Donna told everyone at work that she was going to retire March 31st of 2017 back in December of last year. Now, what usually happens when someone retires is they bring in a cake and some soft drinks. All the front office/salary folks gather in a conference on that person’s last day, the plant manager gives a short little speech praising the retiree and how hard it is going to be at ASCO when they’re gone, they present the retiree with a watch and the retiree says a few words. Then, cake is eaten and stories are told.
Around the middle of March Donna gets a call from the plant manager’s assistant, and tells her that on the 31st we will have too many different groups of visitors in the the plant so there will not be a conference room open. Could we move it Tuesday the 28th? Sure she says to the assistant. To me she says, “If they are giving me the cake and watch on Tuesday, I don’t want to come back for the rest of the week.” “Fill out a vacation request for Wednesday, Thursday & Friday” She has about 2–1/2 weeks of vacation left that she’d get paid for after retiring, and we had that money earmarked for a small project, but we really didn’t need it, so I don’t blame her I wouldn’t want to either.
Not more than two days later Donna gets another call from the assistant, “Ahhh, we need to move it to Friday the 24th. That OK?” “Sure,” Donna says. To me she says, “Fill out a vacation request for Monday & Tuesday now too.“1 We are now set for 12 noon on the 24th in the HR Conference Room for Donna’s going away Soiree.
About 10 minutes before the start time of the get together I wander down to the conference room to see if the assistant needs any help setting up, she has things well in hand and tells me the saga of picking up the cake. The cake came from Grocery Store #1 because they are know as makers of great tasting cakes. Normally they include one of those plastic cake knife/sever things with the cake, but they have stopped giving them out. She asks can I buy one? They tell her nope, we don’t even have any of them in the store any more. So she stops into Grocery Store #2, which also does cakes, to ask if she can buy one of those cake serving knives. They tell her we don’t sell them, but, you can have one for free.2
At this point I look down and see that the sentiment on the cake reads: Congratulations on you Retirement Donna. I wait for the assistant to apologize for the error, but she never does. So I figure, A) she hasn’t even noticed in the hullabaloo or B) is too embarrassed to say and is hoping that I don’t notice. So I don’t say anything because A) maybe no one else will notice and b) I don’t want to embarrass her.
The plant manager can’t be there to do the honors because he is on a conference call with someone higher up the food chain and if he does it will only be for a second, he is on his way out the door to an eye doctor thing. Next in the chain of command is Donna’s manager, so it should have fallen to him, but he has had unexpected doctor’s trip with his elderly dad. This leaves her supervisor for the remarks. “Donna has…how long you been with company?” Donna says “Thirty years.” Her supervisor continues, “Donna has been with the company 30 years and in this time…” This is about when I stop listening, but his remarks while totally un-noteworthy, were very brief. Donna’s to the assembled were even shorter, something along the lines of, “I’ve enjoyed my time here, but I’m glad I’m retiring. Let’s eat.” One of Donna’s friends/co-worker and I cut and dispense cake to the gathered throng.3
We are about 20 minutes into the ceremony and there are only about 6 or 7 people remaining from the original 35-ish when the HR Manager comes in and announces, “Well, I guess I’m right on time.” I cut her a piece of cake and we chat a bit longer. There are about 4 of us left and because the HR Manager is relatively new, we are regaling her of retirement ceremonies past. I don’t know if someone says the word or it suddenly occurs to her, but the HR Manager goes, “Your watch! Let me go get it.”
The three women left are oohing and aahing over the the thing and babbling on about watches while Donna and I stand there, mute. Because inside we are both thinking the same thing, “Whooo-pee.” Donna doesn’t wear a watch, never has and probably never will, but it was explained to her, like they explained birthday gifts to Dr. Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory: it is a non-optional social convention. Donna and the HR assistant had picked the most expensive one out of the available choices with the thoughts of selling it on Craigslist.4
Now it is down to just Donna, myself and the plant managers assistant with a very large sheet cake that is three quarters gone. We wonder aloud what we should do with the rest of the cake and the assistant says, “You can take it home.” But this was impossible, because even on her last day at work Donna and I have ridden the tandem bicycle. “why don’t we put it in the cafeteria so anyone who passes through can grab a piece,” Donna suggests. We all agree that sounds like a plan.
It is now just Donna and I. I start to finish cutting up the cake into little rectangles before moving it and I spot the envelope of a greeting card with Donna written on it sitting next to the cake box. I pick it up and ask, “What do you suppose this?” Well, what else could it be but a Hallmark card that has been passed around for everyone to leave their well wishes in, that probably should have been handed to her sometime during the party.