This quaint Western Massachusetts town of 1,100 was settled in 1764. Country music singer and former lead singer of Stained, Aaron Lewis calls Worthington home and references it in a number of his songs:
‘So I just passed the sign that welcomes me to Worthington. Established long before this country came to be. A place that at hasn’t really changed with time. The way this country that I love it, used to be” – Aaron Lewis “Massachusetts”
Worthington, Massachusetts – 1994. It’s a beautiful Spring day and I’m out and about…continuing to prove my inability to reach even a basic level of proficiency as a door-to-door salesperson for Combined Insurance of America. The product – supplemental accident insurance. The pitch – succinct (though that never quite rubbed off on me). The prospects – folks engaged in lines of work where getting hurt was a distinct daily possibility. The company was headquartered in Chicago, founded by W. Clement Stone who coined the term “Positive Mental Attitude”. Many great quotes are attributed to him, including one of my favorites “Keep Your Mind On The Things You Want And Off The Things You Don’t Want”. I did have the privilege of meeting Mr. Stone in the mid-1990’s after winning some sort of sales contest and he passed away in 2002 at the age of 100. While this job was short-lived, the sales and mental attitude fundamentals greatly helped my future careers in the bottled water industry and at 3M – likely leading to an early retirement – and I owe much to these early prospecting efforts and self-motivators pounded into us by management.
Meandering along a winding country road between sales calls, I crested a hill to find four dairy cows in the middle of the road. After almost locking up the brakes on my sweet 1993 Toyota Camry, I look to the right and see a collapsed fence next to a quintessential red and white New England farm house. Being the good Samaritan, I pull into the driveway in order to alert the farm owner of the loose cows and the obvious traffic safety issue. A couple of forceful knocks with the metal door knocker…..Nothing. I tried the doorbell…..Nothing. Looking over my shoulder I become aware of the interesting details of the two silver Ford Crown Victorias….both have Virginia license plates….black steel wheels and dual exhausts. Now lingering at the door, I hear muffled voices and try the knocker one more time. As I strike it the third time, the door abruptly cracks open about three inches and a woman’s single eye is visible. “What do you want?” she says. I ask if the cows belong to the farm and she says, “Yes, so what?” I explain that four cows are in the middle of the road and that her fence had fallen down. Her response was a curt “I’ll take care of it” and then slams the door in my face.
Startled and thinking to myself that this reaction was far too rude for the situation and the ethos of this town, I knock on the door again. I’m dressed in a shirt, tie, sport coat & slacks. Clearly, I was not peddling encyclopedias or religion – just accident insurance…which must be just slightly more admirable. More muffled voices….and this time it sounds like a police scanner with static and clicking sounds. The door opens to its familiar three inch position and “What do you WANT?” is her greeting. Puzzled, I asked why she slammed the door in my face after alerting her to an obvious safety issue. Her response before REALLY slamming the door again was, “I said I’ll take care of it!” Stunned, I turned away from the door, got into my car and went on my way, seeking out the next candidate for a high quality supplemental accident hospital benefit insurance policy.
The next day I was at the police station, renewing the police chief’s insurance policy when he asks how I’m enjoying working in his town. After commenting on the absolute beauty of Worthington and the friendliness of the people….I share the odd story of the loose cows, red farm house and weird reaction of the woman. The police chief stiffens up and in a concerned voice asks if I said anything vulgar or off-color to the lady. No of course not, I said…I was just shocked at her attitude and pretty much told her that.
The police chief says, “Whatever you do…Don’t go back there. Don’t slow down as you drive by the house. Don’t even let your brake lights go on. That’s Tony Lake’s house. Do you know that name?” I’m just shaking my head. He explains that Anthony Lake is the Director of the National Security Agency under Bill Clinton’s administration. He goes on to say that there had been recent threats on Director Lake’s life and that a number of agents from the Secret Service were in Worthington as a security detail for the family. Virginia plates…..Crown Vics…..tinted glass…..Gulp. Before I left the police chief, he commented that if I looked out in the fields behind the farm house, I’d likely see a number of men at the property’s perimeter….standing with their backs to the main property. “Remember”, he said….”Don’t stop. Don’t even touch your brakes. I’m sure that they have already called in your plate and ran it through the system.”
My final memory of Worthington that week was driving by the farm house a few days later in the rain. Heeding the chief’s advice, I didn’t slow down but looking out into the field – two men in grey trench coats were visible in the mist. Standing at the property’s far corners facing away from the house they were motionless. That sight left me wondering two things…
1) Were they carrying handguns or Uzi’s under those coats?
2) With the full weight and capabilities of the US government…..why the hell hadn’t they taken care of the damn cows in the first place?
“Now, I grew up down an old dirt road in a town you wouldn’t know. My pop’s picked the place up for fifteen hundred bucks back in 1964…Now, two flags fly above my land that really sum up how I feel. One is the colors that fly high and proud, the red, the white, the blue. The other one’s got a rattlesnake with a simple statement made. Don’t Tread On Me is what is says and I’ll take that to my grave” -Aaron Lewis “Country Boy”