do a repair job with a #1. That would put me in the almost bald category. I was remembering the last self haircut story told by my nephew Jed. Both of his kids tried their hand at styling with “Oh my God what have you done”? My great nephew Westin did a reverse Mohawk—actually I would call it a horizontal look.
MK tells of her brother on brother barber story. Her mom Betty, let out a “You look like the wrath of God”. Like I said, my hair grows fast.
So my theory was to stand in the shower and just keep buzzing until there was no more hair falling. Game on!!! I have provided a picture for your viewing pleasure. I then finished it off in front of the mirror. Unless I missed something I think I did it. I have yet to tell MK as she is on a ZOOM meeting in the basement and I am going to play dumb until she notices.
I am all about self help. I will admit I hope this is a short lived adaptation. However, I have calculated the number of two week spans I have alone, and this could be the first of five self buzz cuts. If I do need help I will just bring in five year old Westin from Longmont—he has experience.
Onward and Upward,

Mark
PS As of Press Time MK has not noticed my slick new look.

Elections


It was the autumn of 1960, a monumental election year that has not been equalled for 60 years. I was in the sixth grade at Ben Franklin Elementary in Pueblo. I decided to run for Student Body Vice President. You had to prepare a speech and make some posters. The entire student body then heard your speech and voted for their choice back in their rooms. I gave what I thought was a pretty good speech, where I promised to have two field days a year. One in the Fall and the usual one in May. I lost by one vote. It was pretty devastating, as my opponent, mainly just said, “I will do a good job, please vote for me”. The next day I asked Jimmy, a fifth grader, who lived on my block, who he voted for. “I voted for her because her posters had sparkly glitter”—100% true.
Well, that defeat was followed by Kennedy/Nixon debates, and election night, which was on November 8, 1960. We were Republicans in Pueblo, a rarity as it was a labor steel town. As with most kids I followed my parents lead. I stayed up until 10 and headed to bed not knowing who won. I woke up the next morning to find out JFK had won. I said at the breakfast table, “He probably had glitter on his posters”. Three years later I found myself crying in the cafeteria on November 22, 1963.
My next election was my sophomore year at Pueblo East. It was Johnson vs. Goldwater. I had joined the Young Republicans at East. In a student body of 1600 there were about 25 of us. I suffered a lot of ridicule for my support of Goldwater— “He is going to blow the world up”. Today Barry Goldwater would be a refreshing voice in a party that seems to have been hijacked by QAnon.
Next came 1968 and like a lot of 19-year olds I began to think for myself. I already had two friends come home from Nam in body bags. I was working a summer job at a piston plant in Pueblo and I had a Eugene MacCarthy. (Anti-War guy) bumper sticker on my 1956 Oldsmobile. One evening at dinner break about 10 members of Local 294 surrounded me and simply said, “College boy, take that bumper sticker off”. I said, “None of you have to worry about Viet Nam, I do. I won’t take it off”. They left me alone.

In the subsequent years I have never missed a vote. I now describe myself as a “political homeless person”, an image I borrowed from my buddy Arnie, a pastor in Oklahoma.
I don’t recognize the Republican Party. My dad Bill, one of the smartest and best read men I have ever known, said in 1994, “Mark-this marriage between right wing Christianity and the Republican Party will be the undoing of the both of them”. It has only gotten worse. I am not saying you can’t be a Christian and a Republican. One does not equal the other.
I have a host of concerns about the Democrats too-at the top of the list “There is no such thing as FREE anything”. So I bounce back and forth voting for who I think will do the best for the most. Integrity and telling the truth matter.
Today we have a new President Elect. I am remembering an interview by Walter Cronkite with a farmer in Iowa over, 50 years ago. “I see you have a picture of President Nixon over your dining room table. You must be a Republican”? “No sir, I am not but that is our President”.
Thank you President Trump for the work you have done. Blessings to you President Elect Joe Biden for all you have ahead of you. I still wonder how my life would have been different had I put some glitter into my campaign.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Greeley

There were two cities in Colorado that were known for their unique olfactory identities.  Pueblo AKA “Pew Town” and Greeley, whose odor was like living in a barn yard.   Both of these communities have deep historical roots in Colorado that go back to the 1800’s.  I would say they are the backbone of real Colorado. And yes I have Pioneer License Plates!!!  My granddad Paul Pumphrey, was born in Denver in 1892.  His family moved to LaSalle when he was a kid and he grew up six miles from Greeley.  As a kid I remember lots of stories about Greeley.  Little did I know that my life would intersect with the headwaters of my Colorado roots. 

It’s no secret that I failed retirement.  My Lyft driving starting five years ago saved my sanity.  I loved being the anonymous pastor just out among the folks.  I would now say it should be a requirement to drive for Lyft if you are in ministry.  Too many pastors live in silos, which is an occupational hazard.  The Jesus we follow spent his time out with “all the people”.   The two years I had not being connected with a congregation taught me a lot.  In February of 2017, I was asked if I could help out the congregation at First Christian Church of Greeley, who had been looking for a pastor for over two years.  Their interim had left and I was to be there as “pastoral duct tape”.  I was ready to help however I could.  I soon noticed that I had been deeply influenced by nearly 6,000 Lyft rides.  By June the congregation asked If I would consider a more long term relationship.  It has been a very delightful connection. 

I have been a fortunate man.  I found my way back into ministry and found out that I love the local church at Central Christian in Pueblo—‘81-86.  I got to raise my kids in a magical place called the San Luis Valley, where I served the Disciple Churches in Alamosa and Monte Vista—‘86-‘97.  The 11 years there taught me a lot about agrarian life in the midst of a very complex interaction of many cultures. It will always be one of my homes.  The nearly 18 years I spent at South Broadway CC in Denver—‘1997-2015 was the crown jewel of my life in ministry.  I watched an historic church find its life in the 21st century.  I never saw this time in Greeley coming.  It is a church that is deeply committed to service and generosity.  They are an amazing crew of folk who are figuring out how to thrive in an environment that none of us could have ever imagined.  

I drive through LaSalle three or four times a week on my drives to and from Arvada.  There is a park on the north end of town.  When I was around four, I went to a family reunion that celebrated my Great Grandmother’s 90th birthday.  I remember riding a horse and playing with lots of kids.  I am a blessed man, I get to have an encore in ministry with a great church in a wonderful community.  

Pueblo just announced that their steel mill is going 100% green and it will be hiring 1000’s of employees as is it becomes a state of the art steel plant for the 21st century.  Greeley has eliminated the waft of packing plants and feed lots.  They are bookends for our front range and I love them both.

Onward and Upward,

Mark 

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