Fredericksburg Features

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Love, respect grew on Caroline farm



A FEW YEARS AGO, a county official commented on the family background of reporters.

I was covering a King George County Board of Supervisors meeting, and there was a break between sessions. People were eating subs and talking about this and that when I said something about my mother.

County Attorney Matt Britton looked up from his meal and said, “Mother? I thought reporters were raised by wolves.”

I’m guessing he was joking, although you never can tell with lawyers.

But I get the point he was trying to make: Reporters are supposed to be detached, separate from those we cover. We’re not expected to show any kind

of emotion or human expression. To some people, I guess that makes us little more than animals that bay at the moon.

Well, I have to say my professional detachment went out the window this week as I sat in a Richmond hospital.

In bed nearby—and I won’t say “deathbed” because you never know what may happen in life—was a man I first wrote about more than a decade ago.

In May 2001, the newspaper published a five-part series called “A Thousand Acres,” after photographer Joe Amon and I spent a year with the Colemans of Caroline County.

The patriarch of the group was Wickham Coleman, a retired agricultural teacher and adviser who had guided several generations of blue-eyed Colemans through the same process of raising black Angus that he’d experienced as a child.

He was the one whose bedside I visited this week, and seeing him brought back memories of the year we spent on the farm.

We visited Penola Road during corn picking and planting, when kids chose the calves they’d raise for the year and when they gathered around the table of Wickham’s wife, Doris, to share the bounty of the harvest.

I could say that this week I was chronicling yet another season in Mr. Coleman’s life, but my reason for being there was way more personal.

The Colemans have become like family—and I don’t use that term loosely.

My job requires a lot of talking and initiating conversations with strangers, and while I enjoy meeting people, it can be tiring.

By the end of the day, I don’t want to socialize with anyone besides my family.

Beyond relatives and co-workers, I can honestly say I don’t know many people well enough to visit their hospital bed in what may be their final hours.

But the Colemans are different. We’ve kept in touch regularly since the stories were published and have shared the happy and sad moments of each other’s lives.

Doris and Wickham sent gifts after the births of each of my three grandchildren, as well as flowers at Christmas and on special occasions.

They celebrated their 50th anniversary a year or two after my parents marked theirs. I dug out the cross-stitch pattern I used to make a “50” in gold-colored thread for Mom and Dad, along with their names and wedding date—and did the same for the Colemans.

When the Colemans’ son called Wednesday morning to say Mr. Coleman wasn’t doing well—and that he just wanted me to know—I knew where I needed to be.

I wish I could report that I maintained my composure and that I was the detached journalist some aspire to be.

But I can’t—and Doris understood. She knew that seeing Mr. Coleman in that state, watching each deep, ragged breath he took, was painfully similar to seeing what my Dad experienced before he died, a little over a year ago.

It broke her heart to see the man she’s loved and lived with for almost 60 years suffer so much. Through it all, she said, he’s still the kindest, most good-hearted person she’s ever met.

I’m blessed I had the honor of meeting him—and his dear family.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425