Most cherished holiday memories

12/21/2018, 6 a.m.
The memories we create during the holidays with family, friends and loved ones stick with us. The generous spirit of …
Poinsettia in the West End Photo by Sandra Sellars Richmond Free Press

The memories we create during the holidays with family, friends and loved ones stick with us. The generous spirit of love and compassion gives us hope for our collective future.

It is with that spirit that four Richmond area residents shared with the Free Press their most cherished holiday memories. We hope their reflections will bring joyful recollections of your own during this special season.


Thomasina T. Binga Retired community affairs specialist, Richmond Public Schools

Having grown up in North Carolina the youngest in a family of 11 children — six boys and five girls — one can imagine that there were a lot of silly, devilish things taking place constantly.

I was the brunt of many pranks because I was the youngest and the “apple” of my papa’s eye. Consequently, I was a constant target of my siblings.

Very early on, we had a family tradition that, daily, everyone would gather at the table for dinner and each sibling had their set time to give the blessing. But Christmas Day was the one time each year when we all gathered for breakfast, promptly at 7:30 a.m. No excuses were accepted. My papa had issued an edict that each person had to say what they were thankful for on Christmas and finish with a Bible verse.

Because I was not old enough at the time to read and find a Bible verse on my own, my brother, Andrew, took me under his wing and taught me what to say at our first celebration. For days leading up to Christmas, I was running behind him to get help with my words. My sister next to me was a nuisance because she did not want me to outdo her in what I was learning to say.

Finally, Christmas morning arrived. We were all seated around our large dining room table. Some were smiling and glancing around while others were looking at me, apparently waiting to see what the baby girl was going to say to please her papa.

After all the others had spoken, my papa said, “What is my baby child thankful for this Christmas?”

I stood up and said, “I am thankful for my Papa and my Mama and Jesus wept and Moses fell down the backdoor steps.”

Need I say more?


Scott Firestine Director, Richmond Public Library

At 14, I had an experience at Christmas that I have never forgotten.

To this day, whenever I lower an attic ladder, I am reminded of Christmas 1982.  That was the holiday season when I put my foot, and most of myself, through the ceiling of our two-car garage in Fort Wayne, Ind. 

The old, artificial Christmas tree was putting up a struggle as I attempted to force it down the opening of the attic. A misstep backward and down I went. Thankfully, I caught myself on a rafter so I didn’t get hurt or end up on top of my mom’s car. 

My mother was surprised and amused when she saw me hanging out of the ceiling. She was thankful I wasn’t hurt, but not pleased that the ceiling of the garage had a gaping hole in it. 

Mom helped me get the rest of our Christmas ornaments, tree and manger down from the attic. We would assemble the tree, hang ornaments, string garland and get our Christmas decorations just right.

Our winters in Indiana were often very dreary, cold and damp. The decorations and lights gave us all a lot of joy and cheer.

One of my favorite things at Christmas was our stockings. We had a fireplace and a mantle where we could hang them. It felt so good to see my stocking on the mantle next to my little brother’s and my mom’s stockings. The little presents we got in our stockings often pleased me more than the gifts under the tree. They were small treats, such as candy sweets, Chapstick, gadgets or simple necessities.

My single mom always did her best to make sure that my brother and I had a nice Christmas. She taught me that Christmas was about our family and the good times we made. We didn’t have lots of fancy gifts, but we would have a nice meal and spend Christmas Eve with my grandfather and grandma.

Those are times that will always be special and remain my most happy memories of Christmas.


J. Ron Fleming Actor and storyteller

I was fortunate to be raised by a loving mother, one who raised five children. And even with all of the challenges that being the nurturer of five little ones brings, she always found a way to bring a bit of joy into our lives.

One Christmas, I remember wanting a record player. My mother said that now that I had two sisters and a brother — our youngest sister was not yet born — it wouldn’t be possible for me to get what I’d asked for. I was quite disappointed.

On Christmas morning, I ran down the hall anyway to see the presents in the living room under the Christmas tree. I rose first. Being the oldest, of course it was my duty to look first.

When I got to the end of the long hallway, I had a moment that will always be indelible in my mind. I stood at the end of the hall for what, in my mind, seems like an hour. I stood there motionless, looking into the living room. I went back and forth in my mind: Was it? No it wasn’t. Yes it was. No it wasn’t. Yes it was!

I finally ran to the Christmas tree and fell on my knees right in front of, yes, my stereo, with a radio and tape player!

In retrospect as an adult, I’ve come to realize that much of life is finding the balance in our expectations and emotions. And although the holidays represent so much beyond the material, a parent who brings a smile to the face of their children and other young ones whenever they are able, will always be in the hands of the Creator.

I have such a mother. I also am blessed to have had two loving grandmothers who also gave of themselves to us all. My mother has supported me, not just materially, but emotionally, socially and spiritually at every turn. I could never return the care and love that she gave to us. But, I will try with my son.

Merry Christmas, mom. I love you to eternity.


Anthony “A.J.” Brewer Owner of Brewer’s Cafe

Christmas is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. And Christmas traditions, old and new, have always been what made the holidays especially warm and fun for my family and me. And it was my son, Parker’s, love for biking that led to the discovery of a new holiday tradition, one which my son and I will do for years to come.

Allow me to start at the beginning. In the summer of 2015, I was blessed with a beautiful baby boy. From the moment he was born, Parker was so full of energy and promise. I would spend most of my days playing with him and watching his curiosity for the world around him grow.

When Parker was 3 months old, I quit my job as a stockbroker. I was fortunate to be able to spend countless fun-filled hours with my little guy. When Parker was just a toddler, I introduced him to the world of biking. He seemed to have a natural affinity for riding bikes,even at such a young age. Noticing this talent, I knew I needed to invest in a strong, yet small and agile bike that he could easily maneuver. 

Having found the perfect fit, Parker and I spent most of the 2017 holiday season biking around the city, admiring the uniquely beautiful and charming neighborhoods that make up RVA.

One night as we rode, Parker beamed with total amazement as we passed the bright, colorful holiday lights that illuminated the city. It was that night that I thought how awesome it was to witness my son falling in love with Richmond the way I had. I also thought it was really cool that we discovered something that could be a new holiday tradition for us — light-seeing around the city on our bikes.

While biking with Parker brought me so much happiness, that particular Christmas was also very bittersweet. Parker was going to spend Christmas morning with me and the remainder of the day with his mother. We lived in separate households.

When we woke on Christmas morning, Parker opened gifts and then we spent a few hours working at our coffee shop, Brewer’s Café in Manchester. Parker loved greeting the folks in the neighborhood who came into the shop that day. Plus, he was so excited about me setting up his new candy stand in the shop.

Once the candy stand was up, we ate a good breakfast, and it was by all means a perfect Christmas morning. I didn’t want it to end. But the time was coming for him to go with his mom. So we headed back home to pack his bag.

Not being with my son for the rest of Christmas is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to get adjusted to. To say that Parker and I cried before he left is an understatement. I hugged my son and we wept as we said our goodbyes.

But then something really cool happened as I walked Parker to his mom’s car. He noticed his bike lying on the sidewalk. He stopped, wiped his tears and then looked up at me with the brightest smile ever and said, “Daddy, remember we rode our bikes and saw the lights?!” 

It was a moment I’ll never forget because, even though it hurt for him to leave, the joy on Parker’s face when he remembered our light-seeing expedition was the best Christmas present a man could ever ask for. Parker reminded me of the tradition he and I began together, one that was all our own.

There are a lot of people reading this who may have split households just like mine. I know how difficult it can be to adjust, especially around the holidays. But I hope this story reminds you, just like my son reminded me, to really stop and enjoy the moments you have with your family. Start new traditions. Make new holiday memories. Those are the gifts that truly matter and will last a lifetime.