in the shadows of gray

Reminiscing is not easy. Sipping my cup of tea, I’m trying to distinguish between the reality that was awaiting me and the far surpassed life given me as a gift I don’t deserve.

I came to this world as a rather fearful, somewhat disoriented, internally intrigued and at the same time outwardly sound-minded heart. My first memory is saturated with the color of gray walls in the building where I spent the first years of my earthly pilgrimage. The beam of lights cutting through this deserted place are also present in my memories, invigorating the sadness and overwhelming heaviness.

My mom and I lived in an old building surrounded by 3 sides with similar giant, obscure, upraised old German apartments. These ancient dominating buildings were always there and everywhere. My apartment was on the third floor. From the balcony, I could see another gray giant, with it’s windows starring at me.

Some windows were inhabited by people recognizable to this small gray community. One window had a man with a loud puzon (trombone). The man would practice daily at different times of the day. I don’t even know if he belonged to some orchestra or was it just his hobby. His window seemed loudly disturbing. The lace curtains decorating it would fly open quite often, revealing pieces of old-fashion furniture. But there was not enough light in our yard to distinguish the interiors of his living place.

There was another interesting window across. This one was always occupied by someone from the family. Mostly by the mother and one of the daughters. It was incredibly amazing how they could be so well informed about the whereabouts of most of the occupants just from observing and watching. They were mobilized if a new person would pass by, they would be vigilant at evening times, they would listen attentively to the echoes of the voices bouncing in between the buildings, trying to decipher the meaning of the words, to feed their hunger for gossips. I was thinking often, when do they have time to cook, to clean and to do other “normal” things of life. They were probably bored. They were waiting with anticipation for something great or even less then great to happen. Something that would change the monotonous existence within the scratched walls.


Every time I stood in front of these buildings I was diminished and conquered by their firm and depressive presence. They reminded me of the times we lived in. These old tenement houses supported the idea of the ruling system, proclaiming loudly the common share, common property, common life as a massive blurb of otherwise not important individuals, working for the better tomorrow in the land of common satisfaction. The patches with falling paint, pieces of bricks and whatever else might stick to them in the last 100 years, were slowly giving in under the pressure of time.

The yard was ugly. Squeezed in between monster buildings, there was black dirt, beater (for cleaning the carpets) and the doors leading to the outside world of streets, cars, shops and people. Nothing else.

Looking from my balcony, to my left, there was a piece called the “Jewish yard”, to my front and right was “our yard”, and behind my building was the “Gypsy yard”. The last one had a story and a social right to be named in such a way. Gypsy families were living nearby, their numerous children would play in there, making constant noise by loud laughter, songs and frequent fights in a language not understood by the rest of us.

This is the back view of my building from the “Gypsy yard”. On the left would be the “Jewish yard”, to the right and in front – “our yard”.

But every space called yard around my building, was the same. It brought the same feelings, the same disappointing “luck of hope and the future” message banging over our heads, falling straight from the sky, sinking deeply into our very conscious and alert minds. No escape was the refrain of this chant soaking daily into our existence, trying to penetrate to the very bone of leftover faith in humankind’s goodness.

The only thing you could do in that place called yard was to imagine. Therefore creativity blossomed exponentially. There is a limit to the number of times you can play hide and seek or jumping ropes. Beyond these familiar games there was a wide open world of unrestricted imagination. And the kids were freely exploring this childhood universe without boundaries and borders. But today is late and I need to go to sleep…


These 3 picture are not of the place where I actually lived, but were taken in Poland and depict accurately the feeling of the times.

5 thoughts on “in the shadows of gray

  1. Cool photos……not that they are “pretty” but they are realistic.
    I feel bad for the Gypsy’s, I’ve always been intrigued by them. We have some missionary friends that did Gypsy ministry in Romania for many years.
    Great article Iwka.

  2. Dosia,

    trudno sobie wyobrazic, ze to wszystko dzialo sie w sumie tak niedawno… Z tymi kolorami to chyba prawda. Pamietam, jak w mojej szafie poczytne miejsce zajmowaly jaskrawo czerwone i zolte ubrania🙂

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