Featured Sliders / HER Community / Lifestyle / Stories / November 16, 2021

CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER: Local women recount their most memorable gifts

Story by Anne E. Fisher
Photos by India Garrish

What makes a gift special? Whether it’s the giver, the thought behind the gift or the memories associated with it, some gifts hold a special place in our hearts years after ripping off the paper.

Crystal Miller

Crystal Miller

The Miller family began building a new house in March 2020 with the expectation they would be able to occupy it in November 2020. Of course, COVID-19 changed those plans. In the end, they didn’t move in until February.

However, Crystal and her husband promised their kids — Taylor, Bailey and Dylan, then 11, 6 and 3 — that they’d be able to spend Christmas at the new house. And the construction crew and family worked to make it happen.

While the house wasn’t complete by any means, Crystal said the builders made sure the house had flooring, windows, a working toilet and one working electric plug. They hooked up the fireplace on Christmas Eve.

She and her husband, Jason, snuck over to blow up the air mattresses and leave presents under the tree. Jason and Crystal’s dad, Charlie Bax, also put up a few lights on the front porch. After spending Christmas Eve with the Bax family, the Millers told their children they needed to “check on something” at the new house.

“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” Crystal said. “It was more for me, but then I saw their reactions. Their faces lit up. They were so excited that they got what we promised them. They were with us the whole building process, and it is more of ‘home’ because they were involved.”

The children had their own air mattresses with new pillows and blankets, the fire was roaring, and the family watched a Christmas movie as they went to bed beneath the twinkling lights of the tree.

The children liked sleeping next to the lighted tree so much, it might even become a new family tradition.

Adrian Heckman

Adrian Heckman

Adrian Heckman received her 2016 Christmas gift a week early.

Although she doesn’t like snow, she went trapping in the snow with her boyfriend of a little over a year, Curt.

When they arrived home, Curt started a fire in the wood stove and then surprised Adrian with an engagement ring, a princess cut diamond on a thin band.

“He was holding the ring, and he was hiding the diamond, so I thought he was lying,” Adrian said. “He always said he’d make my ring, but he picked it out by himself. I didn’t want anything over the top, and it’s very simple. He just kind of knew my style.”

Adrian said it was a special gift not just because of the meaning, but also because of the way Curt presented it, in the home he built for himself and eventually shared with her, which they’ll “probably live in for life.” 

“It was very genuine,” Adrian said. It was just for the two of them, and now, the ring is “something I get to see every day.”

Meghan Lane

Meghan Lane

When she was 11, Meghan Lane got one of those gifts that was a box inside of a box inside of a box, the kind you get when one box just isn’t enough pageantry for the gift inside.

When she finally got through the shrinking boxes and confetti, she found tickets to her first concert.

“My mom surprised me with tickets to the Backstreet Boys concert, my first concert ever,” Meghan said.

Meghan and her mom attended the concert, part of the Into The Millennium Tour, with her mom’s business partner and her daughter. Meghan’s best friend, also named Meghan, attended with a different group.

“I remember sitting there afterward, arguing with Meghan, that one of the band members made eye contact with me,” she said, although she admits now there is no way that actually happened. At the end of the concert, confetti or streamers fell from the ceiling and “I’m pretty sure I stuffed my pockets with it.”

Concert tickets were “something that was so different for me to get and something so big,” Meghan said. “I knew that Mom had put a lot of thought into it.”

Carrie Tergin

Carrie Tergin

Carrie Tergin had a difficult time narrowing down her favorite Christmas gift between a Hallmark ornament given to her when she was 4 and a little red rocking chair she received when she was 2.

The ornament, a small white Betsey Clark ball with pastel images, was a gift from her parents in 1976. It’s part of the first batch of ornaments from the year they opened Carrie’s Hallmark Shop, which they named after her. Carrie now owns the store herself.

“Every year, my mom puts up a tree filled to the brim with ornaments, and we think about what all the ornaments mean,” Carrie said. “It’s amazing how something as small as an ornament can make you think of something so big, like Christmas with the grandparents.”

The rocking chair from her grandparents evokes similar memories. 

“When my grandfather, Popou, would come home from work, I’d drag my little red rocking chair next to his chair and sit with him,” Carrie said. 

What makes the chair special now is that all of her siblings and nieces and nephews have enjoyed and still enjoy it as well.

“You would never think you’d still have it all these years later,” Carrie said. “You can’t replace all the memories it brings when you see that rocking chair.”

April Mertens

April Mertens

After two neck fusions, April Mertens wasn’t able to use her rifle anymore, which was disappointing for someone who has always loved to hunt and came from a family of hunters.

“I had been begging my husband for a crossbow for years,” April said. “Last year, my boys finally surprised me with one.”

One night during bow hunting season last year, her son Kody, now 23, had gone hunting and returned without his bow case. 

“He thought he had it in his truck and lost it out of the tailgate,” April said. 

When he was at the store to buy a replacement bow, he found out someone had responded to April’s Facebook post asking if anyone had found it. Rather than leave the store empty-handed, Kody and his brother, Kolin, decided to give April the bow she’d been asking for.

“I was folding clothes and they came in and asked me to come look right away,” April said. “They had the crossbow and all the things that went with it out on the kitchen table.”

In addition to the bow, the boys got a bow rest and a device that helps April pull the bow back so she doesn’t have to use her neck. 

While she hasn’t been able to take it out to hunt deer yet, she has been able to practice on a backyard target with her husband’s help.

“It’s the first time I’ve been surprised. They didn’t ask; they did it on their own.”

Bernie Houchens

Bernie Houchens

On Dec. 25, 2000, Bernie Houchens opened up a card during her family’s Christmas celebration. Inside the envelope was a get well card, not a Christmas greeting.

“I thought ‘What the heck, this makes no sense,’” Bernie said.

But the card made sense as soon as she saw what was included inside — a “certificate” for Lasik eye surgery on both eyes.

Bernie had worn thick, self-described “Coke-bottle” glasses for decades. Without them, she literally couldn’t see past her nose. She had been asking her eye doctor at every yearly exam if she was a candidate for corrective surgery. And every year, the doctor said she wasn’t.

Until 2000. That year, his response was to run some additional tests, and then he gave her the green light. He explained the procedure, along with the cost. When she got home, her excitement was tempered. She told her husband, Eddie, that it was too expensive and it wasn’t happening.

Eddie, however, had different plans. Over the next few months leading up to Christmas, he withdrew money from a savings account started with money left to Bernie by her father when he died. Eddie made an appointment for the surgery on Valentine’s Day 2001, and the doctor’s staff was sworn to secrecy until she opened her card.

“I went into surgery expecting to still wear glasses, but the doctor was able to do more than he thought,” Bernie said. “Once it was done, not only could I see, but I had 20/20 vision.”

In addition to her greatly improved vision, “I felt like I was seen,” Bernie said. “Now, people are seeing me, not those glasses. People treated me differently once I had the surgery, and I felt different.”

“Eddie got great joy giving it to me,” Bernie said. The couple both took off work the day after the surgery, and Bernie remembers that morning. 

“I woke up and said, ‘I can see you. I can see the curls in your hair.’ He was really happy to see how ecstatic I was.”

Bernie said this gift was truly life-changing.

“Here we are 20 years later, and it’s still giving. Sometimes, I realize I wouldn’t have noticed something particular before the surgery. And there are days where I still wake up and think, ‘Wow.’”

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