Best Christmas gifts often are not under tree

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Christmas is a magical time, when children scamper out of bed to see what Santa left for them under the tree and families gather to enjoy Christmas traditions together, including sharing favorite holiday memories.

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Chelsea Rule shows off the engagement ring she received from her then-boyfriend, Caleb Rule.  SPECIAL
Chelsea Rule shows off the engagement ring she received from her then-boyfriend, Caleb Rule.

Four readers shared with The Augusta Chronicle the best Christmas present they’ve ever received, and some can’t be bought in a store.

Marriage proposal

For Chelsea Rule, the best Christmas ever was a marriage proposal from her then-boyfriend Caleb Rule.

It happened on Dec. 1, 2012, exactly eight months after the couple began dating.

For four months, he had been leaving her little clues, usually various shapes on a piece of paper.

“Usually a straight or curved line, and a couple of triangles,” she said. “He’d send them to me on cute postcards or in a sweet letter he’d tape to my windshield while I was at work.”

The day started with a shared latte at Starbucks and a reading for a Bible study, followed by a round of disc golf, reminding her of their first date. He led her down a trail to the Savannah River, where they talked, skipped stones and snapped some pictures.

He pulled a plastic bag filled with pieces of paper out of his pocket and told her it was her last clue. She sat on the riverbank fitting the pieces of paper together like a jigsaw puzzle, while her boyfriend snuck a camera out of his backpack and set it to take a video.

“I finished the puzzle, which was a heart with a circle around it,” Rule said. “At first, I didn’t understand, but then I realized the circle was actually a ring. Before I had a chance to react, he was kneeling by my side with a green box from Windsor in his hands.”

The couple wed April 27.

Dad’s diligence

When Kristen Hair was about 4 years old, all she wanted for Christmas was a yellow nightgown.

Her mother tried in vain to find one, combing the stores for the one thing that would make her daughter’s Christmas merry.

On Christmas Eve 1969, Hair’s father, Frank Rinck, returned from serving in Vietnam.

“She told him that all of Christmas was done except for that nightgown,” Hair recalled.

Her father left the house and didn’t come home until he found a yellow nightgown, right before the stores closed – an old fashioned, cotton gown with a ruffled hem, long sleeves and buttons at the throat.

“I was the happiest little girl in the world,” Hair said.

And ever since, she has worn a yellow nightgown.

“I guess because it stuck in my head about what my dad did,” she said.

Gift of hope

Jennie McRae’s best Christmas present was hope.

It was in short supply for her through most of 1998. Her son, Robbie Cul­breath, had been diagnosed in 1995 with leukemia. He was 26 years old at the time.

With no insurance, Culbreath’s family found themselves facing two obstacles, finding a bone marrow donor and finding a way to pay for it, she said.

“Several of us went in different directions,” McRae said. “Everyone was focusing on money. I was focused on a donor. That was the only way I was going to keep him alive.”

She threw herself into finding a bone marrow donor and organizing blood drives.

Then, in December 1997, the family received a call from Emory University that a donor had been found. Culbreath underwent a successful bone marrow transplant in early 1998.

Soon afterward, however, he contracted a fungal infection and died in June that year.

Still, McRae said the bone marrow transplant for her son was her best Christmas present.

“It was the best present we could have because I had hope that he was going to live,” McRae said.

Rare Barbie

A Holiday Barbie was Wendy Deaner’s best Christmas present. An avid collector even as a teenager, she had resigned herself to not having her Holiday Barbie in 1993.

“Back then they were very hard to come by,” she said. “People were fighting over them.”

What she didn’t know was that her brother had met a truck driver from Canada, who found a Holiday Barbie there. Deaner, who said she nearly always knows what she’s getting for Christmas, was stunned when she opened her Barbie that Christmas morning.

“It was like shock. I just cried and cried,” she said. “That was a big surprise. It was just something that I always remember.”