Costa Mesa man honors sobriety promise, builds altar in his yard

Yard altar reflects 79-year-old's pledge to remain sober

Father Augustine Puchner splashed holy water on a 99-Cent Store plate imprinted with an image of the Virgin Mary, then sprinkled crucifixes, a kneeling cherub, and the gold-colored cross attached to a small pedestal — the kind usually handed out at the end of Little League seasons with a tiny batter on top.

"It's probably something that doesn't mean anything to you, but it does to me," said 79-year-old Frank DeSimone in a gravelly, Boston-tinged voice.

Puchner, a clergyman at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa, blessed each item before sitting at a patio table with the man who invited him.

For DeSimone — known as "Frank E. Dee" to his friends and anyone who listens to his Internet radio station — the quiet ceremony sealed a decades-old pledge.

"I said, 'If I ever get sober, I'll erect the statue of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and the angels,'" DeSimone said, pointing to the small winged figures erected in his front yard.

DeSimone has been sober since 1985, when he arrived in Costa Mesa and started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

After his last drink, he installed Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The homemade altar and the rest of the shrine followed as his days as a sober man turned into years.

DeSimone's frontyard sanctuary is a monument to his sobriety, and the God he credits for his recovery.

"I don't care what anyone else thinks or believes," he said. "That's not important. What's important is I'm sober and I've got this home. I've got everything that I've never had before when I was drinking."

When DeSimone left Massachusetts for Costa Mesa, he left behind a life as a newspaperman writing about music and night life. The drinking was next to go.

In Orange County, three no-nonsense friends guided him into AA. They've since died , but DeSimone continues to attend the meetings.

For 10 years, he's helped run the gatherings at St. John the Baptist.

"I don't hang out with too many normies," he joked, using AA parlance for non-alcoholics. He has two roommates who are also "in the program."

At a recent meeting, DeSimone was by far the oldest of eight men and women in a parish classroom where those in attendance read about unity, the first of AA's 12 traditions.

DeSimone's hardbound copy of the traditions is yellowed and fraying, but still in good condition.

He told the group a story from when he worked at a chain of Massachusetts newspapers. To make it into work, he'd have to have a nip from some small bottles that he'd throw under the seat of his car.

While driving his boss to get coffee, the pile of bottles under the seat would roll around, clinking.

"I would say something's wrong with the car," DeSimone said, laughing at the memory.

At home after the meeting, DeSimone sips an RC Cola and shows off his prized wall of photos, where he's posed with nightclub singers and Massachusetts politicians.

In the next room, his homemade Internet radio station, Golden Music Memories of Yesteryear, is set to auto, sending crooners' voices through the house.

"I've got a good life," DeSimone said.

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

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