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You cannot force the Tales of the Laundromat. They must rise organically from the lint trap and reveal themselves like a stain you forgot to pre-treat on your favorite hoodie. I go into laundromats to capture the beauty behind an everyday chore and if I get lucky enough, I’ll chat with some of the locals. Some days I don’t speak to a soul and only photograph from a distance. Other times, I walk out with a new friend.
So are you ready to get sudsy? I’m starting with the one with my most heart-warming tales.
I was almost done folding my clothes when Richard came walking in. He approached me with a gentle smile spread across his weathered face, shuffling his feet across the linoleum floor. At the time, I thought he was just another customer. He walked over to the row of dryers and gave one a soft pat. "I just fixed this one last week". That’s when I learned Richard worked at the laundromat. But not only did he work there, he also BUILT the laundromat from the remnants of an abandoned gas station.
We stood there chatting, though it was mainly him talking and me listening to a world I could only imagine through his stories from a long time ago. It was as if he had been waiting for someone to listen to him, to hear his tales, and bear witness to his life. And at that moment, I was (and still am) honored to have been that person.
He spoke about when he got drafted into WWII, and how he helped build the first feed yard in Western Kansas; but what he spoke about the most was his wife who had cancer. Richard and his wife were from Oklahoma and moved to Kansas in 1974. They built their home right down the street and ended up taking trips to Amarillo three times a week when she got sick with cancer. I never worked up the courage to ask if his wife beat cancer--a part of me was afraid to hear the answer because I had suddenly grown attached to this stranger in such an unexpected place.
We bid our farewells but he left me with a new appreciation of listening to stories of the past and watching someone reflect on their life's most challenging moments. In a world where we often prioritize the new and now, it was a reminder of the richness and value of our collective history.
Below are some pictures and a short video of Richard speaking.
*I'm only going to share one tale on this website as the others will be saved for the book :)