For A Garbage Man In Minnesota, 'Trash Tells A Story'

Jan 20, 2017
Originally published on January 25, 2017 9:06 am

John Marboe is a Lutheran pastor who grew up admiring his local garbage collectors in Alexandria, Minn. When times were lean for his family, he decided to take on some shifts hauling trash.

At StoryCorps in Minneapolis, Marboe tells his 13-year-old daughter, Charlie, that he's been hauling trash since she was about 8.

"Did I ever tell you the story about when I pulled up to an intersection and there was a mother and her little children and her littlest boy just started waving and I was waving," he says. "And the mother looked up at me with this kind of concerned look and then grabbed her son. It was almost as though, 'No, that's not something you're going to want to be.' "

"I think, to me, as your kid, I'm not embarrassed when people say like, 'Oh, what does your dad do?' And I'm like, 'Oh, he's a pastor, he's a garbage man,' " Charlie says.

Marboe, a Lutheran pastor in St. Paul, Minn., is also an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, teaching youth and spirituality, and he received his Ph.D. in mythological studies in 2011. He took the trash collector job because he was unemployed and needed to support his family.

Marboe keeps hauling trash because it's important.

"I don't know if I want to say it's more important, but it's differently important. You're doing something for people, and I think especially, I'm aware of that when it's hot out, when it's really smelly, when there are a lot of maggots," he says. "But as a garbage man, I probably know more about people on my route than their pastor does — because their trash tells a story."

Marboe remembers once he found a note written on the back of an envelope. It said, "I've tried and I've tried and I've tried and I just can't stand the pain anymore."

"I looked at it and I thought, 'You know what? I'm paid here to take out the trash, not to intervene in people's lives based on what I find.' As a pastor, all I could do was say a prayer," he says.

Charlie's first sentence was 'It all goes,' and that, Marboe says, has special relevance to trash collection and life.

"'It all goes.' And to do the trash, it's sort of a reminder that every small thing that we ever do for other people is valuable, even if it might be really small and unnoticed," he says.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.

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 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is time now for StoryCorps. And today we'll meet a man who performs two very essential, very different jobs. John Marboe is a Lutheran pastor who grew up admiring his local garbage collectors in Alexandria, Minn. And when times were lean for his family, he decided to take on some shifts hauling trash.

He came to StoryCorps with his 13-year-old daughter Charlie to talk about his work as a pastor and garbage man.

JOHN MARBOE: I've been hauling trash probably since you were about 8 years old. And I brought the truck to your school, didn't I?

CHARLIE: Yeah, you decided to pick me up in the garbage truck. Then I hopped in reluctantly. I was kind of like, this is my last day of fifth grade...

MARBOE: Right in front of your friends.

CHARLIE: Right in front of my friends.

MARBOE: Did I ever tell you the story about when I pulled up to an intersection and there was a mother and her little children? And her littlest boy just started waving, and I was waving. And the mother looked up at me with this kind of concerned look and then grabbed her son. It was almost as though, no, that's not something you're going to want to be.

CHARLIE: I think to me as your kid, I'm not embarrassed when people say like, oh, what does your dad do? And I'm like, oh, he's a pastor, he's a garbage man.

MARBOE: I keep doing it because it's, I don't know if I want to say it's more important but it's differently important. You're doing something for people, and I think especially I'm aware of that when it's hot out, when it's really smelly, when there are a lot of maggots. But as a garbage man, I probably know more about people on my route than their pastor does because their trash tells a story.

Charlie, do you remember the note that was written on the back of this envelope? I've tried and I've tried and I've tried and I just can't stand the pain anymore. I looked at it and I thought, you know what? I'm paid here to take out the trash, not to intervene in people's lives based on what I find. But as a pastor, all I could do was say a prayer. It's similar to the way I feel about doing funerals, though it's not usually as intense.

But it puts me in touch with that side of life which is about loss, that everything is temporary. And I love remembering the things that you said when you were, like, really little. Your first sentence was what?

CHARLIE: It all goes.

MARBOE: It all goes. And to do the trash, it's sort of a reminder that every small thing that we ever do for other people is valuable, even though it might be really small and unnoticed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: John Marboe with his 13-year-old daughter Charlie at StoryCorps in Minneapolis, Minn. Their interview was recorded in partnership with Georgetown University's American Pilgrimage Project that gathers stories about the role of faith in everyday life. That interview will also be archived at the Library of Congress Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.