Working in Paterson

Narratives of Work:
Stories Told by Retired Workers and Their Children

Recognition of Skill

While the proverb "work done well is its own reward" may offer some solace, most crave recognition of their skills and occupational accomplishments by co-workers, bosses, family, and friends. It is not surprising that one type of story retired workers tell concerns experiences that confirm their status as superior workers.

Retired textile worker Sam Balister worked as a "twister" — an essential job in the textile industry that requires extraordinary concentration, precision, and dexterity. He became known as the best in Paterson, and his skills were in great demand by weaving mills. He appreciated the respect and good wages his skills brought him, but even when he was at the height of his career he wondered how his skills compared with those of legendary twisters of the past.

In particular, he wondered about Joe Bromilow, the twister who, according to at least one factory boss, was the fastest ever to work in Paterson. In most instances, this sort of question remains unanswered, but, as Balister describes in the following story, he was lucky:

I was working with Ronatex one time on Paterson Street. They used to have a place on Paterson Street. And the looms were in a row like this, you know, alongside the windows. And you get in back of the looms, and I'm right alongside the window. And in the summertime they had the windows open and anybody that walked by could look in, you know, and watch you, and [then] they'd walk away. And this old man used to come around once in a while. He used to limp at the time. He'd look through the window and watch me and he'd go away. This happened about maybe five or six times, you know. He always had some kind of bag in his hand. [He] went shopping, I guess. So, one day he happened to come by and he says to me, "I've been watching you for a long time." I says, "Yes, I'm getting to know you," I says. "What's your name?" He says, "My name is Joe Bromilow." "Oh," I says, "you're Joe Bromilow. You're the guy that [my old boss] Charlie Simmoni used to brag about how fast you were [at twisting]." [Bromilow] said, "I can't compare with you." He says, "I couldn't compete with you. I was fast, but not like that." He says, "You really got it," he says to me. "You're really fast." To me that was the greatest compliment I've ever received. . . . Even now, I get goosebumps when I think about it because that was a great honor for me to hear it from him, you know.8

The stories presented here allow us to look through workers' eyes into Paterson's bustling weaving factories, dye houses, garment shops and other workplaces of the past; to appreciate, in a more profound way, the meaning of being a textile worker or a garment worker or their children; and to better contemplate the legacy of the past in our time.

8. Interview, Sam Balister, Paterson, New Jersey, by David Taylor, August 7, 1994. ( Return to Text )


McDowell posing next to a barber chair
descriptive record icon enlarge image icon  Barber Louis McDowell poses for photos in his barber shop.


descriptive record icon "To me that was the greatest compliment I've ever received."

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