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The Good-bye Gift

by Lina Rehal

 

 
In January of 1966, barely seven months out of high school, I landed my first office job in a small local branch of a big insurance company, not more than ten minutes from home. It was a clerical position working for the manager of the Worker’s Comp team. It involved typing, filing, answering the phone, making sure weekly checks went out to claimants and managing claims as an inside adjuster.

I got along well with Arthur, the manager, and the three claims adjusters, Lenny, Rick and Dave. We worked hard, but managed to get in a few laughs. The guys were always cracking jokes and teasing the girls. It was not what I expected working in an office to be like at all. But, it was good-natured fun and everyone got along, most of the time.

There was a big turnover. I saw a lot of people come and go. Some retired, while others moved on to other positions. New people took their places. Office life went on.

Then one day, the inevitable happened. Lenny gave his notice. Our team was about to change.

We planned a party in the office for his last day. It was sad to think he wouldn’t be there to joke with anymore.

I set out to find Lenny the perfect gift and found it at T. W. Rogers, a popular department store in the downtown area close to the office. It was a brown beer bottle that had been molded into the shape of an ashtray. I was proud of my unusual gift and hoped he would like it

I planned on getting to work early on Lenny’s last day. I wanted to do a little decorating and hang up a good luck banner before he got there. While hurrying to my car, I dropped the neatly wrapped package in our driveway. It hit the hot top with a thud.

When I got to my desk, I carefully removed the paper and opened the box. Now what? I thought, as I looked at the cracked brown bottle with its tip broken off. What am I going to do? I can’t give him a broken ashtray

A few minutes later, my boss came in. “Good morning,” he grumbled from his cubicle.

Oh, great. He’s in a bad mood.

“Did you get the gift you went after yesterday?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“You don’t sound very excited about it. What did you get him?”

I walked into his cubicle and sat down. “I have a problem?”

Up to that point, he was only half listening to me. The look on my face got his full attention. He stopped what he was doing. “What’s wrong?”

I just blurted it all out at once. “I stopped at Rogers last night on my way home and got him this great ashtray and dropped it this morning. Now it’s broken and I haven’t got time to go buy another one.”

At first, he just looked at me like he thought I might have been joking. Then, Arthur sat back in his chair and laughed so hard, I thought he would fall over backwards. I was already on the brink of tears. I didn’t need him laughing at me.

Jack Tate, the man in the next cubicle stood up. “What’s so funny?”

When he finally stopped laughing, Arthur turned his chair toward Jack’s cube and answered in a loud voice. “She bought Griffin an ashtray and broke it.”

Now, I had two of them nearly rolling on the floor. At least he was in a better mood.

I was just about to get up, when Arthur turned back toward me. His tone had changed to a more serious one. “Why don’t you go back to Rogers and get another one?”

“You mean now?”

“If you hurry, you can be back before he comes in.”

“Thanks,” I said, as I flew out of his cubicle. “I’ll be right back.”

In less than a half an hour, I returned to the office with another ashtray nicely wrapped in shiny silver paper with a pretty blue bow. I placed the new gift and card on Lenny’s desk and hung the banner.

Lenny smiled when he came in and saw the banner and the gift on his desk. Co-workers stopped by to wish him well and say good-bye. Alice, the office manager, gave him two balloons and a lovely card. Arthur told him some of the men were taking him to lunch.

Once the parade of well-wishers stopped, Lenny looked down at my gift. “Is this from you?”

“Yes,” I said.

Rick turned toward Lenny. “Open it, already.”

Dave turned his chair around and moved closer. “Yeah. We want to see what she got you.”

“Well, I guess I better open it.”

Some of the girls had gathered around to watch. Jack stood peering over the walls of his cubicle. Arthur sat quietly at his desk.

After reading the card, Lenny picked up the package and tore off the pretty silver paper. He lifted the brown glass bottle out of the box.

“Will you look at that? What a great idea.”

He held it up for everyone to see.

“She certainly found the perfect gift for you,” yelled Jack.

“She sure did.” He looked over at me. “I love it. Thank you.”

Just as I was saying you’re welcome and telling Lenny how much we’d miss him, Arthur yelled out for the whole office to hear. 

“That’s the second one. She broke the first ashtray and had to run out this morning and get another one.”

I couldn’t believe he told him. While everyone stood laughing, I walked over to Arthur’s cubicle. There on his desk, was the first ashtray. Apparently, the broken neck of the bottle made it a perfect holder for his pipe.


Lina Rehal:Author of Loving Daniel and October In New York
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