COMING OF AGE: Life in Fort Hunt
'You Can't Sell Your Memories'
Over the past 83 years, Charles Winkfield Jasper has lived in the very same house his grandfather built early in the last century, and he has seen the Fort Hunt area change from farmland to a suburb. But for him, the past is still very much alive.
He remembers having to run to the local general store to call a doctor because none of the homes had a telephone; going to meet his grandmother in the evening when she got off the electric trolley that ran from Alexandria to Mount Vernon; his family gathering walnuts and hickory nuts from the trees nearby and singing as they sat shelling them at the kitchen table; and the smell of fried chicken that drifted from one end of his neighborhood to the other for Sunday dinner.
"I like this place. I try to keep it in good shape, and when I go from one [room] to another, I remember the relatives who lived here," Jasper said.
Not all of his memories are pleasant, of course. Having grown up in a segregated society, he also recalls the humiliations of being forbidden to go certain places.
But what seemed strongest about the area is also what he misses the most, and that was an easy sense of community. People seemed less busy then, more likely to stop and chat, and more likely to visit each other with the bounty from their gardens. And even though the racial barriers have officially been removed, he said, he still feels as if most of the society around him is divided into black and white - white churches, black churches; white neighborhoods, black neighborhoods.
"We have equal rights, but we have less contact with each other," said Jasper, who worked as a cook and sometimes played the keyboards in the bars and clubs along Route 1. "The biggest change I've seen is in people, in neighbors. If you cooked something, and it came out right, you'd bring something to your neighbors. And now we don't do that. And now our neighbors, we don't know each other. It's a shame."
However, there is one neighbor. For years now, every Wednesday morning, his neighbor Charles Jones walks through a gap in the fence behind his house and comes by Jasper's to visit. Jones, 78, who is white, usually brings a batch of sweet rolls or pastries. Jasper puts up a pot of coffee.
"He comes here every Wednesday at 8 o'clock in the morning, and he sits there, and I sit right there in that chair," Jasper said, pointing across the room. "He's from Texas, and I'm from Virginia, and we talk about the big changes that have taken place."