By Lois Rubin Gross
Today, I miss Aurora, Colorado. For twenty-five years, I hated living there: the miles and miles of tract homes, houses made of ticky-tacky that could have been the inspiration for Malvina Reynolds’ song. If you went to the crest of a hill at Mexico St. and Chambers Rd. in Aurora, just about one mile from the site of the shooting, you looked over vast acres of housing tops, row after row of similarly sided houses, thrown up like monopoly houses during the boom years of the 60s and 70s, shoddy homes built so poorly that on at least one occasion, our kitchen cabinets fell off the walls because they were not properly nailed into the wall studs.
There is a park in Aurora that is referred to as “Rattlesnake Gulch.” Snakes hide in the gullies and occasionally surface in the middle of the busy street. One parks official commented that people move to the Denver suburbs to commune with nature, then get mad when nature comes to commune with them.
When we moved to Aurora, in 1979, it was a very homogenized place. “White bread” was my usual description, and I craved a little pumpernickel or rye. We also used to joke that we were the last stop before Kansas. Our house was built on an area that used to provide hunting grounds for wild pheasants, hence the name of our development: Pheasant Run (perverted by many into “Peasant Run”). Over the years, the community diversified until schools on the north side of town claimed as many as thirty-eight languages in one small school. Native languages of Cambodian, Korean and Spanish turned East Colfax into a polyglot of signage for grocery stores carrying products for their Asian and Central American cuisines. Black and white families mixed in the inexpensive, “little boxes” in neighborhoods like Kingsborough, Meadowwood, Mission Viejo and Summer Valley Ranch. As Aurora diversified, parts of the community pulled away and incorporated into the town of Centennial with an assortment of McMansions and “zero-line” property development, small lots because water taps in Colorado are never plentiful. Those in Centennial stared across the street to the hoi-poloi in Aurora and cowered behind their fenced-in communities waiting, I suppose, for a gang invasion or cocaine. Frankly, some of the most dysfunctional homes I knew were on the Centennial side of the great divide that was Smoky Hill Road.
There is not much about Aurora that speaks to its place in the American Great Southwest. The Aurora City buildings are sand colored with turquoise or peach accents and there is a vastness to the tree-free landscape that speaks of the area’s semi-arid natural climate. I always felt, flying into Denver International Airport (an architectural peculiarity designed to look like the Rocky Mountains, but actually more closely resembling an inverted egg crate or a bunch of stuffed brassieres) that I was looking at a play map of houses with carefully placed trees and bushes. DIA is right on the edge of Aurora. I expect that its hotels are filled, right now, with the armies of newscasters who have settled into the area.
It is worth noting that Aurora was created, in the late 1800’s, as a real estate scam. In those days, the trolley lines ran up Colfax Ave. from west to east and stopped right at the eastern boundary of the larger city. A sleazy developer (as if there are other kinds in Colorado) bought four square miles of land at the edge of town and self-named it Fletcher. Within a short time, he vanished leaving behind housing developments with no access to water. The name of Fletcher was changed to that of one of the subdivisions that were on the four square miles, and so North Aurora became the boil on Denver’s far eastern butt.
Now Aurora is one vast strip mall interrupted by housing, but move a little further south and you find homes that befit the American Dream, relatively affordable three and four bedroom homes with wooden decks and swing sets in every yard. There are upscale malls (sometimes referred to as “shopping resorts”) and thousands of families who meet, work, play soccer, go skiing, go to church, and go to school in Aurora, Colorado.
No, I was never a great fan of Aurora when we lived there, but this week, I want to be there to feel the common emotion and coming together of my former friends and neighbors. I am thankful for Facebook which has enabled me to communicate with people who still live in the area, mostly friends of my daughter, who are sharing with me their extreme despair and anger at being categorized as a place where crime happens. I remind them that, thirteen years ago, crime happened in Littleton, a more upscale neighborhood than ours. In fact, crime can happen anywhere and, as the rabbi of my former temple just said on television, the test of a community and the presence of G-d in the community, is the response of people to the events.
I trust my former neighbors will pull together, this week. They will give blood, hold hands, pray fervently, tend to their neighbors’ needs, and wonder why one insane person picked on their neighborhood to make it infamous.
There is nothing famous about Aurora, and there should be nothing infamous. Like all American communities, there are parts that are good and parts that aren’t; there are people that are good and people that aren’t; but the measure of these people over the next few weeks and months will be how they come back from their tragedy. The city symbol for aurora is a sunrise and I trust that the city will rise from this unspeakable tragedy. I’m banking on Aurora. This week, my heart is there.
Lois Rubin Gross has an MS in Library Sciences from Drexel University. She is currently Senior Children’s Librarian at the Hoboken (NJ) Public Library. She has also worked as a librarian for children with special needs. She is a book reviewer for Children’s Literature and a blogger for After Fifty Living and Wise Women Now. Join her Facebook book community Lois Storylady.
Tags: aurora, child safety