“Home is where the heart is.” Pliny the Elder
We turned off Route 2 in our wheelchair van and started down the short grass and dirt road that would take us to Ludden’s Field. We were well aware that modified vans such as ours have low ground clearance, but the road appeared to be in good shape. Then we saw the railroad tracks. The tracks did not have a proper crossing because this was not a real road. The community event that we were attending is so popular that we were actually in bumper-to-bumper traffic (yes, on a dirt road). As such, there was no easy way to change our minds and turn around. We should have tried harder.
Being the take-charge guy that I am, after surveying the situation I told Kim, “You need to stay to the right to get over these railroad tracks.” She did. Sure enough, we heard that dreadful scraping sound from the underside of our van. Considering how much we had to pay for this van, that sound just sends chills up our spines. There we sat, straddling active railroad tracks (probably not a great idea), with a line of vehicles impatiently waiting behind us.
Luckily, a kind gentleman walked up and relieved me of my leadership authority by barking out new orders. He had Kim back the van up, which of course was accompanied by more horrendous scraping sounds, and the requisite spine chills. Then he instructed Kim to stay to the left instead of the right. She did, and we proceeded over the railroad tracks without further problems. A quick inspection of the vehicle revealed no obvious damage.
We were attending the 66th annual River Driver’s Supper, the premier event of Lincoln’s Homecoming Week festivities. It’s always held in Ludden’s Field, along the banks of the Penobscot River. I think that the process for putting on this dinner has remained almost unchanged for decades. I suspect that when the planning committee gets together, some number of months ahead of the event, they dust off old, handwritten notebooks, see who they have for volunteers this year, and start assigning names to tasks (and yes, there are men’s tasks and women’s tasks). As near as I can tell, nothing about the supper changes, ever. This isn’t typically how I operate, preferring instead to manage for continuous improvement. But I must admit that it is comforting to preserve tradition in certain facets of our lives, like they do here.
The staple food at this supper is bean hole beans, along with fixings such as biscuits, coleslaw, desserts, and punch. As much as we were looking forward to an old-fashioned meal, we were more interested in chance meetings with people who we hadn’t seen in years. We met up with my uncle Richard and Laura. We bumped into folks that I used to work with at the paper mill, such as Carl and Ann. We saw high school classmates of ours including Jeff and Debby, and so many more people. For some folks, this may have been the first time they had seen me in a wheelchair, and I’m glad it was my super-cool iBot. It makes me look less unfortunate.
As we were leaving the supper Kim had an idea. Instead of loading me into the minivan, I would put the iBot in four-wheel-drive and head over the railroad tracks myself, waiting for Kim on the other side. No problem. Again, there was a steady stream of traffic in both directions. This time she took the van on the better route, and without the extra 500+ pounds that my iBot and I contribute, the ground clearance was much improved. She cruised over the tracks without incident.
99% of my human interactions on this three-day trip were positive in nature. Of course, I’m going to tell you about the other 1%. As Kim pulled away from the railroad tracks and toward where I was waiting for her, she stopped to load me into the van. There was no room for her to pull off the road to accomplish this task. Some asshole saw Kim stopping and informed me, “You know there is a line of cars waiting just for you.”
That comment set off a rarely used switch in my brain. I looked at him with shoulders shrugged, palms skyward, and eyes wide open, shouting, “What the hell am I supposed to do?” I think he was taken aback by such an assertive response from a disabled person. He just kept on walking. It took me all of about 20 seconds to get loaded into the van, and nobody behind us seemed to mind. Afterward, I regretted having been so polite to this thoughtless man. The things I could have said…
Kim and I thoroughly enjoyed our hometown vacation. We were born in Lincoln and lived there until we left for college. After stops in Ohio and Vermont, we settled in Lincoln again from our mid-20s to our late 30s. Since moving to southern Maine 13 years ago, we had visited Lincoln several times a year. My mother died five years ago, and my dad passed away two years ago. This was our first trip back since shortly after his death, and I have no idea when we’ll return. We love our new city, and have no regrets about moving, but Lincoln will always be where we are from.
I hope that this little town will continue to welcome us home whenever we visit again.
Click here for part one.