“I first met Travis at the retreat open house three years ago before the facility opened for its first guests. Hundreds showed up to meet Travis and to see what he had done to remodel the former Elizabeth Arden estate in Rome, Maine, in the heart for the Belgrade Lakes region. After my wife, my daughter and I had our turn meeting him, I left, saying I have to do something for this man.
I went home, went on-line, and called up a volunteer application. There was a list of many, many opportunities to volunteer, but it was a bit difficult finding something for a then 79-year-old with a stout bearing and bad legs to do. But considering I was a good, safe driver that obeyed the rules, putting 25,000 to 30,000 miles on our car each year, I applied as a driver.
That entailed going to Maine’s airports in Portland, Augusta or Bangor, picking up our guests and their families at the beginning of the week and driving them to the retreat for their “Rome” vacation, then bringing them back to the airport at the end of their stay.
I initially volunteered because I wanted to do something for Travis, a dynamic young man who had given so much of himself for his country and never shows any sign of disability what-so-ever – just an easy-going, fun-loving family man who wanted to do something meaningful for his fellow recalibrated vets.
Let me tell you about my very first assignment. I was told it was a vet with a manual wheelchair, but he seldom used it. I stood outside baggage pickup in Portland with my sign with the family’s name on it. The plane was 15 minutes late. Big deal, right? For most of us that is close enough to on time. This late 30’s-early 40’s guy comes zooming out of the rotating doors at 90 miles an hour, apologizes for being late, says they have to collect their luggage but they’ll be right out and zooms back into the airport. I had only time to nod.
He and his wife emerged with their luggage and we congregated at the trunk. I stepped forward to put the wheel chair in the trunk, glanced at his wife who shook her head no. I stepped back as the vet, with two prosthesis, stepped up and started throwing luggage in the trunk. After getting all the luggage in he picked up the chair and tried to jam it on top of the luggage. Didn’t work.
Again, I started forward to help, and again, his wife shook her head no. I stepped back. He proceeded to take that chair apart, piece by piece, front, back, sides, and literally throwing the pieces anywhere they would fit in the trunk. I never knew there were so many individual parts to a wheelchair, and in less than 30 seconds, it was completely apart. He closed the lid with a satisfied look of accomplishment.
At which point the wife said, “I’ll have to sit in front. I get car sick.” I didn’t have any little white bags. You know. The bags with instructions in three different languages – French, German and Italian.
Our trip north was uneventful. I kept his wife engaged in chatter until we got off the Interstate, at which point the fauna of Maine took over. The husband was in the back seat with plenty of room and had been quiet for most of the trip, reacting occasionally to one of the historical Maine facts I presented along the way. Not very far out of Augusta, he boomed “Look at that!” It was a rather large flock of turkeys. He was really excited about the sighting. I slowed as much as I could as there was traffic behind me but also slowing to see the spectacle.
He asked a lot of questions about turkeys and other Maine wildlife and before we had gone much further, a red fox made an appearance and his excitement peaked once more. The rest of the trip was about the wildlife in Maine and he even got excited about a porcupine roadkill, and about the fate of Long Pond’s landlocked salmon.
This first assignment set the tone for all the other marvelous people to come. I first wanted to volunteer to do something for Travis. As I got to meet more and more of our guests, I realized I was doing this more for myself, meeting all these great people from all over the country and having a great time doing it. That morphed into the real reason I volunteered – the vets and their families.
Thank you, Travis, for allowing me the privilege of meeting so many extraordinary people who have sacrificed so I and my family can enjoy the many freedoms this country affords.” – Bob “Woody” Woodbury, Volunteer since 2018- Airport Driver