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Family keeps Mr. Peanut warm and festive

On a cozy corner near Washington and Main streets in downtown Suffolk, Mr. Peanut has been kept warm and in the Christmas spirit for many years thanks to the Asbell family.

Betty Asbell and her sister, Kathleen Wilson, started the tradition in 2003 with a simple wreath. Since then, more family members have gotten involved, and Mr. Peanut’s holiday décor has become more elaborate.

This year, the statue of the dapper legume, which has stood at Character Corner since 1991, sports a red scarf, a wreath embellished with poinsettia blooms, pinecones and other festive adornments, and a candy cane to go with his regular cane.

Asbell said she and her sister thought it was a shame that Mr. Peanut was left out of the downtown holiday decorating done by the city, so they took matters into their own hands back in 2003 and have continued the tradition ever since.

“That’s sort of like putting the star on the Christmas tree for me,” Asbell said. “That makes my Christmas complete.”

Her grandfather, Linwood Branch, worked at Planters Peanuts, Asbell said.

“We just always loved Mr. Peanut.”

About 11 years ago, Asbell’s grandchildren got in on the act. They were 8 and 10 then; they are 19 and 21 now, and the oldest’s husband now helps too.

“It just makes her so happy,” said Elizabeth Garnes, the older grandchild. “It kind of gets us in the Christmas spirit. It’s a tradition I’m glad that we have.”

Justin Asbell, the younger grandchild, says it’s always fun to do the decorating as a family.

“Every year, we add something new,” he said. “I like the part where it says ‘Character Corner’ and how we always take a picture under it. Every time we do it, my grandma does cry.”

JoAnn Asbell, Betty Asbell’s daughter-in-law and mother of Justin and Elizabeth, said the family hopes to continue the tradition for many years to come, even when Betty Asbell is no longer able.

“It’s a tradition that hopefully, if we stay in Suffolk, we’ll continue to do even when she’s gone,” JoAnn Asbell said. “This has been her dream that we all get together and, if the city doesn’t do it, we’re going to do it.”

Barry Asbell, Betty Asbell’s son, said it’s fun to see what his mom will come up with each year.

“Something’s different about it every year,” he said. “She’ll come over here with a new wreath, and it’s fun to help her do it. It really touches her.”