Group Portraits


March 26, 1982, was my last day at the Center. During afternoon break, staff kept me away from the lunchroom so they could record a cassette tape, on which any client who wanted to could say goodbye. Some clients did this, others said goodbye to me in person, and some did both.

*     *     *     *     *

“Bye, Gwen,” Amy said to me in her soft, mournful voice, then smiled weakly as she offered a limp handshake. “Gonna miss you.”

*     *     *     *     *

Leroy said goodbye innumerable times. Whenever he could sneak away from grouting, he’d come looking for me in the packing room. He was excited over this special day when the rules were relaxed and work could sometimes be avoided. With a big grin on his face, he’d slap me on the shoulder while his other hand was pumping mine, and the whole time he’d be saying, “Uh, uhb, uh, uh—uhbye!” in a high, delighted voice.

*     *     *     *     *

George, on tape: “G’BYE, Glenn.”

*     *     *     *     *

Grant, on tape:
“Cwinkle, cwinkle, li’ul ’ar,
Ow vy ne are.
Cwinkle, cwinkle, li’ul ’ar,
Ow vy ne are.
Cwinkle, cwinkle, li’ul ’ar,
Ow viya are.”

*     *     *     *     *

“Say, Glenn, I hear you’re gonna be leaving us.”

“Yeah, that’s right, Ben.”

“Gee, that’s too bad. We sure will be sorry to see you go.”

“Well, I’ll miss you guys, too, Ben.”

“I hear you’re gonna be a—a writer?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“What’re you gonna write about—George Washington, maybe?” He chuckled, but uncertainly, as though that might be right.

“No, just writing for different books and magazines.”

“Oh, uh-huh.”

*     *     *     *     *

Neal came up to me and said something, but the only sound I could make out was luh.

“What’s that, Neal?”


“Oh. Well, say it one more time.”

He was becoming shyer and more embarrassed by the moment, when Hannah, standing nearby, said to me quietly, “I think he’s saying, ‘Have good luck.’”

“Oh, you’re wishing me good luck?”

He smiled and gave a slight nod of his head.

“Well, thanks, Neal. That’s very nice of you.”

*     *     *     *     *

Becky and I went through several goodbyes during the day, all with handshakes and some with hugs. “You’ve been here two years? Wow! You sure have been a good supervisor. Come back and see us. I’m gonna be prayin’ for ya!”

On tape, speaking slowly, pausing between sentences: “My name is Becky Rawlins…. And this is the last day for Glenn, so I—I hope he has good luck…. And we’re gonna miss you.”

*     *     *     *     *

“What—what’re you gonna be writing, Glenn?” Sam asked, his words tumbling out fast. “Writing letters—letters, stuff like that?”

“No, writing books, mostly.”

“Oh, I see. Where are you gonna do that?”

“Right here in town, in my apartment.”

“Oh, right here—right here in Great Falls?”

“Yeah, uh-huh.”

“Well, how—how many hours a day you gonna work?”

“Oh, I’m not sure, probably about eight.”

“Wow, eight hours, that—that’s a lot. Will you start at eight o’clock in the morning?”

“Well, maybe eight, maybe a little later.”

“Maybe nine o’clock?”

“Yeah, maybe nine.”

“Then you’d work from nine to five, huh, for eight hours?”

“Yeah, maybe. Something like that, anyway.”

“How—how long you been at the Center, Glenn? A long time, huh?”

“Yeah, a little over two years.”

“Yeah, we—we been friends a long time. I’m gonna miss you, Glenn, I’ll miss you so bad. Good luck.”

*     *     *     *     *

At lunch Leon sat near the staff table, and for thirty minutes gazed at me with a look of complete contentment. I think he felt very happy for me.

During cleanup he approached me several times, patted me gently on the shoulder, and said, “Good luck” and “I’ve enjoyed working with you” and “I grouted nine glasses today—that’s good, isn’t it?” I said it was terrific, because nine glasses was a record for him, and I told him that next week I wanted him to shoot for ten.

On tape: “We gonna miss you, Glenn. Have a good time.”

*     *     *     *     *

Out by the buses at the end of the day, the swirl of people hugging me and shaking my hand upset Charles, and I noticed him off at the side, biting his fist. When there was a momentary clearing, though, he swooped over. Placing his hands on his cheeks to help form the words he had to get out, he managed to say, “Goooo. Bye. Grrrenn.”

*     *     *     *     *

I was watching the clients board one of the buses when someone came up from behind and jabbed me twice in the back of the shoulder. By the time I turned around, Barry, taking long, quick strides in that Groucho Marx way of his, was already halfway to his van.

*     *     *     *     *

Ramona, on tape: “Me go you?… Bye, Hon’…. Tuesday…. Bye, Hon’. Bye. Bye. Bye…. Me go you?”

*     *     *     *     *

Of all the clients, Cyrus seemed the most moved. Four times he came up to me, clearly afraid that each might be the last time he’d ever see me. With his slick, spongy hand he shook my hand, and then, with what little strength he possessed, he hugged me as hard as he could. The whole time we embraced, he patted me on the back, trying to console me and console himself and wish me well, all at the same time—trying to say with his body what he could not say with words.

On tape (a staff member can be heard in the background, prompting him): [“Bye, Glenn.”] “Uh!” [“Bye-bye, Glenn.”] “Uh!”

*     *     *     *     *

No one could accuse Chuck of being overly sentimental. At the end of the day, heading for home, he walked right by me in the lobby without saying a word.

“Chuck!” I said, and he turned around.

“What?” He was in one of his ornery moods. “What you want, Lay?”

“Goodbye, Chuck.”

“G’bye, Lay!” he snapped, then walked out the door.

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