Hazlehurst: Your city, my city, our city

John Hazlehurst

When will all this be over? I don’t know, you don’t know, Governor Polis doesn’t know, Dr. Fauci doesn’t know and as for the Washington elite — well, never mind.

It’s such a peculiar crisis. Many sit quietly at home enduring de facto house arrest (absent an ankle monitor!). My wife and I are sheltering in place with our three dogs. I walk them daily, and at first enjoyed the deserted streets, the meditative silence that has replaced the accustomed urban clamor and the friendly, distant waves from fellow dogwalkers. But now? I just want it to end.

The immediate economic hits have taken their toll, but the lasting effect of the pandemic may be subtler. When COVID-19 has finally run its course and life as usual resumes, what will be different?

Our views of the perils, delights and opportunities of the world may change forever.

Looking through family memorabilia, I came across my parents’ 1926 wedding photograph. The photographer was my mother’s friend Laura Gilpin, who came to be recognized as one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. The wedding was the first celebrated in the just-completed Grace Episcopal Church, just steps away from my grandparents’ home at 531 N. Cascade Ave., where the reception took place.

Gilpin photographed the 14-person wedding party on the front steps of the since-demolished home. Carefully posed in natural light, the setting sun illuminates the radiant bride, the proud and somber groom, the two smiling flower girls and the rest of the attendants. A lighthearted contemporary account of the ceremony noted, “The only gentleman in Colorado Springs married the only lady!”

It was the best of times in Colorado Springs. The city’s economy was buoyant, business owners were optimistic and young people in the Roaring ’20s definitely knew how to have fun. Both bride and groom owned flourishing businesses. Inspired by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris, my mother had launched Edith Farnsworth Bookstore in 1924. My father’s firm, investment brokers Hazlehurst, Flannigan & Co., occupied a spacious ground floor suite in the Mining Exchange Building. The newlyweds looked forward to secure, prosperous and happy lives.

Three years later, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression slowly set in. My mother moved her shop from the Broadmoor Hotel to a small downtown space while, following the near collapse of his firm and his partner’s suicide, my father relocated to a one-person office on the fourth floor of the Mining Exchange. They scraped by for years supported by the shrunken revenues of their businesses and occasional help from their once-wealthy grandparents.

Unlike so many of our city’s less fortunate residents, they never really suffered. There was always enough money for food, shelter and clothing, but the Depression made them different people. As the economy gradually strengthened, they finally bought a house in 1941, a rundown place on Tejon Street for $2,100. The paint was peeling and the floors needed refinishing, but so what? They furnished it with hand-me-downs and frayed old oriental rugs, and waited until 1955 to fix up the primitive kitchen.

Americans who endured the crash, the Depression and World War II learned thrift and caution. Our pandemic may teach us similar lessons. We’ll save more, spend less and be more hesitant about major purchases. Fix up the house with new landscaping? Replace the old stove? Get a nice new dryer? Paint the house? Maybe it makes more sense to defer spending, build up savings and protect against an uncertain future.

Not so long ago, an unexpected pair of $1,200 checks from the government would have funded 10 days in Puerto Vallarta or those new appliances. Now we’ll save as much as we can.

I suspect that many of us are reconsidering our lifestyles and rethinking our long-term strategies. Do we really need bigger houses, prolonged foreign vacations or risky investment portfolios? Scaling back may damage the national economy, but it’ll help our personal balance sheets. Will the 2020s be the 1930s of our century? Perhaps I should visit Evergreen Cemetery and commune with the spirits of my parents and grandparents. I think I know what they’ll say.

Frugality, caution and thrift — so not fun! Being old, penniless and unemployed — so much worse! But Mom, Dad — can I settle for frivolous, healthy and somewhat broke?