There have been weddings and baptisms and holiday gatherings in the Terry family, but nothing quite to match the birthday party thrown Saturday afternoon to honor Edith Terry, the matriarch of the family.
The celebration, at the Days Inn in Crystal City, was in part a family reunion, attended by more than 100 family members, as well as many friends.
And at the center of the event sat Terry, who was crowned queen for a day by four generations of offspring and descendants, clad to the ankles in white and with a tiara in her hair.
"I think most people probably do something like this when a person's 100 years old, but I feel honored to have a mother who's 90," said Barbara Vaughan, 53, minister of Holy Light United Baptist Church in Manassas.
All of Terry's nine surviving children (three have died) were present to celebrate her nine decades of life. Like Terry, family members said they remain deeply rooted in Northern Virginia, primarily Manassas and Arlington County, where many of them settled.
But although they live near each other, Terry's family told her it took an extra-special event to get so many of the nine children, 42 grandchildren, 67 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren together in one room.
Celebrants ranged in age from Terry's uncle Jacob Robinson, at 92 just two years older than his niece, to a 2-month-old great-great-granddaughter, Shantelle Ferrell.
At times, the fete had the feel of a tent revival meeting, with an emphasis on the spirituality that has been a hallmark of Terry's life.
"At night," said Pauline Gray, 66, Terry's eldest daughter, "it's a pleasure to go by her door and listen to her reading Scripture before she goes to bed."
Terry, a lifelong member of First Baptist Church of Merrifield, has two daughters and several sons-in-law who have been ministers. Several other family members, as well as Terry herself, are church deacons.
"She's the unproclaimed mother of the church," said Lenwood Graham, 45, pastor of the 115-year-old Merrifield church. Terry's parents were among its original founders, he said.
At the birthday party, gospel medleys were sung in turn by various generations. Other family members sang Terry's praises without the benefit of musical accompaniment.
"She lives alone; she's in good health. And she gets around better than I do," said Vaughan, who added that Terry uses a cane and has lost some of her hearing but is otherwise in excellent health.
Indeed everyone, it seemed, had some word of admiration for a woman whose love and wisdom had touched many.
"I married into the family 15 years ago," said William Thompson, 36, a minister from the District, "but Edith Terry has been just like a grandmother to me. I'm treated just like one of the children."
Gray, a retired nurse's aide from Manassas, recalled the no-nonsense mothering of her growing-up years.
"She used to send us off every morning with a hot bowl of oatmeal," she said. "I do not like oatmeal to this day."
"This is my special friend," said daughter LaVassa Gibson, 58, a home health aide from Alexandria. "I still have to let my mama see if my hair is okay, if my dress is okay."
Marjorie Brown, 36, of Arlington, said she calls her grandmother every day "just to see how she's doing and to make sure that she doesn't "She gets around better than I do."
-- Barbara Vaughan, daughter
get so wrapped up in the soap operas that she forgets to eat."
And while family members were busy marveling at Terry's life and her vigor in old age, Terry was celebrating the abundance of youth that had gathered around her.
"I'm happy to see so many young people here," she said. "We have to train them from down here," she said, gesturing near the ground to explain her recipe for a happy, close-knit family, "not wait until they get to be teenagers."
Family members said she also keeps busy with handicrafts and with her work as president of the missionary society and other church activities.
Each branch of the family wore a different color symbolic of qualities they attributed to Terry.
"White is for the purity that I have seen in my mother's life," Barbara Vaughan said. "Gold is for the trials she's endured. Gold can be tried with fire."
Other children attending the event were: Alfred Terry, 46, an air-conditioning engineer from Herndon; Larry Terry, 49, a carpenter from Arlington; Etta Vaughan, 50, a minister from Fairfax; Aaron Terry, 56, of Arlington, a retired manager with Washington Gas Light Co; Ethel Summers, 60, a nurse from Arlington; and Everett Terry, 64, a retired federal government employee.
At the end of the four hours, it finally was Terry's turn. She told all of her children and grandchildren, "You're all my jewels, each one of you," before ending the afternoon's festivities with a poem she had memorized.
"Now, kind friends, it falls to me to speak a valedictory . . . .
I thank you for your presence here,
Your kindly smiles, your work, your cheer . . . .
And there's much more than words can tell.
So, thank you all; I say farewell."