When I first heard of The Way We Get By, I hoped it would be shown at a theater near me. Thank goodness for the Cable Car Cinema, a cozy, single-screen streetfront cafe in Providence. I went with my friend, Pat, whom I can always count on to attend eclectic events with me.
It’s not the first time we’ve sat through a movie with me scribbling notes furiously, except this time I reached for my tissues a lot. The Way We Get By is an emotional documentary about the Maine Troop greeters, those Senior Citizens who gather at the Bangor Airport to welcome home planeloads of returning US servicemembers from Iraq and Afghanistan. Since Bangor is the easternmost major airport, it’s the first stop on American soil after deployments.
I’ve always said there’s a special place in heaven for the Maine troop greeters. They’re volunteers, mostly retirees, who venture out in the middle of the night through treacherous ice and snow to show their gratitude. The greeters shake hands with each soldier, back slap them, thank them, and send them to the hospitality room for food and free cell phone calls. What brought me to tears (and Pat too) was watching the soldiers emerge from the plane at 2 a.m. and seeing their faces light up at the cordon of applause and thanks.
The Way We Get By is also an up-close profile of three greeters. Joan Gaudet (mother of the film’s writer and director Aron Gaudet), who is a widow and grandmother struggling with the infirmities of old age. Yet she activates the telephone tree and marshals her fellow volunteers to the airport on a sub-zero winter night. Her granddaughter, a Blackhawk pilot with the Maine Guard, deploys and this is very tough for Joan.
Bill Knight, 87, a WWII Navy veteran and widower, is in the throes of crushing loneliness and growing depression. We see him auction off his belongings and sell his home to pay off mounting debt. At a doctor’s appointment, the camera lingers on an x-ray showing a dense mass on his ribs. Yet when at his post with the other greeters, he shows life and vitality. He’s found purpose and meaning.
We also observe Jerry Mundy, a Korean War Marine, as he experiences heart trouble, the death of a beloved dog, and the lasting sadness of losing his ten year old son many years earlier. But his natural joviality comes through as he takes a smoke break with the troops “Welcome home, GI,” he says to one. “Thank you, sir,” replies the young soldier. “Don’t call me ’sir,’” says Mundy, “I was a beetle cruncher like you.”
Ever since I read about the troop greeters in 2006, I’ve been so grateful for these folksy Mainers who send off and welcome home service members on behalf of all Americans. The Way We Get By is a loving tribute to them. Its personal glimpses of heartache, kindness, and service will leave you in tears.
Watch a clip http://thewaywegetbymovie.com/
Marna Ashburn Krajeski is the author of HOUSEHOLD BAGGAGE: The Moving Life of a Military Wife, and HOUSEHOLD BAGGAGE HANDLERS: 56 Stories From the Hearts and Lives of Military Wives. She also blogs at www.TheHangingIndent.com and www.GreatGetTogethers.com.