• You are about to visit the apartment of my surrogate grand-parents. Though Sasha and Ania (formally Alexander and Oktyabrina) are really my brothers' great aunt and uncle, I have know them since birth.

    The building, a suitable setting for a Dostoyevsky story, is an old six-story walk-up. The central location on the banks of the Fontanka River is blemished by its decrepit condition. The elevator was a two-foot-square cage added sometime in the 1970. Hot water existed only in the kitchen, where my brothers installed a heater ten years ago. Their offer to finally find a way to add a bathtub and sink to the bathroom was politely declined in favor of old habits – morning rinses at the kitchen sink with an oversized pot of boiled water and a trip to the local bathhouse as needed.

    The couple lived here the 1930s, surviving through the Leningrad blockade in WWII. Layers of memories collect dust here, ghosts of those I knew and those who passed away decades before my birth.

    When I visited in 2010, I recognized the sad eventuality – this would all be gone too soon. Ania was bedridden and Sasha very ill. He was not pleased with my insistence on taking his picture. He felt he has aged too far to want to be remembered this way. So, I contended myself with capturing my childhood memories, every little bit ofspace which held some meaning.

    I wore him down in the end. He agreed to one photo, but only on the condition that it would be us both. This was the last time I saw him. He passed away in January 2012. My brother has begun to remodel.
  • The hallway, forever dim and cluttered.
  • Hanging laundry was often the only way to tell where the hallway ended and the kitchen began - it never left the kitchen.
  • The kitchen sink, with its web of exposed piping and excruciatingly cold water, was my least favorite spot on my childhood visits.
  • The tea kettle, a must-have item in any Russian household. It wouldn't surprise me if this one was older than I.
  • Once the family emigrated to U.S., most new additions were only known to them through photos. This is my brother's kid, who is now 18, as a homemade fridge magnet. The ZIL Moscow refrigerator - often described as "immortal" - is likely from the 1950's.
  • Communism never got along with religion, so any icons in the home were ofter decorative. This one shared wall space with a folksy napkin holder, a piece of "wall art" made by a long deceased relative.
  • Sasha's formal jacket. The lapel pins are all that is left from years of service, some military, some social. Russia, with so much fighting on its soil, especially in the 20th century, still has a collective memory of the wars and pride in the victories. Most veterans of WWII, however few remaining, still wear the pins the way a woman would wear her best jewels to any special occasion.
  • 2010 marked an anniversary - 65 Years of the Great Victory. That's what Sasha added to the torn out calendar page. 
  • The lions looked a lot more imposing to me when I was three and they stood eye level with me. The layers of uneven paint gave me my early, vague comprehension of old age.
  • The living room hasn't changed for as long as I have been alive, except for the addition of my brother's paintings on the walls. The centerpiece has always been a massive, solid wood table. It had intricate carvings on all four corners, but was always concealed with a heavy, velvet cover.
  • When I was about the table's height, I decided it was time to explore beyond the cover. The panels below were marked with scratches and dents. Curious, I asked what they were. Ania, tearful, told me they were marks made during the Leningrad blockade, before they made their way out of the starving city.
  • Any object of value, however slight, could be considered decorative – a leftover design philosophy from the Soviet days when things were hard to come by. Such I could only assume are the side by side clocks.
  • Still works, even if the dial has been offset by some 90 degrees.
  • The Wall Unit: the Soviet household's shrine to all which was considered important. Books, photos, memorabilia, greeting cards received. In Sasha and Ania's case – WWII medals and headshots, likely taken for their Communist Party ID cards.
  • Ania's personal case, with lovingly arranged medals and photos.
  • For years, there too was a fascination with collecting pins. I had a few of these too as a kid. Some celebrated cities, some sports victories, like the 1984 Zenit Soccer Win near the center or the 1080 Olympics in Moscow. Lenin was popular (top right) and so were congratulatory ones, which you received at work, or some social club – like the "Veteran of Work" pentagram on the bottom.
  • Sasha and I on the last day I saw him. For all of his self-consciousness in taking this photo, I would say he looked incredible for a man who lived the life they had. With my love, RIP.