Those of us who came to Washington from somewhere else are forever searching for something to latch onto, something that will make us feel like we belong. Some folks find a place to worship or a softball team, a bar or a bookshop to call their own. Those of us who get the Leaves magazine in the mail don't even have to go outside.
The Leaves -- delivered free of charge to 23,000 houses in Montgomery, Northwest D.C. and a few select sections of Northern Virginia -- is little more than announcements of weddings, graduations, achievements and events, along with real estate ads from the W.C. & A.N. Miller Cos., the magazine's publisher. The photos are black-and-white studio portraits. The articles have a remarkable sameness; only the names and places vary. I read it cover to cover.
I devour every issue of the Leaves not merely because it is instant community, but also because it is a community that is distinctly and definitively not mine. It is the bimonthly journal of the people I will never be.
To read the Leaves is to ascend to a fantasy world in which the women all have firm jaws, perfect teeth and a single, delicate string of pearls that whispers of a wealth that need not be displayed. Here, the women are named Hunter and Prentiss, the men Sayre and Carter. Not long ago, there was an article about a marriage between a Cooper and a Hayes, first names both. I had to read five sentences in to figure out which was the bride.
For 70 years, the Leaves has been a community bulletin board for a certain set. These are women who still make their debuts at cotillion balls, men who prep at St. Mark's, attend Denison or Skidmore and then join their fathers' firms. These are people who wed in Swiss villages in the presence of a church full of people with Roman numerals attached to their names.
"After the ceremony," an account of one wedding reads, "the bride and groom led their guests over cobblestoned streets from the 9th-century church to the Chateau d'Aigle, where a reception was held." Fabulous.
And when they come together for group photos, the results are virtually indistinguishable from the portraits of their parents' nuptials, or their grandparents'. The faces shimmer with the light of a well-set course -- a confidence, a sense of control.
People in lots of neighborhoods get the Leaves -- people who live in houses built by the Miller Cos., people who live near those developments and people who live in places where Miller's sales force is active. But most of the folks who send announcements in -- the people who feel that this is somehow their publication -- live in a few well-to-do sections: Spring Valley and Wesley Heights in the District, Kenwood and Chevy Chase in Montgomery.
"The older residents would see the announcements and they'd say, oh, he used to mow our lawn or she used to baby-sit," says Marta Dunetz, who edited the Leaves from her house for 21 years until she retired recently. "That's the kind of continuity that makes an area like Washington more intimate."
"The community would absolutely die if we quit publishing this," says Ted Miller, president of the Miller Cos., which most years makes no money off the magazine. "It's a labor of love. And it has a quality to it. In the outlying suburbs, you have a more transient feel. But in the communities we serve, people really do know each other. And if they're new, they want to feel like they're part of something."
Exactly. I don't know a soul whose story has been told in the Leaves. But I feel weirdly uplifted just by glancing at the pictures. Do I read it with jealousy? Of course. And with a smidgen of resentment? No doubt. But with admiration, too? Absolutely.
And now, as with virtually all things quirky, heartfelt and true these days, they're fixing to ruin the Leaves. Miller has a new marketing chief, a woman named Karen Krupsaw, who wants, in the manner of marketing folks, "to expand the magazine and reflect a broader group. The publication needs to change as our neighborhoods have changed and broadened."
Which is to say there'll be color photos and snazzy layouts and a consultant who writes articles and, most devastating, an attempt to reach out to Gaithersburg and North Bethesda and American University Park and other places where people live who did not attend the most proper schools and summer in the right places.
And when they're finished making it better, the Leaves will no longer be about the woman from Spring Valley who marries a man whose father is "Mr. Ethan Emery of Seven Hundred Acre Island, Maine." Brides will no longer be attended by four classmates from the Potomac School and six from Phillips Exeter Academy.
And a community -- however self-obsessed, however removed from the rest of our lives it may be -- will lose a voice. And the rest of us will lose a chance to chuckle, to wonder, to marvel.
Marc Fisher's e-mail address is email@example.com.