My Debby Boone and Linda Ronstadt Christmas

I would lie surrounded by my gifts near the tree in the living room for days listening to my records over and over again. I would then jump up and start singing along, dancing around the living room, dreaming I was Debby Boone or Linda Ronstadt.

The Christmas of 1977 is one I will always remember. I was nine years-old and living in Great Falls, Montana on Malmstrom Air Force Base. My father was flying missions into Canada helping the U.S. Air Force’s Air Defense Command and the Army’s Nike system test their ability to detect as far out as possible and then scramble to intercept any strike from the former Soviet Union that might come from the north.

As with every Christmas, my mother made traditional sugar cookies which she allowed us to decorate with red, green, and yellow frosting. On Christmas Eve we sat together as a family in the living room and read the story from the Book of Luke in the Bible of the First Christmas and my siblings and I would act out the manger scene. Michael was always Joseph, Leslie was always Mary, I was always an angel, and Matthew was baby Jesus. Either Leslie or I would also play the part of the narrator, in addition to our other role. We put towels or blankets over our heads to play each part! When Matthew was five he finally graduated from being baby Jesus to being either a shephard or a wiseman. In his place as the Baby Jesus, we used our new dog, Kaiser, a German Schnauzer, whom we wrapped in a towel and placed in our manger.

Leslie is narrating the Christmas story, I am Mary, Michael is Joseph and my mother held Matthew who was about 4 months old. Colorado Springs, 1973

Something magical happened that Christmas Eve in Montana. Santa Clause visited our house early and left a gift for us on the front door. I remember hearing a knock at the door and my mom or dad answering it and returning with a package to the living room. It was a book of poetry, “Favorite Poems Old and News, Selected for Boys and Girls by Helen Ferris,” and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, published in 1957.

I always thought my parents told us it was a gift from Santa. But in looking at the inside cover, I see that my mother wrote: “Martines Family Christmas 1977 Great Falls, Montana from Mommy for Leslie, Catherine, Michael, and Matthew.” In any case, I was convinced Santa had been the one who knocked on our door and left that book. I don’t remember loving that book as a child, but maybe I did. Because when my daughter, Emily was born in 1997, and I was living near my parents in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the first things I did was go to my parent’s house and read to her from that book. I especially loved the poems “The Lamb” and “The Tiger,” both by William Blake. I read those over and over again to her as an infant, to the point where I memorized them. I have always loved poetry and I attribute it to that book. In 2001, my mother gifted me and Emily that book. It is worn and tattered now, but in tact. I read from it frequently to my children when they were little.

Christmas morning was always the same routine: Leslie and I would be the first to wake up. We would go see what was under the tree and then go wake up Michael and Matthew and then knock on our parents’ bedroom door to wake them up. It seemed we had to wait patiently for hours for the adults to come into the living room. In reality, it was probably only a few minutes. My mom would pretend to be surprised as each child opened their gifts from Santa and my dad would take a photo as we posed with each gift.

That Christmas I got some of my most treasured gifts, some of which I still have today: the books, “National Velvet” by Enid Ragnold and Marguerite Henry’s “All about Horses.”

In addition to the books, I got a jewelry box that played “Laura’s Theme,” the theme song from the movie Doctor Zhivago. I played it over and over that winter. But what I think of most when I remember that Christmas were two small 45 RPM records my parents gave me: Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” and Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou.” I don’t remember what was on the back side of the Debby Boone record, but I remember “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue” was on the back of the Linda Ronstadt record.

It was a cold winter and we stayed inside the entire time, it seemed. I would lie surrounded by my gifts near the tree in the living room for days listening to my records over and over again. I would then jump up and start singing along, dancing around the living room, dreaming I was Debby Boone or Linda Ronstadt. I cannot hear either of those songs without remembering our cozy, base house in Malmstrom.

But my Christmas bliss was soon interupted by Leslie who chose that Christmas to tell me I was adopted. I didn’t really believe her, but I also wasn’t sure. In those days, families didn’t tell children they were adopted, so, I thought it might be true. I don’t know how long I tortured myself with that before dropping it and moving on. But it must have stuck with me because I remember it to this day.

I adored my horse book and became obsessed with horses. The “National Velvet” story was a little advanced for me and I remember struggling to understand what was going on. But, typical of me, I persevered. I can’t say I loved the book, because I really didn’t understand a lot of the plot, but I was proud of myself for finishing it, nonetheless.

That was also the Christmas my brother Michael got a Ronald McDonald stuffed doll. He was so excited about it and didn’t let go of it for days. He carried it everywhere he went. I remember I saw him appear to flush it down the toilet. When confronted, he said he got ketchup on it and was trying to clean it!

Another memorable thing happened that year. I believed I got proof that Santa Clause and his reindeers were real. When I woke up that Christmas morning, I was sure I had seen reindeer hoofprints in the snow on the roof of our house and heard sleigh bells jingling in the distance. It was, of course, a vivid dream but it felt so real I believed with all my heart I had seen and heard those things.

There have been many Christmas since that one, but that is the one I remember the best. It was a magic time, a time of innocence, and a time when I could still hear the Christmas bell ring. If you’ve read the Christmas classic, “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg, you will know what that means.

With each passing year, it becomes harder and harder for me to hear the bell. In recent years I have had to force myself to decorate for Christmas. I do it out of duty and dilligence, more than love or joy for my Savior’s birth. But it is important to remember those cherished Christmas memories from childhood and thank my parents for making our home a place of joy where a little girl could feel the Christmas spirit and believe in it.

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I’m a former TV news anchor, communications director on Capitol Hill, and a national spokesperson who is passionate about telling engaging stories.

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Catherine Martines Mortensen

Catherine Martines Mortensen

I’m a former TV news anchor, communications director on Capitol Hill, and a national spokesperson who is passionate about telling engaging stories.

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