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