A Family Monument


In the U.S. capital, a bike ride around town offers history lessons and more

Washington, D.C. is a city of monuments. Every building seems to have historical significance. Statues and memorials are so abundant that it becomes difficult to keep track of them all. And yet there are places in the city that, like the men or events or ideals that inspired their edification, can never be forgotten. Places like the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the Supreme Court Building, the White House, the Smithsonian Castle, the museums and galleries, and more.

For Americans, a drive through Washington is at once a lesson in history and in patriotism. For thousands of tourists from other lands, Washington fosters a kinship that increases respect for a great nation and initiates memories that may last a lifetime.

But especially for those who live near the capital, a sightseeing visit to the downtown area is a feast. Often those who dwell in the suburbs forget the heritage that lingers nearby. Rushing on business, hustling off to school, or becoming involved in their smaller residential areas, many Washingtonians neglect the legacy in their own backyards.

But not the Fairbanks family.

The Fairbanks live in Bethesda, Maryland, just a stone’s throw from downtown Washington D.C. And the Fairbanks love to ride bicycles. As a family, they have benefited from the exercise and recreation cycling has given them. But they have also found their bikes to be a key means of access to the city. “There’s a bike path all the way into town,” explained 18-year-old David, the oldest son. “It follows the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal route along the banks of the Potomac River, down into Georgetown, and eventually out onto the Mall.” (The Mall is the large, grass-covered rectangle running two miles from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol.)

From Bethesda, the route is mostly downhill, shady, and picturesque. “We’ll ride into town sometimes for exercise or fun, and then mom will come pick us in the station wagon,” Lisa, 16, added. “But if she can’t come, then we have to ride uphill all the way home.”

Sometimes the entire crew (half a dozen in all) makes a Saturday excursion to the landmarks in town. “I remember dad showing us the statue of Abraham Lincoln and telling us how he fought against slavery,” eight-year-old Galen said.

“Do you remember how many times you wanted to stop for ice cream on the way there?” Jeff, who is 14, kidded him. Washington in summer is a humid, sweltering steambath, and bicyclists soon learn to carry water with them or to stop at concession stands that line the Mall.

“A lot of times we’ll stop at a fountain or a pool to cool off, too,” Lisa said. There are fans of water outside the National Art Museum that mist the air with chilled vapor, and the Reflection Pool down the hill from the Washington Monument offers another site where the sun-soaked cyclists can escape the heat.

On special occasions some of the family members may take a few minutes out from a pedaling excursion to ride the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument. From the observation deck of the 555-foot pillar, it’s possible on a clear day to see all the way to Kensington, Maryland, where the Washington Temple raises its spires in solitude through the trees. “Lots of people know where the temple is,” Jeff said. “It’s really becoming a landmark, too. A lot of people have found out about the Church because of the missionary work members have done inviting people to the visitors’ center.

“The temple symbolizes a lot of things to me,” David said. “The way it rises out ot the woods reminds me of the goals the gospel puts into our lives, things like going on a mission. A goal like that towers over things that might seem important without the influence of the Church.”

The Church plays a major role in the family’s life. They are members of the Chevy Chase Ward, Washington D.C. Stake, where Jeff is teachers quorum secretary; Lisa (the only Laurel in the ward) was recently released from the Mia Maid presidency; David works regularly with the full-time missionaries; and Galen is a sterling Sunday School student. Both Brother and Sister Fairbanks are active in Church callings as well.

But Church involvement doesn’t stop when the Fairbanks step out the chapel door. They are a missionary family that doesn’t cease sharing the gospel. One of their primary means for so doing is the Fairbanks Family Band, a bluegrass ensemble that includes everyone from Galen on up.

“We’ve performed for other churches’ social gatherings, for community family weeks, even for a program honoring the family that was held in the President’s Park just behind the White House,” Brother Fairbanks explained. “We got a thank-you certificate from the President for that show.”

“We feel it’s our way of doing some missionary work,” Sister Fairbanks joined in. “We always make it a point to tell our audiences how important families are and we explain about the family home evening program of the Church.”

When the Fairbanks aren’t cycling or playing music, you can still usually find them together. When David graduated from high school, his friends came over for a celebration dinner. Brother Fairbanks served as waiter, and the rest of the family helped prepare the meal.

Our friends always want come visit us at home,” Lisa said. “It’s probably because we make them part of the family when they come.” It might also be because of the ice cream everyone’s helping to churn on the back porch, or the fresh rolls Lisa and her mother just pulled from the oven, or because of the friendly warmth that pervades the entire household. Even when they chop wood or do housework, the Fairbanks do it together.

In a city full of monuments, they are building a living monument that shines—a family full of love.

[photos] Photos by Richard M. Romney

[photos] Clockwise from left: Brother Fairbanks and Lisa cool off inside the Lincoln Memorial; the Washington Monument towers over the Mall; a flag adds a patriotic touch to Georgetown’s townhouses; Dad and Galen fix a chain; National Art Gallery windows reflect the Capitol’s image; and the Washington Monument peeks through Smithsonian Castle towers

[photo] A visit to the Lincoln Memorial provides an excellent opportunity for a family discussion about patriotism

[photos] Top to bottom: The Fairbanks pause to enjoy scenery along the Mall; the capital stretches out toward Kensington, Maryland, site of the Washington Temple; weary cyclists refresh their feet in the Reflecting Pool