I was having breakfast a few weeks ago with a new friend who recently moved to Colorado Springs, and during the conversation I said “I’m a native.”
“You’re the second or third person I’ve talked with in the last few weeks that pretty quickly points out that you’re a native of Colorado Springs. Why is that?”
It’s an interesting question. In our very mobile population, it is almost expected that people will move to different parts of the country or, living in a city with five military bases such as Colorado Springs, different parts of the world. When I ask, I’m usually expecting the answer to “where are you from” to be something other than Colorado Springs.
So from my friend’s response, my blurting out that “I’m a native” must seem, what, a little prideful? Does it come across as creating difference – “you’re new, I’m a native”? — and therefore maybe a little arrogant?
I have pondered why it is important to express, blurt out even, that I am a native of Colorado Springs.
Perhaps it is out of nostalgia. I remember when … the north end was not even “The Old North End.” The north end of Colorado Springs was basically north of Uintah Street, or maybe even north of Fillmore. The north end ended where Nevada Avenue merges onto I-25. Rockrimmon was simply the site of the old Pikeview coal mine and, more when I was growing up, high school woodsies and keggers.
Penrose Main on Cascade Avenue was simply Penrose. The 13-story red and white building was the only Penrose Hospital in town. And Penrose was a visible and meaningful landmark in the town. Until the Holly Sugar building was built in the early 1960’s, Penrose rose up out of the tree-lined streets of the north end like a beacon. One could always orient one’s self by finding where he was in relation to Penrose Hospital. And when it is your place of birth, it grounds one in familiarity, foundation, reassurance. Coupled with the fact that I was born there, Penrose was also where my mother was trained and as a nurse and then employed for some 40+ years.
The Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo breakfast was a small town event. So was the 4th of July gathering in Memorial Park. The population throughout the 1960’s was only around 90,000 residents. Today, the 4th of July event draws more people than that to the Park.
I remember when the Manitou Incline actually had a train car that pulled people the mile up. Those were saner, simpler times. And Jones Park was a hiking and backpacking experience where you would not see another hiker (and mountain bikes were not even invented) for the entire weekend.
Does it just come down to nostalgia? Maybe it is just due to the fact that I am getting older faster and reminiscing more often and more deeply. The old and familiar of Colorado Springs still serves as my anchor despite the changes. I love walking down Tejon Street despite the loss of Michelle’s ice cream, Lorig’s cowboy boots and hats, Hibbard’s pneumatic tubes where your payments zoomed out of sight and where the elevator was tended by an elevator man. I love the presence of the Fine Arts Center even though I do not take advantage of the richness of it as often as I should. Despite my own liberal leanings, I think NORAD is awesome, the Academy is beautiful, and Fort Carson (where my uncle worked) is pretty cool.
But maybe my blurting out “I’m a native” is also about roots and place, about the rootedness in where you “grew up.” When I told my friends in California, after living there for all of the 1980’s, that I was moving back to Colorado Springs, they thought I was crazy. (I’m sure it was, ironically, native Californians who mostly responded with this disbelief.)
But there is something about waking up with the sun-reddened granite of the Pikes Peak summit greeting you on fall mornings that lingers bone deep. (It is also knowing “Pikes Peak” has no possessive apostrophe and being OK with that despite being an English teacher.) It’s knowing the effect of the chinook winds, that today’s snow may be gone by sunset tomorrow. Or even later today.
It’s knowing that despite living in the most conservative of all counties in Colorado, we weathered Proposition 2 twenty years ago. It means we can enjoy a rich arts community even if it feels tiny at times. It means despite our growth, we can enjoy nature experiences within our city limits and wilderness experiences within an hour’s drive.
So, yeah, I blurt out that I am a Colorado Springs native. It’s a statement that says welcome to what I have known for many years, and it serves as the segue into the near-apology of “I know, things could be better here.” Maybe it’s a bit protective of a life that once was and is not the reality today. Maybe it is an invitation that says let’s continue to create a space together that has all the closeness of a small town but the richness that 400,000 people may bring.