Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Jewel

Midnight Freemason founder Todd Creason recently wrote a piece about a Brother who had objected to being called "Bro." (https://tinyurl.com/y73zfl4t) It brought to mind a somewhat similar experience I had when I was editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine.

As do many Masonic magazines, ours included a section in the back containing news and events from Lodges around the state. Many of these were stories about Lodges which had recognized Brothers for 50 years of service.

On one occasion I got a rather scathing letter from a Brother with an intense objection to the fact I had called the award a "50-year pin." In his letter, he was adamant about the significance of the award and insisted it should always be called a "50-year jewel." He made impassioned points about how Brothers receiving that award had served the fraternity for nearly a lifetime and deserved more respect than having the award called a "pin."

The fact is I agreed with everything he said about the 50-year members. They were, in fact, among our most esteemed Brothers and they had served the fraternity well. They deserved every bit of the respect the author of the letter called for.

So I wrote him back and told him that; but I added that I didn't see the word "pin" as derogatory, and said I didn't think it detracted from the significance of the award. I noted it is the term Brothers commonly use when they talk about or present it. I also pointed out I didn't write those articles. Rather, the members of the Lodges themselves wrote them and sent them in. The articles almost always referred to the award as a "50-year pin," confirming how common that terminology was. I might also note Ray Denslow, one of our most prolific and respected Masonic authors, called it a "50-year button."

So, in the magazine, I continued to allow authors to use the terminology, "50-year pin;" but that isn’t the end of the story.

Todd's article eloquently talked about respect within the Craft. While I still believe calling the award a "50-year pin" is not disrespectful, I can't help thinking about that Brother's letter almost every time I see the award presented. I am persuaded that the word "jewel" may elevate its status, or the meaning behind it, just a bit. That pin and the Brother who wears it certainly deserve respect for his service to this fraternity. So, I find myself more and more referring to it as a jewel. That letter I received years ago was caustic in tone, but I am increasingly grateful to the Brother who wrote it. He gave me something to think about.

I might add, this coming April I am eligible to receive my 20-year… jewel.




The Secret Masonic Code

Dad and I were out fishing at our favorite spot. We were both sitting on top of a clod of dirt covering the roots of a massive tree that had fallen and uprooted. It started to rain, sprinkling at first, then drizzling, and then the deluge hit. Intrepid outdoorsmen that we were, Dad thought it would be best if we called things off. "I think we could stand a little rain," he said, "but if we catch any, we don't want those poor fish to get wet."

With that, we packed up our gear. Dad stood up to get down off our perch, which by now had become muddy and slick. A mountain goat couldn't have held his footing on that slime and Dad went down, sliding through the mud and landing with both feet in the lake. Trying not to laugh too much, I decided to try a more graceful approach to getting down. I grabbed a series of roots that were sticking out and slid down the mudball. We washed off as much mud as we could using the "clean" lake water, then got into our car and headed home.

In the course of our traumatic ordeal we had worked up an appetite, so we decided to stop for lunch. After our lake water mud bath, we figured it wasn't a good idea to go inside a diner, so Dad stopped at a place that had curb service.

I had the short attention span of most kids that age – I was about ten – and as we were waiting for our order, I got bored and decided to do a little exploring. I flipped open the glove compartment and saw a book. The cover said something about "Masonic Ceremonies." I pulled it out and started to examine it.

How cool – everything was written in code!

I settled on a page and studied it. Then I realized I could kind of make out what the coded words said… so I started to read out loud.

Dad whipped around and looked at me, "What are you doing?"

I beamed with pride, "I'm reading this secret book."

Dad grabbed the secret treasure from me, "You're not supposed to see that."

We sat in silence. Dad stared at the page I had been reading. "My God," he said, "what you read is exactly what it says."

Let's face it, some parts of our "secret" Masonic monitors aren't all that tough to figure out. Nevertheless, at the tender age of ten I could claim to have cracked the top secret Masonic code.

The New Road

Dad's new car was in for service in Noblesville, a town about 25 miles North of Indianapolis, where he had bought it. He had left it overnight, so Mom drove him up there to pick it up. I was about 6 or 7, and my brother Jim was a toddler, so we had to go along for the ride. State Road 37 was the main route between Noblesville and Indy. They were building a new section of the road, and Dad told Mom he thought it was open, "Let's take the new road back home," he suggested. We picked up the car and Mom took off ahead of us with Jim and I in the car with Dad.

We reached the new section of road and there were barriers across it, but they were kind of pushed off to the side. Mom stopped her car and Dad pulled up behind her. She came back to our car and asked if he still wanted to try the new road. "It looks finished to me," said Dad, "If the road was closed I think they'd have those barriers completely blocking it."  They made the decision to press on.

Mom drove onto the new section with Dad following. We got about a mile down the new road when we heard the sound of a siren. Flashing red lights appeared behind us. Mom pulled over and Dad pulled up behind her. The cop parked his car in front of Mom, got out and walked back to her car. They talked for a while, then Mom made a U-turn and headed back the other way. Then the cop came back to our car.

"Sir," he said, "this road isn't open."

"I'm terribly sorry, officer," said Dad, "but I was just following that woman ahead of me."

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

My Near-Brush With Elvis


I was in Noblesville, Indiana, a quiet little town about 25 miles north of Indianapolis. My mother and grandmother took me into a drugstore. We sat down in a booth and ordered drinks. While we were waiting for our orders, a man came into the store holding something and went over to see another man sitting near the front window. He was excited about whatever treasure he had. He and the other man talked for a few minutes, then the first man left.

As we sat there with our drinks the story floated through the place. This was big-time stuff for little ole Noblesville. According to what we heard, none other than Elvis Presley had come through town and had a problem with his car. The guy we had seen come in the front made the repair on Elvis' car and kept the old part he had replaced.

That was my near-brush with Elvis. I was in the same room with a defective part from his car. This was very early in Elvis' career, but I still like to think it was the pink Cadillac.




Saturday, January 5, 2019

Dinner

Back in the late '60s, early '70s I was young and idealistic and participated in marches and rallies for civil rights. Nothing I ever took part in was ever violent, but I wasn't shy about expressing my opinions about the issues of the day.

Home for the summer after graduating from college I worked at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. One day I got off my shift and on my way home saw a large group gathered with a sign that said "SCLC" – Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group dedicated to non-violence and founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wasn't certain what the event was but I felt compelled to stop. It turned out to be an action promoting naming some sort of park or memorial to Dr. King. In fact, as I later discovered it was more of a social event than a rally. I thought I saw a line where they were handing out signs or leaflets or some such thing, so I got in it. Young, enthusiastic and somewhat clueless, I struck up a conversation with an older black man in front of me.

Finally, I asked him, "What are we here for?" Expecting him to tell me what the rally was all about, I hadn't yet looked forward to the head of our line or I would have discovered they were handing out paper plates filled with food.

The man smiled and said, "Dinner."

Not exactly what I expected. That evening instead of carrying a sign, I ate a hot dog in the name of civil rights.

Friday, December 28, 2018

I'll never be a DDGL

It was a Lodge's nightmare… both the District Deputy Grand Lecturer and Regional Grand Lecturer were in attendance. Also a visitor at that meeting, I sat next to the two dignitaries and thought, "The officers better be on their toes. This could get ugly."

It went better than I expected but at one point during the meeting the DDGL leaned over to the RGL and whispered, "The Senior Warden said, 'You will advance to the West and communicate the password...' It should be, 'You will approach the West...' Should we stop them and say something?"

The RGL shook his head, "No… they got there."

I'm with the RGL: I am not a hard-core ritualist – and that's blasphemy in some circles. Don't get me wrong. I like a well-done ritual as much as the next guy; but I care more about whether the ceremony comes off well than if a Brother says "this" when he should say "that." I know… I'll never be a DDGL.

And don't even get me started on the guys in the "peanut gallery" who start yelling out the next line any time the speaker has more than a two-second pause. I'm not alone in that. I've been in Lodge when the Master appointed a proctor with the admonition, "I don't want to hear a word out of anyone else." I'm big on proctors.

I bring all this up because this week my Lodge tested for one of the ritual awards my Grand Lodge sponsors. We invited the DDGL in to grade us on our opening and closing. The guys were well-practiced and the ceremony went like clockwork.

I just sat there thinking how enjoyable it is to be in any of our ceremonies – especially degree work – when things just click along. That, as opposed to the living hell of sitting through the same thing when the speakers are ill-prepared and have to be prompted on every line. Sitting through an opening like that is the only time I actually look forward to getting to the reading of the minutes.

So, congrats to my Brothers at Liberty Lodge #31. They got the award.

Oh, there were mistakes. There are ALWAYS mistakes. I knew our perfect score was gone as the Chaplain, asking God to subdue our discordant passions, prayed, "Grant that the sublime principles of Freemasonry may so subdue every insubordinate passion within us…"

See, I just let that roll right off my back. In fact, I thought it was kind of funny. Unfortunately, the DDGL – you know, the guy keeping score – was not amused.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Small Sacrifice

I found a metal file box while I was rummaging through a closet recently. When I opened it, I discovered a treasure-trove of things my parents had saved. Among the items were World War II ration books. I'm certain they belonged to my mother, because at the time my father was slogging his way across North Africa, up through Italy and into France. You've seen the maps. My parents, Robert and Alice, were part of that industrious, young and determined group that really did save the world; and for good reason we now call them "The Greatest Generation."

People of that era made sacrifices unimaginable to most of us, now living in what Time Magazine has dubbed the "Me Me Me Generation" — not to be outdone by the "Me Generation" of the 70s.

I'm not sure what all of Mom's coupons were for, but I know for sure the U.S. rationed gas, food and other items. People were encouraged to recycle tin cans for the war effort. Children even donated their metal toys to help. Each family was allotted five tires (for one family car), and had to give any others to the government. Even the fact that we are at war today does not affect us like that. Most of us, apart from families with loved ones in the military, may make some sacrifices but not on such a large scale.

The material shortages ran so deep that it even affected, at least in one small way, the Freemasons. When Dad returned from the War, he joined the Fraternity. Although peacetime had returned, production had not caught up with demand and certain things remained hard to get. In Dad's Lodge and many others, it was customary to present a new Brother his apron in a cellophane envelope, suitable for its protection. Cellophane, however, was in short supply and his Lodge had to use paper as a substitute.

When Dad passed away, I could not find his apron. His Lodge, as is the custom, supplied one at his funeral. Later, while going through some of his things, I found it in an old cedar chest, inside that well-worn paper envelope. Despite its wrinkles and tears, it had protected the apron all those years. On it is a drawing of a Steward knocking at the inner door on behalf of a poor, blind candidate. Along with the picture is this accompanying note:

MASONRY WILL UNDERSTAND

Our fighting men need cellophane and its ingredients. For that reason the protection cellophane formerly gave our Masonic aprons has to be eliminated.

This white paper stock will carry on for the duration.

That envelope, having done its job, now hangs framed on my office wall as a reminder of those sacrifices.