In this postcard, I jump ahead a few years to write about two very interesting people I met in Worthington when we lived there. One story leads to another.
My Worthington neighbor, Maura, and I once had a very good idea. We wanted to start a radio station just for the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. We had it all planned except for the money. Maura, who worked in television news, said we needed about a million dollars. Too bad. Of course, this was before podcasts.
What would we broadcast? We’d ask the road bosses to call in reports on road conditions during winter storms. They’d tell us when the sand trucks were heading down Mason or West Chesterfield hills, and whether they were keeping up with the ice on the roads. They could warn which roads were impassable during mud season and save people a lot of trouble.
The maple sugarers could talk about how strong the sap is running. The man in town who kept track of the weather could keep us in the know.
We’d cover school events, ball games, and town meetings, where everything in the hilltowns is settled. We would record local concerts and “man on the road” interviews about local politics and other hot issues.
We’d inform anyone who listened about which residents had died and which ones were just born. We’d brag about the kids who were graduating from high school.
If there were a Fourth of July Parade, a truck pull, or a pig roast at the Rod and Gun Club, we’d be there as well.
And every day we’d have a program called “Fifteen Minutes with Lester.”
When my family moved to Worthington, Lester Champion had lived there for over 40 years. He had a kind, round face, and an old-fashioned way of putting things. He and his wife, Mary, lived in a humble home of stone on the edge of a potato field at Old Post Road.
I did a story about his truck farm when I was a reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. He told me the earth was so hard he could bend a crowbar beating on it.
And Lester, who was in his 70s, could talk, talk, and talk about most everything — gardening, weather, nature, Cape Cod where he grew up, or being a glider pilot in World War II — in his slow, deliberate way. If I ran into him, usually outside the town’s general store, I counted on losing at least 15 minutes that day but he always had something worth listening to. Others were not so patient and went out of their way to avoid him.
So here was our idea. Maura and I would give Lester free choice on any topic. He’d get 15 minutes to say it. Only 15 minutes. And, we’d all get to listen on the radio.
Lester Champion was the one who told me about Mary Kartashevich and her pet porcupine. Call her, he told me over the phone. You’ll get a good story.
I was a reporter then covering three small towns and more. I had a biweekly column in which I wrote about people and things unique to the hill towns of western Massachusetts. Mary’s porcupine sounded like a good fit.
I drove to the outer fringes of Worthington where Mary lived alone in a farmhouse built when the center of this town was much farther west.
Mary was friendly and happy to see me. And, there was the small porcupine hanging out with some of her cats. Before I got close, it waddled off to hide between some rusted farm equipment and boards near a shed.
Mary begged the animal to stay, but gave up. “He senses there is someone strange,” she says.
She told me it showed up mid-winter, an orphan she believed of the porcupines that took over a nearby orchard. Mary cut up apples to feed the baby, and eventually it would take a piece from her hand. When spring came, the porcupine turned to grass shoots and buds on maple trees.
The animal stuck around and even napped in the sun with her black and white cats. Skunk cats, she told me they’re called. She had a dozen.
Mary said the porcupine followed her around the yard and would go inside her house if she let it. She said it came when she called, “where’s my little baby porcy?”
But like so many stories, you go to the scene expecting one and come back with more.
We walked around the farm, and I marveled when Mary, who was 71, leaped over a stone wall like a young girl. She told me she moved here from Connecticut nearly five decades ago with her father and two brothers. They bought the farm for $4,400.
Her father always wanted a farm but he wasn’t successful with it, He tried cows for milk and then chickens for meat and eggs, but neither panned out. So the family found work off the farm.
Mary said after they got through another winter, the family would vow to sell the farm, but then summer came and they forgot about it.
She and her brothers never married. She was the last one left in her family.
I saw Mary a couple of weeks later in the general store. She was pleased I said hello. Many people don’t, she told me.And, she said, one day the porcupine went away and didn’t come back.
Last I heard Mary sold the house and acreage to a neighbor. I hope she got a good price and went some place where life was a little easier.