Coming Clean

Dirty laundry and a clear conscience

Squeaky Sullivan was born in a Laundromat on the east side of St. Paul in 1954. His mother had gone into labor while she was folding clothes, with his father blocks away at a hardware store. Mom went through labor alone waiting for her husband to return, but he arrived when Squeaky was already crowning and had to use his wife's freshly cleaned sheets to fashion a bed on the dirty tile floor.

"I obviously can't remember that day," Sullivan says. "But all my life, as long as I can remember, I've been most serene when the aroma of detergent is in the air. I'm always happiest inside a Laundromat."

Sullivan realized his dream of buying a Laundromat of his own last June when he opened "Squeaky Clean," a 24-hour self-serve Laundromat on St. Paul's East Seventh Street.

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"We didn't cut a ribbon the day we opened," Sullivan says, "we cut a bed sheet."

 Sullivan says "people show up at all hours, some to wash clothes, some to find a place to read or to curl up and sleep. Some are up to no good. Some are just lonely, looking for someone to talk to. I have magazines sitting out, and two vending machines. I come by at random hours, just to sit there myself and see how everyone's doing, maybe sweep the floor. I smell that detergent and I immediately calm down. It's restful for me."

Sullivan says last Sunday night he was unable to sleep and decided to drive over to the Laundromat to ease his worried mind.

"My mother had been battling congestive heart failure the last year or so, and lately she'd been hospitalized a couple of times. I'd been unable to stop worrying about her. The Laundromat always seemed to make me feel a little better, so I drove down there. I was thinking the place would be empty and that I could perhaps sit for a while and make peace with the fact that she wasn't going to be around a lot longer.

"But when I arrived, I found her there washing clothes. She hadn't felt strong enough to come down in over two months, so I was surprised to see her, not to mention it was one in the morning. Mom's always been a night owl, but still, this was extremely unusual.

"I scolded her for being out alone at such an hour. She laughed and said she could take care of herself. She showed me an old shillelagh at the bottom of her laundry cart and said she was 'ready for all the ruffians.'

"Then she grew kind of serious and began to tell the story of my birth. She told me that she and my father had had a rough marriage, which I already knew since they'd been divorced for decades. She said on the afternoon I was born she was on the floor of the Laundromat covered up in white sheets. I was resting on her stomach, nursing. My father told her he was going to drive to the clinic and return with a nurse or doctor. He told her not to move and that she'd be okay.

"She said that soon after he left she wrote a note to him apologizing for leaving him and the baby, but that it was for the best since she wasn't ready to be a mother. She said she was jumping on a bus and planning to leave town and that she wouldn't be coming back.

"It was as she was leaving, looking back at me, all covered up and asleep on the sheets, that she heard a strange voice. She said it seemed to come from somewhere inside her. It said, if she left, life would be a lot easier; if she stayed it would be harder. But if she stayed, she would die one day, years down the line, without regrets.

"It was then, at that moment, that she slowly crumpled up the piece of paper and, with tears in her eyes, climbed back under the sheets with me.

"She said, 56 years later she wanted me to know that voice was right.

"Just then a car pulled up in front of the Laundromat, and my brother came running inside with his pajama top on and his hair mussed up. He told me Mom had passed away at home an hour earlier.

"I turned back around, sort of puzzled, wondering why he would say such a thing with Mom standing right there. But she was gone. The Laundromat was empty."

 
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