By the winter of 1982, Dorothy Francis had the feeling that her life on Quarter Charge Drive had run its course. She had a chronic heart condition, her husband's health was fragile and the three-bedroom colonial hardly made sense anymore with their daughters grown and gone. Their oldest kept telling them to come to Florida, and finally they decided. It was time to go.
So they packed up the Mercury, packed up the cat and two dogs, the foam pillow and little baggies of snacks their neighbors had given them for the road. They pulled out onto the wide and shaded Fairfax County street where they had lived for 20 years -- where they had raised children and shoveled snow through the Vietnam years, through the Nixon years and otherwise shared enough quiet confidences that, as they drove south on Interstate 95, Dorothy Francis began to cry.
"I cried all the way to Richmond," she recalled. "It was hard to leave. It was very hard to leave."
The Canzanellis left, too, the Henrys a year later, and most other original owners sold their ranches and split-levels to younger families who so often reminded them of themselves.
Over the years, the old friends managed to stay in touch through Christmas cards, hospital visits or, more recently, a summer vacation at the Henrys' in Ocean City, where they came up with the idea for the reunion. They decided it would be open to all past and present residents of Quarter Charge Drive, a short street of about 25 houses just off Little River Turnpike and beyond the Capital Beltway.
To their surprise, about 150 people -- some who had moved just a few miles away, others who had gone as far as Alaska -- expressed interest. And so, despite the rain, the gathering unfolded late Saturday afternoon under white tents set up across Chris Chaisson's yard.
"Vini Parry!" Francis said, crossing the grass toward her old neighbor.
She had wondered what people would look like all these years later, and now she knew: Vini looked pretty much like Vini, only with a different haircut.
In fact, people realized as they ate hot dogs, sipped wine and remembered all the biggest snows and blurry, exhausted summers, what was remarkable about Quarter Charge Drive was this: In a region known for its demographic changes, for its transience and impermanence, everyone and everything about the place looked pretty much the same.
The brick and vinyl-sided houses on the street had changed little on the outside; their shutters were still maroon or orange-ish tan. Their residents had the same sorts of jobs as their predecessors, with the State Department or the military or some consulting firm.
The place still was mostly white, with a few other ethnicities sprinkled in, and still mostly upper-middle class. It seemed as diverse politically as it was when neighbors bit their tongues rather than argue about Nixon, Carter or OPEC. Current and former residents told similar stories of coming to Quarter Charge -- of being transferred to the area, of finding the street by chance but staying by choice once its particular alchemy took hold.
In some ways, only nature had transformed -- the thick oaks and maples were taller and fuller now, people noted. The seven-acre ramble behind the street, site of so many summer forts, buried trinkets and bottled messages cast into the mysterious current of the creek, was greener and more lush.
The street that had been an idea once, a thing penciled by a developer in 1965, now seemed settled, as if it had sunk a bit into the earth.
"It's not like the neighborhood has gone through a rebirth," said Laura Pether, one of Francis's daughters, who lives in Colorado. "It's not like it came back, because it never changed." She looked around. "This could've been 1973."
Indeed, here came Bill Henry in his seersucker shorts, with a story about his old neighbor, Rex Bull, a higher-up in the military who, in full khaki uniform and with stacks of ribbons on his chest, used to walk his little dog Daisy each morning, scooping up her business behind her.
"I'd get a laugh every morning seeing that," Henry said.
Here came Betty Boettcher, who had been agoraphobic for several years when she lived on Quarter Charge, and who wondered now, as she mingled with neighbors, whether she had ever thanked them quite enough for taking her kids to swim practice or getting her groceries.
The kids ran around and played air hockey in Chaisson's basement.
People clustered around a white plastic table, leafing through a book full of photos, of Bill Henry's 50th birthday, of little girls dressed like princesses, then in prom dresses, then in wedding gowns, all washed in a haze of 1970s yellow.
"I've done some international traveling," Vini Parry, formerly Vini Canzanelli, wrote on her family's page in the book, updating her life. "To Bermuda, England, France and Spain . . ."
One of her girls, Cindy Birch, had come from Fauquier County, where she lives with her husband and their two daughters.
She had not been back since her family left in 1982, when her father, Bill Canzanelli, learned he had only a year to live. Being back now, she said, she felt very much in a daze.
She had seen her old girlfriends earlier, the ones with whom she had sneaked out of windows in the summertime. They had all cried without saying a word. Now Ann Henry came up to say hello.
"I remember all of you!" she said and then told the story of how Birch's parents came to the neighborhood New Year's Eve party dressed to the nines, Bill in a tux and Vini in full gown, knowing it was his last. All the neighbors knew, Ann Henry said, and they did the party up big.
"My dad always looked through life with rose-colored glasses," Cindy said, smiling.
Kathleen Marvaso, another of Francis's daughters, recalled that when her mom was in the hospital, the Henrys would stop by and invite her and her sisters over for burgers, as if the thought had occurred to them at that moment.
"It came across as natural," she said. "But there was no doubt it was a deliberate effort."
There were many similar stories told Saturday and, as the rain fell harder, people wove them together like so many affirmations.
"It makes me feel connected," Boettcher said, looking around at some people she had not seen since she left in 1977.
People talked about the snows, and in particular the tradition of moving cars to the top of the hill just before a big one came so parents could get to work and kids could have the street free for sledding. They talked about the Christmases, how the big colored bulbs gave way to smaller white ones, and the year there were none during the oil embargo.
And as the reunion went on, people who had moved away met up with the people who now live in their houses and went on tours.
Francis said she felt like a ghost as she went through the rooms.
Penny Boettcher walked through her childhood home and found that the wallpaper had changed. So she looked behind a vanity in the bathroom and found a spot of the old gold-and-green pattern from 1965 and felt somehow reassured.
As she talked with the owner, Connie Bernhardt, they realized that Bernhardt takes Christmas-morning snapshots of her kids on the very same step that Boettcher's mom did every year for a decade.
"We do the same thing," Bernhardt said. "Then what we do is, my husband rings a bell so the kids know they can come down. What's your sign?" she asked, certain that Boettcher had a similar system, which she did.
"My father would turn the tree lights on," she said. "And we'd see the reflection."