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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: In-Law(s) (05/08/08)

TITLE: May I Have This Dance?
By Sharlyn Guthrie


We regarded each other from opposite sides of the table: I through blue-tinted contacts, and she through the upper portion of her bifocals. “I’m taking my two favorite women to dinner,” her son had informed us on that first Valentines Day. It wasn’t exactly the dream date I had anticipated, but there we were, nevertheless.

Although she had left her fifth grade classroom hours before, a commanding presence accompanied his mother to dinner. She was, and would always be a teacher. That was my first lesson.

Soon after our triangular date, Lillian approached her son. “Isn’t it about time you asked that girl to marry you?” And so he did; partly, I’m sure, because it would have been harder to tell her no.

Despite her clarity on most matters, our early relationship resembled the shuffle. Both a little uncertain of our place and position, we mainly tried to avoid stepping on each others’ toes. Like the opposite sides of the table we initially occupied, we often took opposite sides of an issue. She liked large, bold prints, while I enjoyed floral pastels. She preferred the curtains drawn. I preferred no curtains at all. My idea of a perfect Saturday was sleeping until eight o’clock and drinking coffee until ten; hers was rising at dawn’s first light and immediately tackling a huge task.

As time went on, we settled into an easy two-step; each taking our turn to advance and retreat. I came to appreciate Lillian’s sense of humor, if not her fashion sense; her industry, if not her incessant instruction. She tolerated my laid-back approach to parenting and daily living, which was so unlike her own. I began seeking little ways to please her, such as placing fresh flowers on her nightstand when she came to visit. She often pleased me by making my favorite dish, her potato salad, when we visited her home. At our house she allowed us to sleep. At her house, we all arose early to the aroma of waffles and syrup.

Our two-step evolved into the swing as we warmed up to one another and began discovering things in common. Like her, I became a classroom teacher. We both enjoyed writing poetry, playing piano, and growing flowers. She delighted in her grandchildren and, of course, I was pretty fond of them myself. We also shared a strong faith in Jesus Christ, and she taught me much about expressing and respecting our differences in regards to faith. Once, I discovered her pink Romantic England dishes, and threw a spontaneous tea party in her honor. She saved coleus slips in the fall and presented them to me at planting time the following spring.

I don’t wish to be misleading. Lillian and I faltered and even stumbled at times during our thirty-two year dance. She was quite generous with her opinions. I stubbornly clung to my own. Although I looked forward to her visits, I was usually relieved when she left. When circumstances brought her to our home to stay, we sadly discovered, but all agreed, that a joint living arrangement wasn’t going to work well for any of us. She moved into a residential care center, leaving behind her Romantic England dishes because she knew I would use and treasure them.

A year ago I sat by Lillian’s hospital bed holding her feeble, ninety-one year old hand. “I worry sometimes that I haven’t done enough,” she whispered. “I’ve tried to love God and do good things, but I just don’t know if it’s enough.”

“You could never do enough,” I replied. “That’s why Jesus did it all, so you wouldn’t have to. All He wants is your love, and your love for Him has always been evident to me.”

She relaxed then and gave my hand a weak squeeze. “You’ve been the best daughter-in-law I could have hoped for.” I kissed her on the cheek, sensing correctly that our final waltz was over.

Not long afterward, my husband and I spent a week with our son and his girlfriend. She and I had some lovely conversation as we sat side by side on the beach. As our week came to a close I pulled my son aside and asked, “When are you going to marry that girl?”

And so, one month later, he did.

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This article has been read 1035 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/15/08
Your dance analogy was well done to and including the last waltz before a new dance began. Well done.
Gregory Kane05/17/08
I also enjoyed the dancing analogy. I felt however that you didn’t really get into your stride until the fourth paragraph, after which the narrative flowed much better. Your ending did however tie in well with the beginning. So well done.
Joanne Sher 05/17/08
I love the analogy - nice job with it. I also love that this comes full circle, and the well-done comparisons between the two.
Emily Gibson05/17/08
So very true to many of us--relationships are not always smooth sailing. You have a very effective metaphor here.
Karen Wilber05/17/08
I like that you didn't sugar coat everything--that made it feel more real. (If they're going to disagree--then have them disagree, instead of we disagree and it was wonderful.) I also liked the dance imagery.
LaNaye Perkins05/18/08
This story was so touching. I love the way you used dancing as an example. Well done my friend.
Jan Ackerson 05/18/08
Beautiful, beautiful writing--you really have a way with just the right turn of phrase.

I felt that that last two paragraphs felt a bit anticlimactic--that the piece really ended best at the last waltz.

Great job with the dancing metaphor...this is a splendid story.
Lyn Churchyard05/18/08
Wonderful story, truth and love. I loved that the MC was able to comfort her MIL's fears at the end of the dance. Very touching. Well done, very well done indeed.
Beth LaBuff 05/19/08
I loved the dance metaphor, all the contrasts, and the evolution of your relationship. This is so good.
Lynda Schultz 05/19/08
I love how you tied the beginning and end together. The analogy about the dance was excellent. Well done.
Debbie Wistrom05/19/08
I love how the dance continues to the next generation.

Well done.
Joy Faire Stewart05/19/08
What a warm, beautiful story! I loved it.
Peter Stone05/19/08
I love it. And weaving the whole story against the backdrop of a dance tied it together beautifully. Loved the honesty, the hospital scene, and coming full circle with the ending.
Kristen Hester05/20/08
This is beautiful. It actually made my eyes mist. Lovely.
Betsy Markman05/22/08
Congratulations on your EC! It is well deserved. This is a lovely work.
Joshua Janoski05/22/08
So glad this got an EC. The ending got me teary eyed. It was such a touching story. Thank you for sharing it.
Cheri Hardaway 05/22/08
Beautiful job! Congrats on the EC. Blessings, Cheri
Janice Cartwright05/22/08
What shines through all this is that the mil/dil relationship had balance and honesty. Both retained the integrity of thier individuality while at the same time bowing to the golden rule. You told the story so very well. I really enjoyed reading about your dance.
Dianne Janak05/23/08
Sharlyn, congrats on you EC. This was a wonderful way to describe an intimate and sometimes strained relationship. I loved the deathbed scene and the love that shone through her to you. What a good example of how the dance goes on as you pass what she taught you to your own family. This was touching and an enjoyable read.
Sheri Gordon05/23/08
Congratulations on your EC. This is beautiful. I love the dance metaphor.
Lollie Hofer05/26/08
I like how the theme of the title flowed smoothly throughout this piece. Congratulations on your well-deserved win. I liked everything about this story. The voice was wonderful!
Margaret Guthrie05/31/08
Margaret Guthrie05/31/08
Margaret Guthrie05/31/08
Sharlyn, what a great article, authentic, transparent and covered with the grace and love that only Jesus can give. I loved it. I do remember that Aunt Lillian had a lot of energy, and a sense of being in command that sure must have stood her in good stead in the classroom and raising kids. What a touching story. You had a good relationship, despite personality differences. And nice touch at the end of you saying the same thing to your son about marrying!
Love, Margaret