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Va. Neighbors Reunite and Find A Bond as Timeless as the Block

Cathy Hunter talks with Neil Henry as Bill Groscup and Penny Boettcher, right, embrace in the yard of a home on Quarter Charge Drive in Fairfax County, where neighbors held a reunion Saturday.
Cathy Hunter talks with Neil Henry as Bill Groscup and Penny Boettcher, right, embrace in the yard of a home on Quarter Charge Drive in Fairfax County, where neighbors held a reunion Saturday. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 29, 2005

By the winter of 1982, Dorothy Francis had the feeling that her life on Quarter Charge Drive had run its course. She had a chronic heart condition, her husband's health was fragile and the three-bedroom colonial hardly made sense anymore with their daughters grown and gone. Their oldest kept telling them to come to Florida, and finally they decided. It was time to go.

So they packed up the Mercury, packed up the cat and two dogs, the foam pillow and little baggies of snacks their neighbors had given them for the road. They pulled out onto the wide and shaded Fairfax County street where they had lived for 20 years -- where they had raised children and shoveled snow through the Vietnam years, through the Nixon years and otherwise shared enough quiet confidences that, as they drove south on Interstate 95, Dorothy Francis began to cry.

"I cried all the way to Richmond," she recalled. "It was hard to leave. It was very hard to leave."

The Canzanellis left, too, the Henrys a year later, and most other original owners sold their ranches and split-levels to younger families who so often reminded them of themselves.

Over the years, the old friends managed to stay in touch through Christmas cards, hospital visits or, more recently, a summer vacation at the Henrys' in Ocean City, where they came up with the idea for the reunion. They decided it would be open to all past and present residents of Quarter Charge Drive, a short street of about 25 houses just off Little River Turnpike and beyond the Capital Beltway.

To their surprise, about 150 people -- some who had moved just a few miles away, others who had gone as far as Alaska -- expressed interest. And so, despite the rain, the gathering unfolded late Saturday afternoon under white tents set up across Chris Chaisson's yard.

"Vini Parry!" Francis said, crossing the grass toward her old neighbor.

She had wondered what people would look like all these years later, and now she knew: Vini looked pretty much like Vini, only with a different haircut.

In fact, people realized as they ate hot dogs, sipped wine and remembered all the biggest snows and blurry, exhausted summers, what was remarkable about Quarter Charge Drive was this: In a region known for its demographic changes, for its transience and impermanence, everyone and everything about the place looked pretty much the same.

The brick and vinyl-sided houses on the street had changed little on the outside; their shutters were still maroon or orange-ish tan. Their residents had the same sorts of jobs as their predecessors, with the State Department or the military or some consulting firm.

The place still was mostly white, with a few other ethnicities sprinkled in, and still mostly upper-middle class. It seemed as diverse politically as it was when neighbors bit their tongues rather than argue about Nixon, Carter or OPEC. Current and former residents told similar stories of coming to Quarter Charge -- of being transferred to the area, of finding the street by chance but staying by choice once its particular alchemy took hold.

In some ways, only nature had transformed -- the thick oaks and maples were taller and fuller now, people noted. The seven-acre ramble behind the street, site of so many summer forts, buried trinkets and bottled messages cast into the mysterious current of the creek, was greener and more lush.


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