Cherished Vacation Memories | Richmond Free Press

Vacation memories are created by family – whether it’s the family we were born into or the family we create through church, work, or social interactions.

May these reflections of treasured vacation memories, shared by five Richmond residents, bring you a renewed sense of joy and peace now and in the year to come.

Photos by Regina H. Boone/Richmond Free Press

Warmth of family, food and festivities

My fondest vacation memories are rooted in family reunions. Best of all was the Christmas tradition of our nuclear family traveling to Washington, DC, to visit my father’s favorite cousin, Ethel Crawford Ellison, and her husband, Dr. John Malcus Ellison Jr.

Our family started the tradition in the late 1970s at the request of cousin Ethel. After all, she and my father, Stafford A. Flowers, shared the “favorite cousin” status that began during their childhood. My father’s mother, Lily Clayton Flowers, was the oldest of the Clayton Girls (from Surry County), and cousin Ethel’s mother, Viola Clayton Crawford, was the youngest.

I remember the anticipation before heading to Washington via I-95. I loved going to the “big city” and seeing the national Christmas tree, the Christmas lights at the Willard Hotel, and the Garfinckel department store. The funniest part of the trip was seeing the street walkers in party attire on 14th Street, NW, Downtown DC My dad was saying, “Hey boy, see that!” My mother exclaimed: “Oh my stars! As a teenager, street activity was surprisingly educational.

Upon arriving at 1374 Tuckerman St., NW, my cousin Deborah opened the front door and exclaimed, “The Big Staff is here!” Shortly after, my cousin “Mac” was summoning my dad downstairs to his bar saying, “Looks like you need something for the ‘snakebite’ – (a colloquialism that referred to the eating of alcohol after being bitten by a snake for pain relief) I would follow in tow to hear them share some “great stories”.

A memorable story was the meeting of cousin Ethel and “Mac”. As a boy, my father had a newspaper route in Richmond, which included the campus of Virginia Union University, where Cousin “Mac’s” father, Dr. John Malcus Ellison, Sr., was president. My dad and “Mac” have become good friends. The two have stayed in touch over the years. One day my father said, “I want to introduce you to my pretty cousin. Cousin Mac shot back, “If she looks like you, I’d rather not meet her!”

As the streets of friendship and family met at the intersection of fate, the two married and raised three children in the nation’s capital.

The Christmas dinners on Tuckerman Street were legendary! A buffet of turkey, ham, roast beef, combined with macaroni and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, green beans and three-part “cook and serve” buns. For dessert, we were served a sweet potato pie, a pound cake, an assortment of ice creams and my father’s famous eggnog.

Precious memories of family, food and festivities still warm my heart.

Liza Mickens

Indulge in nostalgia

As the last leaves fall and the weather begins to change, the lights begin to twinkle and once again ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year’. Ever since I was little, I have cherished Christmas and the traditions that celebrate it. My family might say that I like traditions a little too much.

The nostalgia that Christmas traditions bring is the real magic of the holidays. I remember those Christmases past, waking up to my mother’s buns for breakfast and the Christmas I had a camcorder. I remember baking cookies and lemon squares for my family and friends and reminding myself “that’s what Faith Norrell would do”. I remember reading my mother’s 1951 copy of “The Night Before Christmas.” I remember the year we couldn’t find the book and I had to print my own version to read it.

Some of my earliest Christmas memories take me back to the land of the Sugar Plum Fairies and the Richmond Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. In 2007, I had the honor of being in the ballet as an angel. Every year we walked away with a new nutcracker for our nutcracker tree, one of four trees we planted. There was a traditional tall tree, the tree that sat on the bar covered in airplane bottles called “the Tipsy tree”. ornaments. I started my own tradition of hanging my tree upside down!

Every year after opening presents, we rewatch Christmas home videos, including the year my parents found out they were expecting me. Twenty-five years later, I’ve realized that the real gift has always been time spent with family, giving back to others, and reveling in nostalgia. Over the years, these traditions will continue to have a place in our family’s festivities as new ones carry on the legacy.

Claire Gastanaga

sense of magic

Christmas was a magical time for me and my younger brother.

My parents worked to preserve our belief in Santa Claus. In my earliest memories, we didn’t even have a tree when we went to bed on Christmas Eve after reading “The Night Before Christmas”, hanging our stockings by the fireplace and leaving cookies for the “old happy elf”.

Then we woke up the next morning to the product of my parents’ sleepless night – a glittering Christmas tree with old metal tinsel hanging strand by strand, red lights and red and silver baubles, a ladder train HO rolling on its way around the tree, newly assembled bikes and a myriad of other neatly wrapped and displayed treasures.

As we got older and went from a family of three children to a family of six, the traditions evolved. The children participated in the selection and decoration of the tree (including the boredom of hanging garlands strand by strand), and one by one we discovered that Santa Claus was a wonderful Christmas story rather than a person.

Some things have remained unchanged, while preserving that sense of magic – a tree with only red lights and red and silver baubles, stockings carefully hung by the fireplace, and readings from “The Night Before Christmas”, a preserved on an old recording with all of us reading for our grandmother.

Chelsea Higgs wise

Adventures to Remember

Two Decembers ago, Chloe and her perseverance of 6 years created a new tradition for our little family. I often travel for work and each time Chloe asks me: “Well, can I come? For a while, it was a monthly reinvention of how to say “Maybe next time, baby.” As a co-parent, I got creative with getting out of town without her knowing. But while she was at her dad’s house, she FaceTimed me and said, “Wait, Mom, where are you?”

In March 2020 the world was on lockdown and in this month of December everyone had cabin fever, not to mention Chloe was inquiring about Christmas. Finances were tight during the pandemic and it was time for this mom to pull out the holiday magic.

When I asked Chloe what she wanted for Christmas, she told me to take a trip. She even offered trade-offs such as using her school Chromebook for an hour each vacation day. My mom magic arranged a road trip for us to go to Nags Head, NC. It was cold and rainy, but Chloe didn’t care. The Airbnb, the trip and the experience lit up her heart which seemed to splash a permanent smile on her little cheeks. Then came Christmas morning. I waited for the moment to remind her of the beach, but it was my 6 year old daughter who was recounting the memories. She knew the real gift of the season was our quality time together.

Chloe’s enthusiasm prompted this mom to plan longer trips and warmer temperatures. In 2021 we traveled to Miami and I’m happy to report that for 2022 we just returned from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Our memories are actively evolving, and each year we plan to expand our December mother-daughter adventures to remember.

Give Smith

when dreams become true

My fondest holiday memory always reminds me of how important it is to help bring hope in any way possible during the holidays. I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and for many of those years my family didn’t have much.

I’m not embarrassed to say that we lived on public assistance most of my childhood. There was a year when I was 9 or 10 when things were particularly difficult and we had to move in with my grandmother.

This happened just before the holidays and so there was not much hope that either me or my brother would get much for Christmas.

He and I still spent a lot of time dreaming. We would spend hours browsing through a huge JCPenney holiday catalog, circling all the things we wanted for Christmas. We always made sure to put the right initials next to every item, and even put a few stars on some things we really wanted.

We didn’t have a Christmas tree until about two days before Christmas when a local store was offering Christmas trees for free.

My mom took us to the store, picked up the best tree we could find, and we took it home and had a lot of fun decorating it. While the decorating was fun, my mom made sure to remind us how difficult things were and that we might not get much for Christmas.

As a young child on Christmas Eve, I would always go to bed full of hope. Little did I know that on Christmas Eve my mother’s prayers were answered when she received a bag of toys especially for my brother and me from a local charity.

On Christmas morning, I woke up earlier than everyone. I woke up my little brother and told him we had to go downstairs and see if there was anything under the tree. We both ran and when we got there we saw two big black garbage bags under the tree with a tag with our names on them. We don’t care if they aren’t beautifully wrapped gifts. We were so happy to have something.

We tore up those trash bags and were so excited to see basketballs, soccer balls, books, clothes and other items. I probably got in trouble five times that day for dribbling my new basketball around the house! That Christmas our hope was filled with the kindness and generosity of others, and I will never forget that.

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