Feeling Your Roots

Feeling Your Roots

Local family spans four generations.

Not everyone is so lucky to have four generations in their family, but the Ashleys of Vienna span 87 years from the oldest to the youngest. Great-grandson Daniel Blackburn is 2 ½ years old, while great-grandmother Margaret "Peggy" Childers recently admitted during her last birthday that she was 90.

But that age difference makes no difference to Danny, who insists that whenever he comes to his grandmother's and great-grandmother's house, he first must have his great-grandmother read to him his favorite book before he does anything else.

"It's fun. It never bothers me at all," said Childers, referring to her age. "I'm crazy about the kids."

The Ashley clan gets together during all the major holidays. Beverly Ashley, Childer's daughter, has three children living in northern Virginia-- in Fairfax, Vienna and Purcellville. Although sharing stories comparing how each generation grew up doesn't occur very often, each generation knows a story or two about how their parent may have lived.

"It's kinda cool, because there's a lot of history, and you really feel your roots," said Fairfax resident Gay Ashley, on being part of a four-generation family. She had heard that her grandmother was born in a covered wagon in Colorado, and that her family, originally from Kansas City, was heavily involved in the railroads. Her grandfather was president of the switchmans' local.

Gay's mother, Beverly Ashley, remembers one Christmas Eve when she was whisked away to her grandmother's room while her parents left the house. Beverly Ashley was confused, because it was their tradition to open their presents on Christmas Eve because Daddy would have to work for the railroad on Christmas Day.

When her parents came back, Beverly Ashley had a baby brother.

"I had prayed for a baby brother for Christmas, and lo and behold, I got him," said Beverly Ashley, joking that since then, she has never prayed for anything else for Christmas.

The family's dream several years ago was to find 15 acres so each family could build a house next to each other, with one big barbecue area in the back for everyone. But with the children's jobs in different places throughout the region and with no affordable acreage in sight, they couldn't find a central location that could suit everyone.

"We never could find 15 acres that looked plausible," Beverly Ashley said.

Yet despite that, the Ashleys still enjoy getting together. Beverly Ashley's daughter, Sharilyn Blackburn, lives three blocks away, and Ashley and Childers see Blackburn's children several times a week. Ashley's son, Mark, lives in Purcellville, and sometimes they'll go on trips with his family.

For Mothers' Day, each of Ashley's adult children takes Ashley and Childers out for a meal. One takes them out for breakfast, another for lunch, and another for dinner.

"That's the handy part of having three children," Beverly Ashley joked.

And once a year, the whole family, including those flying in from out of town, will descend upon northern Virginia and celebrate with all four generations.

"It's nice having everybody together and sharing the time," Gay Ashley said.