COMING OF AGE: Life in Fort Hunt

Friendships Forged, Poolside

Stories by Fredrick Kunkle, Washington Post Staff Writer | Photos by Carol Guzy - The Washington Post
Friendships Forged, Poolside
From right to left, Rosemary Bernier, Mary Stauss and Liz Smith. Ladies regularly come to Bernier's home in Tauxemont to swim. (Photo by Carol Guzy - The Washington Post)

At about 3 p.m. on a recent summer day, the timer sounded in Rosemary Bernier's kitchen. A loaf of fresh-baked bread was calling, and so were two long-time friends.

The loaf was a gift that Bernier was baking for a new neighbor in Tauxemont, one of the first suburbs in Fairfax County. The two friends were fellow Tauxemonters who have known Bernier for more than 40 years, and they arrived in bathrobes, towels slung over their shoulders, for their weekly swim.

Liz Smith, 82, was dressed in a blue-and-white pinstriped robe with flip-flops. Mary Stauss, 71, her sunglasses perched atop a lush head of gray hair pulled into a pony tail, was wrapped in a red robe with white seashells and starfish. She was shod in a pair of Crocs.

The weekly poolside gathering has been going on for decades. It is one of the reasons Smith has lived in Tauxemont for 51 years and why Stauss, who moved out of the close-knit neighborhood after 40 years, still lives nearby.

Their friendships were forged in the days when Tauxemont was known as a "pink" enclave because of its cooperative ethos and liberal political activism. They started a cooperative school for their children that still exists, and they held petition drives supporting desegregation and fair housing.

"The first thing I was asked when I moved in was how did I feel about segregation," Stauss said. But they also went caroling, threw cocktail parties and hosted formal sit-down dinners at each other's houses.

After 50 years of shared customs, their networks of friends, their book clubs, their semiannual Dutch dinners and even their conformity of political views--almost everyone in Tauxemont is a Democrat--have eased some of the difficulties that come with aging and made moving unthinkable. But that circle is growing smaller.

Years ago, the women said, it was not unusual to see several women standing in the narrow, winding street talking while their children ran through the woods. Back when their Wednesday swim at Robert and Rosemary Bernier's got going, there were more stay-at-home mothers and young children at poolside.

Now, they see fewer children and signs of children, such the basketball uprights on wheels in other suburban neighborhoods. None of the women thinks Tauxemont socializes as it once did, probably because families with two working parents do not have the time. They doubt that everyone's political views are as in sync as they once were.

"I'm not sure you'd get people walking door to door with a petition for fair housing," Smith said. "I don't think the younger generation does dinner parties like we do--where you get out all the dishes and so forth."

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