Noe Valley Voice July-August 2000

Gone But Not Forgotten: The Secret Recyclers

By Norma Paulsen

Growing up in Noe Valley in the mid-1920s was a time of simple pleasures and great wonder at the many events going on around me. We moved from Jersey Street to Alvarado Street because of the latter's close proximity to Alvarado School, where I was soon to start kindergarten.

Outside our new flat, my mother cultivated a most beautiful and lush garden admired by many of our neighbors. I'd like to think that only she and I knew the secret of the garden's botanical miracle, but I wonder if, indeed, the neighbors were on to it....

During the days of the Great Depression, a rag man would come through the neighborhood, driving his horse and cart, shouting, "Rags! Bottles! Sacks!" As soon as we heard his plaintive cry, my mother would send me off with my arms full of old newspapers and rags. She'd follow behind me with our box of used glass bottles (no wax cartons then). We would exchange our loot with the rag man for the vast sum of 15 or 20 cents. Then we'd head home.

In that era, there were no laws about cleaning up after your animals, and certainly no pooper-scoopers. So, as soon as dusk appeared, Mother would hurriedly leave the house with shovel in hand and me following, carrying an empty box. She would then quickly shovel the horse droppings into the box, and we would scurry back to our house.

After a few days of allowing the mess to dry, Mother would work the manure into our soil. Then we'd wait for the results -- dahlias, roses, and other colorful flowers and lush foliage -- to bloom and thrive. Despite the somewhat base subject matter, this is a beautiful memory for me, and I prefer to think of our garden as one of the first organic gardens in Noe Valley.

Noe Valley native Norma Paulsen, 77, now lives in San Bruno, where she has continued to indulge her interest in gardening. Upon her 1985 retirement from the San Bruno Recreation and Parks Department, she received as a going-away present a bag of horse manure from the city stables. And she was quite pleased with the gift! M

Gone But Not Forgetten

The Noe Valley Voice would like to publish your recollections of people,
places, and things from Noe Valley's past. Mail your manuscript, which should be under 1,000 words, to Gone But Not Forgotten, Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez St., San Francisco, CA 94114. Or send an email version (not an attachment, please) to Thank you.