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
My dad, William Charles Pumphrey aka “Bill” was born August 27, 1922. He lived until he was 77. Many of us who knew and loved him wondered if he had not smoked for 58 years, how long he might have lived. Oh well, his words to me on the 50th anniversary of D-Day: “Mark, I have had a great life. The heros in WWII were the ones who did not get to come back. I came back to Colorado, met your mom, had four great kids, eight grandkids, loved my business, got to travel a lot and enjoyed my life”. Bill, was a glider pilot in The War. He was an instructor at the glider base in Alliance, Nebraska. During the first 24 hours of the Normandy invasion 25% of the glider pilots were killed. My dad knew many of them.
“The next day after D-day they shut the base down and sent the rest of us to England. Six weeks later I was in Holland.” I later found out that he had one combat mission and when they landed the territory was already secured. “What did you do then”? I asked. “Well, they made me a co- pilot on C-47 transport planes. We flew supplies up to the front line.”
“Like what”? I naïvely asked. “Oh, gasoline, ammo, food, water, fresh troupes. Then we often brought the wounded back”. “Did you ever get shot at”? … stupid me. “Oh yes, every day. The hard part was in the briefing room where there would be empty desks from the day before. We knew what that meant”.
My sister Rita called my dad, “The bravest man I ever knew”. I am not sure that I knew any braver myself. He never drew attention to himself, unless of course he was wearing wild Bermuda shorts, with some crazy 1960’s print shirt. When he discovered “Jump Suits” he thought he had died and gone to fashion heaven. He seriously wore a camouflage jump suit to church once in Alamosa because we were headed fishing right after the services.
My dad loved to fish. When I was four he took me on “opening day” which used to be Memorial Day weekend. This is TRUE— I caught five brook trout on my own and I have the 8mm movie to prove it. As all of his grandkids can attest, that he was way happier if we caught more fish than if he did. His fishing moved from fly fishing, to bank fishing, to fishing off a boat. Up until the year he died he spent hours at Lake Pueblo with any grandkid he could round up, or by himself. My mom said, sometime after his death, “I would love to know what he thought about all those hours”.
He was be best read man I have ever known and he integrated that into a world view that was ever expanding. I never once ever, heard him say a judgmental thing about anyone. He almost always got the Final Jeopardy answer right no matter what the category. He was the one that said to me in the 1990’s “The marriage between the Republican Party and Right wing religion is a marriage made in HELL. It will will be the undoing of both of them”. We are watching it happen before our eyes. He was both a Republican and a Christian and the idea of Christian Nationalism was what he faced with the millions of other young soldiers, in the Nazis.
Well, enough of the serious stuff. I was blessed with a father who was— quirky, OCD, loving, funny, brilliant, kind, generous, and if my sister Rita was right, the bravest man she had ever known. She should know because he wore ‘night gowns’ and once he came down the street to bring her home way past her curfew, yes, wearing his night gown.
Happy Birthday “Wild Bill P.” Onward and Upward,
I am certainly an extrovert, and that would be no surprise to those of you who know me. If it’s a gathering of folk I generally like to be there. I am most always up for meeting new people so sitting at a table of strangers lights me up. Today my “development” had its annual meeting. They bribed us with free food and bingo. We got the usual handouts of financial reports and projects as we came in to the meeting. I braced myself for the questions that come from the personalities that like to “pick the pepper out of the fly poop”. The “nitpickers” did not disappoint and provided me with— “I have been studying the sprinkler system flow and I will be bringing the board my personal study” or “I think they could do a better job weeding the 3rd roundabout”.
After the presentation on the “business” they opened the “feed line” and the masses lined up to eat the “bribe”. MK was graciously getting food for two, as I don’t do well in buffet lines with my cane—(a very painful concession to state of affairs). I found myself sitting with a recently widowed woman who provided me with real conversation. Her comment to me was “These meetings are always the same, I think some people like to hear the sound of their voice”. I said, “Have you ever been to annual meeting at a church”? She gave me a knowing laugh.
The truth is, being part of a volunteer board can be very important. So much of what makes things work are done by countless volunteers. I have spent my working life on both sides of the equation. I have greatly depended on boards to do ‘the work’ in positions where I am paid. I have also found myself on a wide variety of boards which I still enjoy. Yes, the work can be tedious, frustrating and even irritating. However, the board “heard” my hope that they would keep lap-swimming going through September. A board member came up to me and said with a wink, “We are going to see what we can do”.
Onward and Upward, Mark
One of my secret pleasures during this Covid mess: about once a month in a Starbucks drive through I pay for the person behind me. It is truly a random act, with the hidden agenda of trying, in a very small way, to redirect a tiny piece of the universe. Chaos theory says that a butterfly meandering through the Amazon can affect us. So, this is my shot at trying to affect change. I am always careful to zip away as they are picking up their order. I need no thank you. My joy comes in making up stories about how a free Mocha Frappuccino might land in the lap of someone who just needs a boost.
I know there is a Netflix series in this plot, but I take more joy in just making up my own plots of how a random trip through a drive through, shifted anger to gratitude. I have being doing this about two years, and it’s never premeditated, but rather, raw impulse.
Fridays I usually spend the morning gathering with a few kindred spirits at Cherry Creek State Park. I swing by the same Starbucks so than I can get a fresh drink to take to the gathering. The woman at the window who almost always greets is named “Shorty”. Shorty always remembers my name and to be in her presence is to feel important. Yesterday, after getting my Venti Iced Coffee with a pump of mocha and coconut milk. I told Shorty I was paying for the guy behind me who was alone in modest Toyota. She hit the pay button and said, “Well Mark, this is over $23– do you still want to pay”? I thought for a moment knowing I had $25left on the card and said—“Sure, I can’t back out now”. I took my exit and thought, “Who knows what all he got”.
Well, when I got to the park the receipt came up on my Starbucks app. I opened it and the app showed me the entire order. There were two fancy drinks and two breakfast sandwiches. I have no idea who he is, but I know exactly what he and a mystery guest had for breakfast. I went in and checked the balance on my account—$1.56. I had more left than I thought. So much of my life has been shaped by the generosity of others. Every dime I have made in 45 years of pastoral ministry has been given to me by others. That is not lost on me. When I see a guy on dialysis, in a wheel chair, sitting on the front row of church making sure his offering is given, it makes me want to be present to the work I am still doing.
Some would call this ‘paying it forward’— that works sort of. For me its not so much about paying but passing. Paying has an expectation with it. “I give, I get”. There is another kind of giving—“I give because I have been given to”. Well, next month I will have a reloaded Starbucks card and when the impulse strikes I will get to play this game one more time. Maybe behind me will be a 3/4 ton diesel truck with two American flags and MAGA stickers and the nudge of that spirit that never lies will say, “Alright Mark, pony up”!!!
Onward and Upward, Mark