I’ve wanted to be in a secret “men-only” club ever since I was a kid. I mean, growing up in the early 60’s I had the great role models of Fred & Barney in their Royal Order of Water Buffalos; Ralph & Norton (Gleason and Carney) in their Order of the Raccoons; and of course the one and only “OUR GANG” (Spanky & Co.) with the best club of all: “The He-Man Woman-Haters Club!”
As a commuter student back in college I did not join any frats. The two “honorary” academic groups that I was allowed to join were neither secret nor exclusive (though I did think the candle-light initiation of the SDX; the Society of Professional Journalists, was pretty cool.)
So there I was living in a brand new community of less than a few thousand people. The whole county was far smaller than any city I’d ever lived in. I was the new County Attorney and I wanted to both “belong” and be in the “right group(s).” As the chief prosecutor, it did not escape my laser-like vision ( J ) that the sheriff, under-sheriff, and magistrate judge were all Masons. Hey! I knew something about the Masons. Actually I didn’t. My uncle had been a Mason. He had had a neat ring with the compass square “thingie” on his ring. They had secret handshakes—I liked that.
So I did some research (this was pre-internet and pre-PC) and found out just enough to give my own “will” and “ego” the ammunition that it needed.
Oh, did I say that I wasn’t a very active Church-goer at this time. I was LC-MS (sic) of course, and a member of a parish in a larger community about 35 miles away, but I was only going to Sunday’s Services about twice a month. Somewhere in the back of my mind (I had received horrible catechesis as a 7th & 8th grader; but, blame the old ALC for that) I seemed to remember that my synod and my pastor would not be too keen on the Masons. So, instead of getting an official and clear “NO” from Pastor “R,” I just avoided him and continued my own autodidact research. Wow! George Washington (my then favorite president and maybe favorite American ever) had been a Mason. The “rough-rider” and “bully” T.R. (my then second favorite President/American) had been a Mason. Lots of Supreme Court Justices had been Masons. And best of all, the Lodge didn’t let girls join! Ha-rumph! For the record, my view on T.R. has changed 180% since 1986/87 (the years this story deals with).
Now, all of the above is not because I was a misogynist, but rather because at that point in my young, conservative, republican, political, neo-con, life…I was just damn sick and tired of all the rabid feminism that was intruding everywhere on the America that I still remembered from my early 1960’s youth. I was then, and am now, a firm believer in the salutary separation and segregation of the sexes in many areas: ONE BEING—social clubs and service groups. But I digress.
So, after asking the under-sheriff about joining, I was visited by a delegation from the local lodge. They were small town gentleman/farmers and seemed sensible, restrained, polite, and welcoming (if not, very powerful…this was not going to be C. Montgomery Burns and Count Chocula’s STONE CUTTERS).
The under-sheriff ended up being my sponsor and catechist. I had tons of memory work to, well, memorize, for the three rituals to be passed. One joining the Masons had to take memory tests for the 1st, 2nd, and then, 3rd degrees. After passing the 3rd degree, one was in the Lodge as a Blue Mason, or Master Mason. All of the other degrees, 4th through 32nd, were honorary and entirely voluntary.
What’s sad and tragic to say, now in retrospect, was that I studied my Masonic memory crap a whole lot harder than I ever had to study my Small Catechism for Pastor “R” (a different pastor “R”) back in 1969. Even for my final “test” before confirmation, the Pastor gave our entire class the choice of memory work questions, OR, putting on a public demonstration of “what the Faith meant to ‘me.’ ” Can you guess what every single one of his 30 catechumens opted for? J
Well. I studied my Masonic catechism very dutifully, and in short-order was ready for the ceremonies. All of the language in the memory work about having “my tongue cut out” and “my throat slit,” and “my bowels removed while my body would be left at the…something in the ocean…” was dismissed by me as just cool, hyperbolic, “college-rush” ceremonial mumbo-jumbo. After all, didn’t even Beaver Cleaver and Larry Mondello have the same kind of imprecatory oaths and solemn promises in the episode featuring their two kids’ gangs: “The Bloody Five,” and the “Fiends?”
Well, it was time to go to the Lodge and be tested!
[ End of Part One]