One of the things I admire most in anyone is loyalty, and my friends and family will tell you that I am fiercely loyal. Just recently, I reaffirmed my loyalty to my dry cleaner. Yes, the shop that launders and presses my shirts.
First, I know someone is going to write to me asking why I don’t do my own shirts. I did for a while. When I worked as an anchor in Rockford, Illinois my salary was really low….and I scrimped and saved on everything. I ironed my own shirts, even took the “typical guy short cuts” in doing so. I would iron only the collar and the “v” in front: the part that appeared on camera. Everything under my suit was wrinkled! Anyway, I hated ironing and as soon as I got my first raise I splurged, and started bringing my shirts to the dry cleaners. I have never looked back.
I have been going to MZ cleaners on Haynes Street in downtown Hartford since I moved to Connecticut more than 15 years ago. They’ve always done a superb job, but what kept me going there were the people who worked there. It was owned my an elderly couple, Mr. & Mrs. Z, and their grown children worked there along with a wonderfully warm woman, Sophie Lubka. Mrs. Lubka is Mrs. Z’s sister.
As I would answer questions about whether I wanted hangers or boxes or heavy or light starch, Mrs. Lubka would tell me stories about growing up in Europe. It was a horrible childhood. Her family was snatched by the Nazis and taken to the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Her entire family was put to death, with the exception of her sister, Mrs. Z.
Mrs. Lubka told me one day when they were being marched off to the gas chambers, she and her sister noticed the Nazi guards were looking the other way, and the vicious attack dogs were out of sight. These two girls made a break for it, and ran into the woods, and ran and ran. They came upon a potato field and dug up these dirty vegetables and ate them. They were so hungry. They pinched their cheeks to make them rpsy, and told a family they were Polish and that their house had burned down and they were homeless. If they had admitted they were Jewish, they would have been sent back to Auschwitz and certain death.
They came to the United States and raised families and grew a business in Hartford. The original cleaners on Asylum Street is now part of the Goodwin Hotel, and the “new” shop (circa 1980s) is in the bottom of the CityPlace tower on Haynes Street. Mrs. Z died around the turn of the century and Mrs. Lubka retired from the dry cleaners shortly thereafter, in 2001. She moved to New Jersey to be closer to her children. Kara and I both missed her stories and her interest in our lives. We never saw her again, or so we thought.
Now that we no longer live downtown, someone suggested we find a dry cleaner closer to our new home. I was resistant, feeling really guilty even considering cheating on my dry cleaner, but I thought it might save some time, so I went to the dry cleaner a few blocks away.
I walked in and immediately didn’t have a good feeling. The woman behind the counter greeted me tersely by saying “name?” No “good morning” like you get at MZ. I told her I was a new customer, and she said “I need your name,” as she started to type into a computer. There is no computer at MZ, by the way. “How do you spell House,” she asked. I mean, really…what did I walk into? Next she asked for my address and phone number. I said I would rather not give my phone number, it always seems to end up on a telemarketing list. “I need your number if you want your shirts cleaned,” the woman stated, without even the slightest smile on her face. I told her “I’m not getting a good feeling here, and this is just not a good fit.” I took my shirts and drove to MZ.
I knew I’d made the right decision, and this past weekend I got a sign that I most certainly had done the right thing. Kara, Helena and I went to A.C. Petersen’s for lunch and there she was…Mrs. Lubka. She was in town visiting her son and grandchildren. She gave us a warm hug and gushed over our daughter. At 84, she looked just as we’d remembered. She told us about her ambitious schedule: trips to Israel and Florida, followed by a trip to Auschwitz this summer. It will be her first trip there since she fled in terror more than 65 years ago. I can’t even the imagine how emotional that journey will be for her.
Seeing Mrs. Lubka really made our day. Her niece-in-law (is that a word?) Jackie runs MZ cleaners now with the same disposition the company’s founders had. They really are my dry cleaner for life.