A farewell to Coleman’s

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 11, 2003

This holiday season, I find myself particularly sad as an important tradition in my life comes to an end. After 60 years in business – 45 by the same owner – Coleman’s Nursery will close its doors, ending a lifetime holiday tradition for my family and the rest of Hampton Roads: its renown Christmas Wonderland.

As the daughter and granddaughter of Churchland natives, I have made a trip to Hampton Roads every year of my life to enjoy Coleman’s Christmas Wonderland. In fact, one of the best points about moving to Suffolk permanently was the close proximity in which we would live to Coleman’s. Every Thanksgiving, and most every Christmas too, we have always been one of the first families to see the latest additions to the enchanting display.

I can recall when each new exhibit was added to the Coleman’s line-up. I even remember most holiday outfits I wore, my favorite being a navy velvet dress with a creamy white sash tie. I was 6 or 7 when I wore that dress – the same year that the new elves were added to the Santa’s Workshop. I remember thinking they were incredibly spectacular and I had begged my mom all the back to Richmond to stop one more time to see the elves.

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Year after year, I remain enamored with the animated elves, reindeer and trains. But there is one display I have loved since I was a small girl. Even now, the moment I arrive at the nursery, I always seek it out my favorite scene: Santa snoring loudly and peacefully in his bed, while his elves and faithful dog watchfully wait for the stroke of midnight (the time their official Christmas sleigh ride can begin).

As Santa snores, a feather gently floats up and down atop his nose. Watching this always makes me giggle. There are many displays with more fanciful characters, brighter lights and music. But this is, and will always remain, my favorite.

On New Year’s Eve 1982, a fire struck Coleman’s, and much of the original dcor was destroyed. However, replacements were purchased, among them my favorite &uot;snoring Santa&uot; – unfortunately, minus the floating feather.

Regardless of your faith, it seems every family has certain holiday traditions to which they look forward. My family, not unlike most, has many traditions we re-create each holiday season but the trip to Coleman’s is by far the most important on the list. This year, when I make my last visit before the end of the holiday season, I am certain a few tears will fall.

Perhaps for many, a trip to Coleman’s is merely about celebrating the holiday season. But it’s much more for me. As a child, my excitement started to build around Halloween and did not end until my return to school in January.

Coleman’s was really just a precursor for all the holiday fun that was to come.

Coleman’s is a tradition, one that has lasted decades. I find it sad we are losing such a rich part of our culture, a little piece of something that has made Hampton Roads great.

Perhaps &uot;tradition&uot; is un-cool these days. But with the loss of a great community institution like Coleman’s, perhaps it will inspire folks to reflect on the customs that are important in their own family heritage.

Though I know change is inevitable, certain things are better left untouched.

To me, Coleman’s is one of those things that should live on forever, and in my heart it will.

I would love to see someone will buy the Coleman’s Christmas Wonderland display and keep it in the Hampton Roads area. In fact, I hope Mr. Floyd Twilford (the owner of Coleman’s Nursery) can find some creative way to mandate such a request as a part of its sale. In fact, I wish one of the local municipalities would find a way to purchase the dcor and display it each year, in an effort to keep the Colman’s tradition alive for all families around Hampton Roads.

When asking Mr. Twilford (affectionately known by his employees as &uot;Mr. T&uot;) how he felt about a new library standing in the place of his Wonderland, he simply replied, &uot;That’s what life is…change.&uot;

After owning Coleman’s Nursery for 45 years and working it every day, at 75, &uot;Mr. T&uot; tells me he is ready for retirement. But, he too hopes someone local will purchase the display and keep the Coleman’s tradition alive.

Finally, to &uot;Mr. T&uot;, I thank you, your family and your employees for bringing 31 years of holiday magic to my life and the lives of my family.

Moreover, I wish you a very happy retirement and hope you find fulfillment in many new adventures yet to come. But most if all, I thank you for making memories, honoring families, and supporting your community for over four decades.

When the day comes that you pack up the snoozing St. Nick and his loyal sidekicks and close up your doors for the last time, if invited, I will bring the Kleenex.

Rebecca Hill is the advertising director and a regular columnist for the News-Herald. She can be contacted at 934-9601 or rebecca.hill@suffolknewsherald.com