Following a lead

When I was reporter back East one of my favorite sources was Ron, who used to own the Old Creamery Grocery in Cummington, one of the towns on my hilltown beat, population less than 800.

Ron was a transplant from New Jersey, a reverent Jew who closed the general store on high holidays. He also had worked in PR, so he had a keen interest in news. He knew how to chat up the customers and, better yet, was an excellent eavesdropper. He tipped me to so many stories and only misled me once, but it would have been a great one if it’d been true.

Ron called to say two archeologists from MIT had stopped at the store to say mastodon bones had been found in the Swift River section of Cummington, a discovery of immense proportions. “I wanted you to get the story before the New York Times and the Globe,” my loyal source told me.

So I drove to Swift River, following Ron’s directions. I parked the car at the end of a dirt road just as a state wildlife truck was pulling out, which I took as a good clue.

But as I hiked in the woods to a clearing, I didn’t find a crew of scientists or equipment or even footprints in the snow. All I saw was the paw prints of bear, massive ones, but I kept searching for an hour or so, trying different roads until I returned to the store.

Ron was incredulous that I didn’t find anything, the men had been so serious, but then a customer overhearing our conversation started laughing. The night before on the TV show, “Northern Exposure,” two characters played the same trick on the locals. Now the laugh was on us.

I used to tease Ron about the story, but I didn’t hold it against him.  He and I had been duped together.


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