By Roger L. Vance
For many of us, summertime is the season for family reunions. Mine has gone on without interruption for 61 years, with the first 40 or so at my grandparent’s modest farmhouse, “the old home place,” nestled in a hollow in southeastern West Virginia’s steep mountains.
The time spent there as a child with my extended family left indelible impressions and warm and vivid memories that have lasted a lifetime. The reunion was typically the capstone to a longer stay full of adventures on the densely wooded mountainside, long magical nights of endless stars and the carefree joy of being held in the loving embrace of family. It is a setting of comfort and simple goodness against which for me all other places are measured.
With the passing of my grandparents and the ultimate sale of the home place out of the family, the annual reunion was moved to a nearby park. While still a great pleasure, without the “place” that provided the bond of shared experience for multiple generations, something irreplaceable was lost, forever. Indeed, that simple but magical place had provided context and connectivity to those from whom we came and those who had shared our experiences on that ground. No matter that grandchildren and great grandchildren had scattered far and wide, we all knew where “home” was—and why it was.
Most of us have similar special places or pieces of ground that can transport us back in time, fill us with fond memories and connect us with our personal past. And mine is not an uncommon story where the familial gathering place or touchstone is no more and, with that, its innate ability to connect and bond across generations is lost. We yearn to recapture and share the sense of the place that served as the backdrop to our lives and the people who shaped us.
Communities, even very diverse ones, are much like big families. Though not bound by blood, the best ones are bound together by shared interests, experiences and places that provide them with context and connectivity, among themselves and with their shared history.
Within a family, it can be difficult and complicated to maintain the ownership of the ancestral home and the context for succeeding generations. However, within communities there often is the capacity and a collective desire to maintain places and settings that provide context and link the present to the past. It can still be complicated however, as competing interests and pressure to change or grow can overwhelm.
The Loudoun community is rapidly approaching a crossroads where the preservation of remaining remnants of its historic connectivity is on a collision course with the pressure to grow and replace the old with the new. For decades, important places have been unalterably transformed in such a way as to lose their relationship to and with their past. This comes with not only a nostalgic cost for those who know the past, but it wipes away the rich identity and sense of place that can be conveyed to and enrich succeeding generations.
Look around you as you travel to your special places in Loudoun—or anywhere—and imagine what it would be like without it. While change is in itself an inevitable fact of life, that does not mean we must simply yield or are powerless to shape its form or direction. We can choose to take action to preserve.
The debate on Loudoun’s future that will unfold in the next year will set the course for decades to come. Make no mistake; what remains of the county’s rich heritage and the opportunity for us to share it, for our progeny to know it and experience it, hangs in the balance. Those special places and vistas that give us our collective context and connectivity will survive only if we insist on strong and affirmative polices, followed by bold leadership and bold action that will make their permanent conservation a viable proposition for those that hold them.
Now is the time to act to ensure that our future is not one in which we can only yearn for those special places that are no more.
[Roger L. Vance is the mayor of Hillsboro. His column appears monthly.]