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'You Get Swept Up': A Story Of Love, Passion — And Vacuum Cleaners

Sep 6, 2019
Originally published on September 6, 2019 11:59 am

Tom Gasko loves vacuum cleaners. He not only repairs them, he has a collection of hundreds of vintage and modern models, which are on display in a museum and repair shop in Rolla, Mo.

His fascination with vacuum cleaners began early. It started when he was a toddler, with his mother's Rainbow cleaner. At 6, he began repairing his neighbors' broken vacuums.

"I learned to read from my mother's vacuum cleaner instruction book. That was the book I wanted her to read to me," Gasko tells his husband, Donnie Pedrola, at StoryCorps.

When they first got together in 2013, Pedrola was a vacuum novice. But that part of Gasko has rubbed off on him, and now Pedrola takes pride in knowing Electroluxes and Hoovers from Dirt Devils and Kirbys on the tours he gives at the museum.

"The night you came over for our very first date, I think we probably talked for four or five hours about the different designs of vacuums," Gasko says. "I would eventually start showing you the old ones that were in the garage. That's when you thought I was crazy."

"Definitely. I had never heard of anybody collecting vacuums before," Pedrola says. "And a collection, to me, is 50-60, not 600-700."

Pedrola recognizes that Gasko's passion makes him special.

"My life is totally different now. I see things differently; I view people differently," Pedrola says. "You get so excited about the simplest things."

"And you get swept up into it," Gasko says.

"The day that I pass, you know, after you cremate me, I want you to take my favorite vacuum — the Airway — and I want you to vacuum my ashes up into it," he tells Pedrola. "I want to spend eternity in that Airway vacuum cleaner."

"OK," Pedrola says. "Cause you know I love you."

"Well, and you never met anybody in your life like me," Gasko says.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kelly Moffitt.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Today on StoryCorps, we have a love story that sucks. Tom Gasko is a vacuum cleaner repairman who also collects vacuums. He has hundreds of them. He displays them in a vacuum cleaner museum in a strip mall in Rolla, Mo. He came to StoryCorps with his husband, Donnie Pedrola.

DONNIE PEDROLA: Do you remember first becoming captivated by vacuum cleaners?

TOM GASKO: My very first memory of the vacuum would have been my mother's. I would drag that thing out. And so many times, I had nothing left to clean. I learned to read from my mother's vacuum cleaner instruction book. That was the book I wanted her to read to me. And I was never shy about it. I would actually go up to people, and I would say, if you ever have a problem with your vacuum cleaner, I can help you with it.

Well, a lady down the street had a clog in the hose of her Electrolux. I remember she called my mother, and my mother told me to go down there and see if I could help her with it. So I put the hose on the exhaust end of this machine and out pops a huge pair of panties (laughter). I held them up and she said, oh, my gosh, I can't believe those were in there. And I remember saying to her, I can't believe they were in there either.

PEDROLA: (Laughter).

GASKO: The night you came over for our very first date, I think we probably talked for four or five hours about the different designs of vacuums. I would eventually start showing you the old ones that were in the garage. That's when you thought I was crazy.

PEDROLA: Definitely. I had never heard of anybody collecting vacuums before. And a collection to me is 50, 60, not 600, 700.

GASKO: Has my collecting vacuums ever been a problem in our relationship?

PEDROLA: No, there's never been a problem. Sometimes the garage gets a little excess, and it drives me nuts.

GASKO: But they're special machines. They're the...

PEDROLA: No, they've never been a problem.

GASKO: OK.

PEDROLA: Most people aren't that passionate about something. My life is totally different now. I see things differently. I view people differently. You get so excited about the simplest things.

GASKO: And you get swept up into it. And the day that I pass, you know, after you cremate me, I want you to take my favorite vacuum - the Airway - and I want you to vacuum my ashes up into it. I want to spend eternity in that Airway vacuum cleaner (laughter).

PEDROLA: OK. 'Cause you know I love you.

GASKO: Well, and you never met anybody in your life like me.

PEDROLA: Agreed.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: That was Donnie Pedrola and Tom Gasko at StoryCorps in Rolla, Mo., discussing their love of vacuums and of one another. That interview will be archived along with hundreds of thousands more at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.