Friday, July 3, 2009

Random Prompts~Our Parents

(Photograph copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Am spending this 4th of July weekend at the beach, specifically the beachhouse of my childhood! It was the place my grandparents took us every summer for years; where my sister and I played jacks on the floor, made forts out of driftwood and castles on the beach. We drew our names in the sand with mammoth curlicues, tried to catch the skinny-legged sandpipers and collected bags of whole sand dollars, colored rocks and two-toned shells.

It's also the house where I spent my last beach trip with my ailing mother before she died of cancer in 2003. This last mother/daughter visit is an excruciatingly painful memory. I've been to the house since with family and again with friends but this time I go with no easy human distractions from this memory.

Last year I created an altar to my parents. I decorated it with a few of their things: a picture of my mother on her tricycle in little-girl curls, scraped knee bandaged; a jar holding the ponytail she saved of her long hair when she cut it short; her desk nameplate; the small fireplace broom that was her last gift to me.

Next to these is a picture of my father as a tiny, proud fisherchild in dark sunglasses holding up his catch; a poem I gave him recently by Czeslaw Milosz entitled 'Gift'; a photo of him with his sister (my middle namesake).

I've added a few other things of meaning: a small bell my family kept on the hutch, a broken watch, a tiny handmade Celtic cross found in the South of France, a hand-embroidered dove made of cloth, the little angel I placed next to my mother's bed while she lay dying.

And at the top of the altar sits a picture I found of me as a small girl, holding my dolly out to someone just out of the frame. An offering.

Some time ago, I came across a writing exercise (sorry to say, the author escapes me): Write about your parents, both individually and as a pair; their likes and dislikes, habits, strengths, weaknesses; their good and bad qualities, character traits, beliefs. When the pen falls aside, what insights poke at you regarding your own purpose in this life as the creation and culmination of the two of them as well as the whole of them?

My beach time this weekend (since my sister now lives far away and won't play jacks with me) will most likely be in search of sand/stone and hand-written gems from the salty deep for my altar. And with that intention, I know I'll find just the right treasures.

(Oh yes and finishing a new poem to celebrate my sweetie on his birthday.)

I never understood the tiny broom gift (particularly since I didn't have a fireplace at the time). I just considered it another example of the effects of chemo. But I'm beginning to see that her soul knew what mine would need. It will come in handy as I write this weekend, sweeping up the ashes of that last beach memory.

An offering~ to the Gods of Insight!


  1. Wow, what a beautiful post. I'm crying. Thank you. I hope that your Mother's spirit visits you at the beach....and gives you comfort and peace. Your alter sounds spiritual and ethereal, I just love alters. Have a Blessed weekend.

  2. Thank you, S- And what a beautiful comment! I'm pretty sure I'll find her there. And a happy holiday weekend to you!

  3. This was so very touching Kirsten. YOur thoughts are so deep and so well expressed, I felt like I was there at your beach house. The altar sounds like a piece of history..the one of your life reflected by tose wonderful memories. Oh, your parents have a lot to be proud of looking at you from where they are...They're smiling for sure.
    I wish you a weonderful time at the Beach HOuse...seems like th sun will be shining bright especially for you:)

  4. A great thing you're doing Kirsten.... beautifully expressed. Have a great weekend !

  5. Just so sweet. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Ms. Lucy~ Thank you so much for your lovely comment! It was a little hard at first but got easier. Did some work on it which I'll probably post about. Thank you again and hope your weekend was great!

    Oiasantorini and ticklish~
    Thank you both and I'm so glad you came by!

  7. I am so sorry you've lost your mother. I can only imagine that pain. There is just no replacement for a mother's love, is there? I will be thinking of you.

  8. Relyn~ There truly is nothing to replace a mother's love and we miss it terribly when it is gone. Thank you for your kindness!


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