Garbagemen's Pay: A Reminiscence of 1930s Seattle by Dorothea Nordstrand

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 9/22/2005
  • Essay 7485
See Additional Media

This is a reminiscence of the 1930s by Dorothea Nordstrand (1916-2011), who as a young woman worked as a teller at the Green Lake bank. It is a humorous but kindly remembrance of the Fridays when the employees of Bert Navone's North End Garbage Disposal came in to cash their paychecks. Dorothea Nordstrand (b. 1916) has lived in the Green Lake neighborhood of Seattle since about 1919. In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including's People's History library.

Garbagemen's Pay

I was employed by Green Lake State Bank from 1934 to l944. During those years, there was a unique experience we tellers shared. Bert Navone's company, North End Garbage Disposal, paid their 30 or so employees each Saturday morning and every garbage truck in the north end of Seattle parked as close to the bank as possible while the men flooded in for their money. Saturday mornings, the district of Green Lake was the undisputed Rotten Smell Capitol of the Universe.

All three of us tellers really liked the men, who were nearly all recent Italian immigrants, with beautiful names like Patricelli, Razzore, Tavernite, Riviniro, Banchero, and the like. Many of them could not write their names, so we had to get to know them well enough to guarantee that the "X mark" used for endorsement on their checks were really made by the proper man. Nearly half of them were related to each other by blood or by marriage, and they greeted each other with back slaps and hugs. They were a great-humored bunch with wonderful smiles full of strong, white teeth and they all shared the uninhibited Italian camaraderie. It was like a family reunion every Saturday morning, and they always involved us in the fun. We liked them and we dreaded them. Besides the overpowering sour garbage odor, they smelled strongly of garlic and the wine they called "Dago Red." It was a hectic 20 minutes each week, but a time we tellers all enjoyed.

Then, everything changed. The bank president and Mr. Navone struck a deal in which the whole operation was dumped onto the head teller, me. The company bookkeeper would write only one check each month to cover the total payroll and that check and the payroll list, showing what each man had earned, was delivered to me at closing time on Friday afternoon. It was my job to write the name and the amount due each man, according to the list I received, onto the small payroll envelopes, and enclose the correct amount of cash in each one. This was no problem. It was our Saturday mornings that were put out of joint. For me, it was a disaster. The contents of each envelope had to be counted out to its owner and I, alone, faced the endless line of odoriferous customers. Instead of the 20 minutes involved when three tellers shared the pay process, it now took an hour. During that hour, I could feel the queasiness start and I knew that my face was turning a sickly shade of green, while my stomach began to rebel and churn. As soon as the last man was paid, I would grab my "Next Teller, Please" sign, dump it on my counter, hastily lock my cash drawer, and run like a rabbit for the back room to regain my composure. I always made it, but there were times when it was a near thing.

After about six months of this, the bank and the company mutually agreed to discontinue the “one teller” service, and I was very grateful. We tellers went back to sharing the check cashing. The other two tellers were glad to be back as part of the fun, the men had their waiting-in-line time cut from and hour to 20 minutes, and the people of Green Lake could go back to normal breathing almost before they realized that they were trying not to breathe. As soon as the heavy, noisy trucks with their equally noisy men roared out, calm settled back onto our small neighbor-hood.

After all these years, I fondly remember the Saturday morning invasions of those boisterous, happy-go-lucky men into the normal quiet of our little corner of Seattle. They were our favorite customers. They were such a happy crowd they brightened our day, and they certainly made their presence smelt.


Dorothea Nordstrand

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You