Today is a bright moment for James Napper. As many Americans join their families at the Thanksgiving table, Napper and his family -- his children and as many as 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren -- expect to be giving thanks and hearty best wishes on Napper's 100th birthday.
Napper was born in Fauquier County, "around the time (President) Garfield was elected." He now lives near Aldie, a small community on the south-central edge of Loudoun County. Nearly 20 years ago, glaucoma began to dim the light in Napper's large, brown eyes, and he now is blind. But that has not disturbed his sense of humor or his still boyish smile.
Watch the grin spread across his face when he tells of the times his farmer's hands led a six-horse team through the fields of rural Virginia.
Ask about the days his fingers flew across his fiddle, and the smile seems to start around his eyes.
In the "old days," Napper would have picked up his left-handed fiddle and joined his sons in "makin' a song" to celebrate this special Thanksgiving. But he gave up the fiddle a few years ago, and life in this part of Loudoun County, whre Naper lives with his son Frank, 62, and daughter-in-law Marie, 45, has quieted down.
"He doesn't ever complain and he is in perfect health except that his heart is enlarged," said Marie. She laughes as she recounted Napper's recent trip to a dentist to have a tooth pulled. "The dentist couldn't believe he still had teeth!"
Napper has spent a good deal of his life in Loudoun County, at the home of his son and daugher-in-law or at the family homestead down the road. Guests calling on the Nappers find a comfortable two-story home, with a wood-fired heater taking the edge off the autumn chill. A plate of cookies, fresh from the oven, is passed to visitors.
Napper began farming when he was 11 years old and didn't stop until he was 80 and had lost his sight. Of his 12 children -- seven sons and five daughters -- three sons and two daughters are still living.
Napper is a humble man who speaks openly of his fears. Despite being raised in the country, he has never gone fishing. "I'm afraid of the water."
Later, he talked about refusing to get into a boat with some hunting buddies. Why is he afraid of water? "I don't want to drown," he said.
His other great fear is bees, which is why he doesn't really like to sit outside when the weather gets warm. He can hear the bees buzzing, but he can't see them and is afraid somebody might hit him while trying to kill a bee.
Napper's opinions about life were formed in what was almost another world to modern Americans. He can recall his father telling him about his grandparents, who were slaves in Gum Springs. "Some of the stories were sad and some were good, yessir, some were happy," he said.
His father also told him about the Civil War, and one battle that filled the air with the sounds of guns and cannons "for three days without stoppin.'"
He has lived through two world wars and the assasinations of three presidents -- Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy.
He recalled people having a tough time in the Depression. "But it didn't hurt me none.I got plenty of clabber."
He has watched the dawn of automobiles, airplanes and spaceships. He doesn't hold the car in the highest esteem and he thinks man "might be outside his limit while flying'. Don't you?"
For the last few years, Napper has spent much of his day sitting in a bathrobe, listening to the radio. He likes to reminisce about the old days, although daughter-in-law Marie says he seems to have slowed down this fall.
Looking back, Napper said the saddest days of his life were those "when some of the folks died.Yessir, those were the saddest days."
Marie then mentions that his wife died in 1956, the same day Marie gave birth to her sixth and last child.
When asked about the happiest of times, he paused and turned his head from side to side before replying, "I don't know how to answer that." But a little while later he confessed his passion for "coon huntin'."
Carrying a .38-caliber pistol and a double-barreled shotgun, he would go after raccoon frequently, often at night and alone.
He liked to recall his hunting dogs -- Rover, Leda and "a kennelful of others."
To this day, raccoon is his favorite dish, although that delicacy won't be on the Thanksgiving menu. "I'd rather have coon than chicken, but you can't hardly get any," he said, adding that "it tastes even better than beef." Napper's other love is music, handed down to him from his father, which Napper, in turn, has passed to his sons. Some weekends, recalls Napper's daughter, 65-year-old Luvina Brown, the farm would come alive with blue grass favorites as friends would gather for music and dancing.
On this afternoon, music filled the air once more. Napper invites his son Frank to pick up his harmonica and guitar.Frank hooks the mouth organ around his neck and taps his foot on the wooden floor. The melancholy notes of the "Tennessee Waltz" flow across the room. Then, they both laugh when Frank mentions an old favorite, "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad."
Longevity in life, according to Napper, comes from "bein' made out of good material and thankin' the Lord. Yessir, I thank Him every night and thank Him every morning when I get up."
But he also has thought about dying. "No use to be afraid," he said.
It's kind of like a verse from one of the old songs, Napper says: "They all got to bottle up and go."