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Authors: Luke Sullivan

Tags: #recovery, #alcoholism, #Rochester Minnesota, #50s, #‘60s, #the fifties, #the sixties, #rock&roll, #rock and roll, #Minnesota rock & roll, #Minnesota rock&roll, #garage bands, #45rpms, #AA, #Alcoholics Anonymous, #family history, #doctors, #religion, #addicted doctors, #drinking problem, #Hartford Institute, #family histories, #home movies, #recovery, #Memoir, #Minnesota history, #insanity,,, #Mayo Clinic, #Rochester MN

Thirty Rooms To Hide In

BOOK: Thirty Rooms To Hide In
13.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Thirty Rooms
To Hide In

Insanity, Addiction, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic

Luke Longstreet Sullivan

Thirty Rooms To Hide In
Insanity, Addiction, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic

Copyright © 2011 by Luke Longstreet Sullivan.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission from the author.

ISBN (eBook Edition): 978-0-615-48150-0


eBook published by

MC Writing


A poem by my mother, 1981

You disappeared before they were born,
all of them –
except maybe the first
when you weren’t quite gone
just beginning to go –
not over a cliff
with punctilious grace
leaving me most of a body to mourn;
not with somebody’s gaudy wife
a flick of rue on your face
a farewell flourish on the MG’s horn
and a monthly check
to prove your going was done.
No, you just disappeared
in bits,
like grain from a sack invaded by rats
a farmer finds
still standing in the corner.


Rochester, Minnesota, is a privileged white enclave of conservative Republicans nestled in the south of a Democratic state. It is the little town where kings come to fight cancer and Presidents go for surgery. When Kennedy’s best and brightest call for doctors, the phone rings here in Rochester’s centerpiece, the gray marble slab of medicine that is the Mayo Clinic.

A few blocks away from the Clinic on Fourth Street is the First Methodist Church. In the chapel this hot July day, dressed in black, sit many of its good doctors, all friends of the 45-year-old surgeon who lies in the oak and brass coffin up near the altar.

We six surviving sons of the doctor have been seated in the pew second from front. The people sitting in the row behind us can see our shoulders heaving in sobs.

Er, no ... wait a minute.

They see our eyes are red and hear our sniffling, yes, but at least one of the good Christians behind us has figured out that our watery eyes, runny noses, and shaking shoulders are actually the result of an attack of wild but stifled laughter. Something hilarious has just happened in our pew but from the undisturbed faces of most of the congregation, whatever it is that’s so funny remains our secret.

Perhaps out of embarrassment for us, the good Christians turn away and look instead to the end of the pew where our mother sits. She is gazing up through her black mantilla at the sunrays pouring through the high stained-glass windows. Her lips are moving. Perhaps they think she is praying but she is not.

* * *

An hour earlier, my family was in a two-car motorcade driving through the July heat toward the church.

In front is the Towey Funeral Home’s limousine, ferrying my mother and the two youngest; me, 11, and 9-year-old Collin; we are both wearing suits and ties mothballed since our last fidgety visit to church years ago. Holding Mom’s hand is her brother Jimmy, in from Philadelphia to help settle affairs. The car is appropriately solemn.

Thirty yards behind the limo, in the family car, are my four oldest brothers.

The radio is up loud playing the Beatles #1 song,
Paperback Writer
, and all four boys are laughing their asses off.

Driving is the oldest, Kip, still sporting a California tan from his freshman year at Pomona College. Next to him is Jeff, a pale Minnesota 17 and in the back, the two middle brothers, Chris and Dan; 14 and 13. All four are laughing so hard there is talk of slowing the car down so their raucousness won’t be detectable from the limo ahead.

The laughing had started with a joke from Kip, the 1965 State High School debate champion. He’d wondered whether, after our father’s eulogy, the minister might allow “fifteen minutes for rebuttal.”

Gales of laughter. Slapping of vinyl car seats. Wiping of eyes.

“We really ought to pull back,” Jeff cautions.

Kip says, “Here’s the cool part. Turn it up.” And the elder two in front sing along with the Beatles in voices practiced from four years of performing in their own rock-and-roll band, The Pagans.

“It’s a dirty story of a dirty man, and his clinging wife doesn’t understand.”

The car drops back 40 yards. The storm of laughter passes. Deep breaths taken.

A pack of Philip Morris Multifilter cigarettes is passed around.

They ride in silence for a mile. Chris turns to Dan beside him in the back seat and inquires, “So, does one hold applause until
the preacher guy or … what?”

He’s teed up another joke to get the storm going again but the levity is short-circuited as their car pulls up in front of the church.

Stepping out on the passenger side, Jeff chirps, “Good turnout,” as if the crowd gathering here under the noon sun is a party or celebration. The tears of laughter come again.

But now, as they approach an observant congregation, the four older brothers realize the need for decorum. They discover casting their eyes downward not only looks appropriately mournful, it keeps them from locking eyes with each other. Even a glance will set off the reflex, renew the conspiracy, the competition to assess the comic potential of the serious moment, to ferret the absurdity, to nail the inappropriate remark that pops Rochester’s conservative adult bubble. Going through the church doors Jeff silently muses, “It’d be nice if they had a TV,” and files the wisecrack for use later.

Finally all six brothers are together again, seated in the sanctuary a row back from the front pew, and the service begins. With eyes safely locked now on hymnbooks shelved behind the first pew, the conspirators relax, relieved to see we can finally exhale smoothly without the rippling diaphragms of remembered laughter. The attack passes as the minister guy drones on – somethin’ about lambs of Jesus, somethin’ about Trumpet of Gabriel.

Half-listening, Dan looks down at the fold-away kneeling pad and whispers, “Hey, check it out. A footstool.” Folding it down, perhaps a little too quickly, the squeak of the hinge is loud in the quiet heat of the church.

To the six boys the sound is a set-up for a hundred unsaid jokes.

“Mind if I put the ol’ dogs up for a spell?”

“Nice funeral. We should do this more often.”

And when the laughter threatens to boil over, we realize it will be our unmasking. The good Christians will know they have infidels in their midst. Atheists! Even the name of that rock-and-roll band: The
And them,
at their own father’s funeral.

But the dam holds. Maybe one or two of the congregation wonder what just happened on the family row up front, but most do not. To our relief, our mother doesn’t notice either. She is looking fixedly up at the sunrays which angle down through the stained glass windows that rise nearly four stories.

The ceremony ends. As the organist plays
Nearer My God To Thee
, pallbearers begin to push the coffin containing the body of Dr. Charles Roger Sullivan slowly down the aisle.

As the coffin rolls past, each one of us realize as if for the first time, “My father is in that box. He’s dead. He’s never coming back.” And our tears of laughter are replaced with the other kind.

BOOK: Thirty Rooms To Hide In
13.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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