A Memory for Valentine’s Day

Morris Thurston is a member of the Dialogue Board of Directors, a friend of BCC and host of the Orange County Miller-Eccles Study Group. We thank him for his thoughts.

I sat on the stand, trying to appear calm. It wasn’t my impending talk that made me nervous; all I had to do was reminisce about my mission and I was full of humorous stories and faith-promoting experiences. But this was my parents’ ward in Ventura, California—the one they had moved into while I was Norway—and my strong-willed mother had set the sacrament meeting agenda. Not only was her son going to be the main speaker, he was also going to play a piano solo. That’s why I was nervous.

I tried to calm myself by looking at the members of the congregation as they arrived. Most were somewhat familiar to me, as I had lived in this ward for several weeks. It was a good ward for a recently returned missionary; there were a number of eligible females and I had already begun to date both Candy and Jean on a fairly regular basis. Better yet, there was only one other young adult male, but Walt had not yet left for his mission and we had a cordial non-compete understanding when it came to women.

A few minutes before the meeting began a family entered the chapel that I had never seen before—a husband, wife, two sons and a stunningly beautiful daughter who looked to be in her late teens. Being a normal young man of the heterosexual persuasion, my attention was drawn to the girl. She wore a yellow skirt topped by a soft, yellow mohair sweater. She stood about five feet six inches tall, but her slender build and high heels made her seem taller. Her light blonde hair swirled high above her head. When she turned to enter the aisle, I saw that a long, ringlet-style ponytail dangled down to the middle of her back. She had high cheekbones and clear blue eyes. No boyfriend was in sight. Hmmm.

The meeting went fine. The piano solo (the second movement from Beethoven’s Sonata “Pathetique”) was far from perfect, but only the musicians would have cringed at the flaws. The talk was better. The congregation seemed attentive; no one was sleeping. They laughed when I wanted them to laugh. I spoke freely, without referring to notes, and I ended on time.

At Lake Casitas.

Reflecting on this evening (for sacrament meetings were stand-alone evening meetings in those days), I am struck by how surreally serendipitous it was. It was the first day in a new ward for Dawn, the blonde girl with the ponytail. I could hardly have asked for a more fortuitous platform on which to impress her. She, on the other hand, easily stood out in my eyes from the rest of the congregation. Although I don’t think an actual beam of light fell on her as she turned into the aisle to take her seat, it did seem that way to me.

Despite these favorable first impressions, Dawn and I did not immediately hit it off. I was still trying to juggle the two girls I was dating (something I had little experience with). Indeed, Walt was the first to ask Dawn out. Although Walt was a good guy, Dawn tells me there was little chemistry there. Perhaps my sometimes-thick head sensed this; a few weeks later I asked Walt if he would mind if I asked Dawn out and he said, “No problemo.” (We spoke Spanglish in those days.)

My first date with Dawn did not go well. We took her to a decidedly non-romantic movie (Mary Poppins) and, big spender that I was, treated her to dinner at McDonald’s. We argued about something, though exactly what it was I can’t remember. It would not be the last argument we ever had. When Dawn’s mother asked her how the date went, she made a face and said, “He’s really arrogant.”

Wedding Day.

Still, there was apparently something that clicked—at least enough for me to ask her out again and for her to accept. Perhaps I was impressed that an eighteen-year-old who hadn’t yet attended a day of college would have the moxie to argue with a twenty-two-year-old returned missionary/BYU honor student. (Arrogance?? Moi??) Perhaps enough of that favorable first impression from the sacrament meeting remained for Dawn to give me a second chance.

Our second date was more relaxed and a whole lot more fun. We drove to Lake Casitas in my father’s white Plymouth Valiant and walked around a bit. It was a warm August day; Dawn was wearing a black sleeveless top, white shorts and long legs. We mostly talked and I got to know the girl beneath the surface. I’m not sure what impressed me most. In my admittedly limited experience, good-looking women tended to be full of themselves, but Dawn seemed to be surprisingly grounded. She didn’t come across as a flighty teenager or a self-absorbed beauty queen. She was a good conversationalist and there was an intelligence in her remarks that shrunk the four-year age gap between us. And, of course, there was her breathtaking physical beauty—something bound to affect a young man who had recently finished two and a half years of enforced celibacy.

Whatever it was, this was the day I first fell in love with Dawn.

I say “first,” because I think that in most successful long-term relationships the parties are continually falling in love as they come to appreciate their partner’s strengths and overlook the flaws. We didn’t even kiss that day at Lake Casitas (according to the unofficial rules at the time, kissing wasn’t permitted until at least the third date.) Dawn left a couple of days later to begin freshman orientation at BYU. By the time I got there, several of the football players had already asked her out. But I wasn’t one to let grass grow under my feet and soon we were dating steadily. Six months later we were engaged and six months after that we were married in the Los Angeles Temple. That was more than forty-five years ago.

Dawn now teaches life story writing in the Rancho Santiago Community College extension program—has done for more than a decade. Most of her students are in their fifties, sixties or seventies and they absolutely adore her. Several years ago we jointly authored a book, published by Signature Books, titled Breathe Life into Your Life Story. Dawn has a blog devoted to memoir writing tips and this week she posted an excellent article titled “Tis the Season to Write Romantically.” In it she listed several tips for her writing students:

  • Write honestly and personally. Reveal your feelings, your disappointments, feelings of awkwardness, embarrassment, silliness. Show the real you.
  • Use lots of detail about people and settings. Where did incidents take place? Let us SEE it. What were you wearing? What did other people look like? Add “sense details,” if appropriate–sound, smell, sight, taste, and feel.
  • Create scenes, if possible. Don’t just write a summary. Try to remember what was said, and re-create conversations as you remember them, capturing the emotional truth of the experience.
  • Snag readers’ attention from the get-go. Some experts advise beginning in the middle of things. Too often we feel like we need all kinds of back-story before we get to the interesting part. Don’t do it.
  • Don’t be in a rush to get it finished. Write a rough draft and let it sit for a while. You’ll soon think of things you’ll want to add.

Forty-Five Years Later.

This Valentine’s Day why not give your loved one the gift of a story about how you fell in love? It will be a gift that keeps on giving; your loved one will appreciate it and your children and grandchildren will bless you for it years later. Many of you are younger than Dawn’s students, which is all the more reason to write now while the memories are fresh. I wish I had written this years ago. There is so much I have forgotten. What did Dawn and I argue about on our first date? What exactly did we talk about on the second that made us fall in love? I’ve forgotten the details; thankfully I still remember the emotion.

When and how did you fall in love? It is a story that needs to be written.


  1. Thanks for the advise, Morris. I’m going to write something in advance of tomorrow.

  2. Great post and wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing. And an excellent book, too.

    I like your idea here and think I’ll just take your advice and write something for my wife for Valentine’s Day. Thanks again.

  3. American Eagle says:

    Sound like it was fun to be young in California in the ’60s.

  4. Wow, what fabulous photos! I love the way this post is constructed as a really interesting story, and then turning it around and inviting us to write our stories. Didn’t see that coming, which is what makes it work so well. This is a wonderful idea. Why not give a gift that truly celebrates and strengthens the relationship.

  5. observer fka eric s says:

    I fell in love with my wife in the exact same room, exact same type of event as my parents: at the UCLA Institute at a dance. It was a themed constume dance, and she was dressed in black, tight leather, Wowza!!!!!! We were married Friday the 13th, and met on Friday the 13th. We are related to each other at the fifth generation; you would never suspect a relation so close by looking at us (she is half Thai, I’m causasian).

  6. Thanks for this post, Morris. What a wonderful idea.

    For me, it was as close to love at first sight as it is possible to get. Michelle walked into the BYU dorm lounge, and we were inseparable from that moment on. I waited for her to walk to class together – and she recalls that she realized how strongly I felt when she learned how much I hated being late but would be late in order to be with her. We talked without inhibitions, as if we were renewing a best friendship that had been on fold for a long time.

    We weren’t college students at BYU; we were there, with some elements that lead us to believe in divine manipulation, to attend a summer conference for gifted high school students. We couldn’t date for six months, since I was 16, but she was only 15. We defied expectations by getting engaged before I left for my mission – at the beginning of her senior year in high school, which she attended with an engagement ring on her finger and the wedding band in my mother’s bedroom dresser.

    She is the only girl I’ve ever loved – and I continually fall in love more deeply, as you said so well.

    On her birthday in 2009, I wrote the following on my personal blog. Thank you for prompting me to go back and find it – and the others I’ve written, as well. It has been a good thing, and I hope to be able to write many more before I leave mortality:

    “I Have No Clue, but I Am Grateful” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2009/12/i-have-no-clue-but-i-am-grateful.html)

  7. As if most stories of falling in love with someone are normally filled with unusual events, mine began 200 miles from my home in Calgary in a double blind date that my cousin had arranged. It was the second date in two days and the first was a bit disappointing. So my cousin had been alerted to the importance of finding the right girl this time. More importantly it was April Fools Day. Let me skip 50 years to 2012 when my second date (a gorgeous blonde) will celebrate 50 wonderful years together with four terrific children and their spouses providing us with 15 grandchildren and one great grandson. Sometimes miracles occur in matchups and ours has experienced one. We serve together in the new Vancouver Temple and enjoy the wonder of seeing new generations expand our life to an amazing level. We are both very grateful for what happened 50 years ago. We will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary on May 9th of this year.

  8. Thank you so much for this. I was actually going to write something romantic for a young gal here. Dawn’s thoughtful
    approach is the way to go.

  9. Great stories! Keep ’em coming. I’m struck by the variety of situations that can lead to love. In our case we were both young by today’s standards when we were married. I certainly prayed about it, but I can’t say an answer came as a thunderclap. Was it inspiration or dumb luck? I’ll take it as the former, while leaving open the possibility of the latter.

  10. The first time I saw the young man who would be the love of my life was in January 1992. I was a month removed from seventeen. He was eighteen and would go on his mission that summer. My first thought was “Who is that nerd?” (We both embraced the gothic aesthetic for our appearances, but I was unimpressed by his efforts because *I* was cooler. *eyeroll*.) Apparently his first thought was that I was cute. We did not date; I already had a (terrible) boyfriend. We became friends, and I had no clue that he was secretly pining for me. He cut his hair and went on his mission, I wrote him one letter but never mailed it because i was too shy to call his mother to ask for his address. We met again after his mission and that’s when I began to fall. I again had an inconvenient boyfriend, but the relationship had been spiraling downward already and my new-found attraction to my now husband put the nails in the coffin. I prayed, and the ONLY time ever in my life I got an answer: ditch the boyfriend and marry the new guy. We dated two weeks, attended an Institute Leadership Conference together in Idyllwild, CA and in a completely unplanned moment of mutual confession (while ditching a Country Line Dancing activity), agreed to marry each other. We drove back down the mountain together the next day. My engagement ring cost $20 from an antique shop, because $20 was literally all the money he had in the world at that moment. It was, unequivocally, the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me. He’s awesome and I don’t deserve him, but I’m going to hang on to him anyway.

  11. We’ve been unemployed (husband) and underemployed (me) for the better part of a year. Things are coming to a head. It’s looking like my husband is getting a job offer in another state; we’re expecting it to come through today. If we take the job, the move would set me back a couple of years in my progress toward state licensure as licensing laws in my profession vary from state to state, but at the same time, we aren’t in a position to afford not to take it. It’s tense to say the least. Emotions are high. And we’re going to have to make this decision over the phone, because he’s out of town for the interview and staying longer to visit old friends.

    I tell you all of this to set a context for how much I appreciated your post. Reading your story and seeing your pictures, especially the “forty-five years later” picture, helped realign my perspective on my situation. It’s not him or me; it’s us. When we get to our own “forty-five years later” picture the decision we’re making now might have no effect on who and where we are then, and if it does, we will be glad we made it together and did what was in the best interest of our whole family. Thank you. I’m so glad I read this post today. Thanks for writing it.

  12. Vern Ashcroft says:

    We both enjoyed reading this — you are not only a great photographer but a gifted writer.

    Love from Uncle Vern & Aunt Nancy