It has been a while since I have seen John, since he retired and all, but as fate would have it, I did accidentally happen to see him…or maybe it wasn’t accidental at all. But I couldn’t let this experience just go by without sharing it. It was one of those times, which as I have gotten older and a little wiser (which is up for argument according to Pam) that I have been able to see past the obvious and realize that things…at least some things… happen as if they were written in some ancient spiritual script and we are merely following what was predetermined long ago. By now you are probably screaming at the page to ‘get to the point already’ ……and so I shall.
It was a Friday a few weeks ago and I was on my way to Lubbock Texas to a weekend training conference with some other members of the Education and Service Committee. Larry, our Chairman was heading the same way, just from a different direction. He was bringing two other of our committee members Richard and Lane. Realizing that our routes were going to join in a little town called Sweetwater and pretty close to lunch time, we decided to meet there and have some lunch and do a little planning for the weekend ahead before driving the last leg into Lubbock. We had sought the advice of that learned sage Uncle Google, and found out that the best place to eat in the area was Allen’s Home Style restaurant located just east of beautiful downtown Sweetwater, Texas. That seeming like our best option, we decided to meet there around noon.
Well, I got there about 45 minutes before they did and since I was unfamiliar with the town I figured I would locate this Allen’s Home Style restaurant and make it easier for them to find when they got in. I entered the address into my GPS and “proceeded to the highlighted route where the guidance system took over”….sounds familiar, huh? And she says that every time. As it turned out, I didn’t need the navigation system because it looked like every vehicle in Sweetwater was parked at Allen’s. I thought, “Wow, it looks like we picked the right place for sure. I called Larry and told him how to get to the restaurant and told him I was going to see if I could find an antique shop to look through while I waited. He threatened me about buying “all the good stuff” and he was still hurling threats as I hung up on him. He and I are on the same page when it comes to old Masonic stuff.
I conversed briefly with my favorite Uncle Google again to ascertain the whereabouts of any antique shops in Sweetwater and got four possibilities. I have been really lucky in the past to find some old and rare Masonic jewelry as well as some old books. All of the shops happened to be located on the same street and all were closed except one. I parked and walked in and was immediately greeted by the owner and his wife who told me to take my time and look around. I said that I didn’t have a lot of time but that I was just looking to see if they had anything in the store that was Masonic in nature.
Immediately I got the feeling that I had said something wrong. He and his wife looked at each other and then everywhere but at me. It was like I was a DEA agent and they were drug kingpins. They looked as guilty (about something) as I’ve ever seen anyone. I was greatly confused and asked, “What’s wrong?” And looking from side to side like he didn’t want anyone to hear (there was no one else in the store) he leaned across the counter towards me and said in a low voice, “I do have a few things but I can’t let anyone see them until the Mayor sees them first.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. I just stood there with my mouth hanging open trying to figure out what I had missed. A lot of things flashed by in my mind….did this town have a problem with Freemasons? Was I in some kind of danger? The hair stood up on the back of my neck as I watched his hands to see if he pressed a hidden button under the counter. Or did they have something really valuable and special? Or maybe …Brad is right when he says I am such a drama queen. Well that may be but this was a still little weird. There we were
just staring at each other across the counter when the silence was broken by the voice of reason….aka his wife saying, “Yes the Mayor is the Master of the local Masonic Lodge and he has first dibs on all Mason stuff.” “Ahhhh!,” I said, the light finally shining in. “I totally understand now. He is not only a good man but a smart man as well.” And as they nodded in agreement I thanked them and took my leave from the little antique shop on the corner of Main Street.
I decided to go back to Allen’s and just wait for the guys to show up. When I got there it was close to one o’clock and most of the cars had cleared out so I took a spot in front row. I wasn’t sitting there more than five minutes when Larry’s Tahoe pulled in and parked next to me. We all piled out of our trucks and threw the usual pleasantries and insults at each other and headed for the front door of Allen’s.
The minute we walked in the door we were confronted…and I do not mean greeted, I do mean confronted… by a woman who demanded to know how many were in my party. Startled, I quickly said four and she pointed to a table for ten that had three guys already sitting at it and said, “Sit there.” Not even looking at who we were going to be sitting with I glanced around at the room and saw that there were seven other tables and all of them were empty. I was confused, and by the look on Larry’s and the other guys’ faces they were too but before I could ask why, the woman ordered us again to sit.
Now, I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I am married and have been for 41 years and unless my life is in jeopardy, when a woman says sit I usually sit….and ask questions later. Apparently, Larry, Richard, and Lane had been trained in the same tradition. As we sat she asked what we wanted to drink suggesting iced tea and by the time our rear ends hit the chair there were drinks already in front of us. If everything hadn’t gone fast enough already, it got even faster as several women started placing platters and bowls of food on the table in front of us. We were still in the stunned mode and watched as each bowl and platter was picked up as soon and it hit the table by the guys across from us and after shoveling some onto their own plates, they passed them down. Eventually each platter and bowl made its way around the table to us where we likewise took some for ourselves. There was a platter piled high with fresh hot fried chicken (the best I have ever had) and another with half inch slabs of roast beef. There were bowls with what looked like every kind of vegetable known to man. As they passed into and out of my hands I saw mashed potatoes, potato salad, green beans, collard greens, red beans, cabbage, fresh boiled okra, creamed corn, mac and cheese, carrots, squash and gravy and fresh rolls… and a couple of things I could not identify but tasted really good. At that point there was nothing left to do but dig in and eat… and we did.
I had totally forgotten that we were sitting across from three other guys and when I heard his voice I froze for a split second before looking up and when I did I was staring into the big blue eyes of “THE” big John Deacon. I just smiled and stood up as did he, and met him at the head of the table. Our right hands clasped in that familiar grip embracing each other with the other. It had been more than a year since I had seen him and other than looking like he had gained a few pounds, he looked exactly the same. Realizing, I suppose, that food was on the table and getting cold, he broke away abruptly and went back to his seat. As I sat down he reached across the table and greeted Larry, Richard, and Lane and introduced his two friends who were not members of the Fraternity. “I thought you were retired,” I said to him as he filled his mouth with a sizable fork full of food. He tried to answer but was waived off by everyone at the table at the sight of him trying to talk with a full mouth. One of his companions, Mark, replied that, “He was, but they brought him out of retirement so he could show Bill and I the territory.” Then John, making a big deal out of swallowing added, “Naaah, I am
just showing these fellers all the best places to eat.” Now, that is something I could believe for sure. “And I’ll bet you are sticking your two buddies with your lunch bill like you used to with me,” I shot at him. And as I said that, I could see the two heads on either side of him nodding in agreement. “He used to justify sticking me with buying his lunch,” I continued looking at Mark, “by telling me that the wisdom he was giving me was worth every penny.” And as I said that, the two turned to stare at John who flushed slightly but kept on eating.
Finally we all settled into just enjoying the meal. There wasn’t a lot of conversation except for requests for more of this or that every time a bowl or platter got emptied. I watched amazed at the mountain of chicken bones on the plate next to John. Every time a bowl or platter was emptied it was replaced immediately with another full one and usually it didn’t have time to actually touch the table before John grabbed it and forked, scooped, or poured the majority of its contents on his plate. Wow, some things never change. As I sat there watching John I realized with satisfaction how un-stressful this meal actually was, since I didn’t have to pay for John’s lunch and I wasn’t trying to meet a deadline on writing his words of wisdom in time to get it in a newsletter. So unless he was feeling particularly talkative, there would be no profound pontifications today… and that was ok with me.
Larry, seeing how much food was being consumed and the unique situation we were in and John sitting right across the table from us, elbowed me and whispered, “Wow, this would make a heck of a John Deacon article.” And he was right, but the key was and has always been, whether and what he has to say. Sometimes what he says is …unprintable and sometimes it is un- understandable and then other times it is just a lot of whining and moaning. The truth was that right now I was hoping he didn’t have anything to say. But time would tell as it looked like he was starting to get full. I know I felt like I was about to pop, so I pushed my plate away and leaned back and took a deep breath. John saw my discomfort and grinned and said, “You think you are done eating Brother Chris?” “No,” I answered, not even attempting to hide my pain. “I don’t just think I am done…I know I am done.” John, still grinning said, “Just wait.” And as he said those words the smell of something familiar floated across the table….something I really liked. And before I could say it out loud, four bowls of warm fresh homemade peach cobbler were laid on the table.
The first two bowls were empty before they left John’s hands and the next two were empty before they got to me. Then came two more and the third two bowls I grabbed one and Lane grabbed the other and between the two of us Larry and Richard finally got some cobbler too. Then once again silence descended and before it was over there were four more bowls of cobbler delivered to our table. I had two helpings and I was sure I was going to be sick from overeating, but all John could say was “Told you so.” But it was some of the best peach cobbler I have ever had.
I had eaten so much I thought I might lose consciousness. I couldn’t remember ever feeling as miserable as I did and at the same time satisfied by the awesome food, and when I glanced around it looked like everyone at the table was in the same shape I was. I remember my grandfather used to lean back in his chair after a big meal and say to no one in particular, “I think I feel a nap coming on.” I used to laugh at him when he would say that but now I know that he was a very wise man, however, a nap was not in my immediate future.
All of a sudden the silence was broken by the voice of my Brother John who all of a sudden felt it necessary to expound to all of us his view of life and the world about us. He announced to everyone within hearing that he was in the process of expanding his mind. And before I could stop it from coming out of my mouth I mumbled
something about, “that’s not the only thing that is expanding.” We all had to endure a ten second John Deacon glare while choking on our laughter, before he went on. He said that there is a lot of things that are happening around us that we do not realize or even think about. He said that we need to make our view a lot wider and not just see what is in front of us. He said that he had been reading a lot about Brother Manly P. Hall and that Brother Hall had stated that “It is said that wisdom lies not in seeing things, but in seeing through things.
“Daaaang Brother John,” I said approvingly. “You sound like you have turned into some kind of Mystic or something.” “Brother Chris,” he replied looking a little puzzled. “I don’t really know what a Miss Stick or even a Mr. Stick or any other kind of stick or whatever the heck you are trying to say is… all I really know is that I am looking at things a little bit different lately. It’s like things are sending me out a lot bigger messages than they ever have before.” Everyone was chuckling at his ‘Miss Stick/Mr. Stick’ reference and the guy sitting on his left decided to take it a step further and said to John, “Do you have to wear your little tin foil cap to tune in to all those messages?” And then he threw back his head a laughed out loud. When he opened his eyes there were four Brother Masons, not laughing, staring daggers at him. With a look of confusion and fear on his face the laughing abruptly stopped.
John looked directly at the three of us and said in a serious voice, “I want to tell you what happened last week in Lodge. We were about halfway through our Stated Meeting when the Worshipful Master stood up and said he needed to make an announcement. He said that the week before, one of the Lodge Brothers had given him a gift. Well right there I started to thinking that the middle of a stated Meeting might not be the best place to talk about something personal that happened between the Worshipful Master and another Brother. But it turned out that he had a good reason for sharing it with all of us. He said that the gift was something of considerable value and that he was very touched by the Brothers desire to present it to him. He said that the gift had a note accompanying it and the note basically said thanks for being a friend and mentor to him for many years and for all the things he had taught him. As he was telling us this, the Worshipful Master got a little emotional and had to clear his throat a couple of times. And it was then that he commenced to making his point. He said that it had never dawned on him that he was doing the things that the Brother was thanking him for and that it had made him realize that as Masons…. “we don’t realize sometimes what we do for others.” The Lodge got real quiet as all the Brothers there contemplated that statement”….and he grinned as he glanced at the three of us, “just like all of you are doing right now.”
“Now there was a time,” he continued, “when I would just take that statement as face value and not give it much thought, but this is the new and improved John.” We all snorted and shook our heads and quickly agreed that we saw nothing new or improved across the table from us and we told him so. He glared and ignored us and went on with his story. “On the way home that night I couldn’t stop thinking about what the Worshipful Master had said. I started thinking about how important it is that we as Masons commit ourselves to being good men and to doing the right thing and without realizing it, our conduct probably does have an effect on those around us. Heck, if you belong to an organization that says to everyone that we take good men and make them better, people are probably going to be eyeballing us to see if we are who we say we are. As I was driving down that road, I recollected a time I read a paper where it pretty much proved that this great country was created based upon the principles and teachings of this Fraternity and yet there was no mention anywhere of our Fraternity as having anything to do with the founding of this country. History also fails to mention that almost all the major newspapers in the colonies at the time were owned and operated by
Masons nor is it written in any historical account of the founding of our Country that a large percentage of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and those who wrote the constitution as well as those who were the leaders of our Federal government were our Brother Freemasons.”
“I think that most of us at this table would agree with that, John,” I interrupted, having forgotten the perils of doing so. “But how does that have anything to do with your story about your Worshipful Master?” There was a silence…a too long silence…an uncomfortable silence accompanied by John’s death stare. I had forgotten how bad John hated to be interrupted and I have found that the best thing to do is just be silent till he gets his thoughts back together because that usually takes a little while.
Finally he got it together and continued as if he had never stopped, “The point is…my pain in the rear Brother Chris, that since there was no evidence anywhere that our Masonic Fraternity organized or led the revolution and yet the facts are there that our Country was in fact founded on Masonic principles, then it follows that the Masons of the thirteen colonies, and there were very few of them, by communicating and living those principles and tenets, influenced not only the revolution but also the writing of our constitution and the formation of the government. And therein lies my point and it is in the words that the Worshipful Master spoke. ‘We really don’t realize what we do for others’ or how much living our lives as true Masons influences those around us. And that is something we need to think about every day.” And then he shut up and let us contemplate in silence what he had just said. Naaaah, that’s not true. Actually he noticed a small bit of peach cobbler left in the bottom of one of the bowls and proceeded to scrape a couple of layers of paint off the bowl trying to get that last molecule out of it. But it did silence us and make us think. Even the two non- Masons at the table were left speechless.
As I sat there allowing the warm feeling of his words wash over us, it occurred to me that any good things that we do or any good things that others see in us that would influence them to emulate us, has to come as a result of not just being a member of this Fraternity, but by BEING a Mason and also understanding what a Mason really is and what Masonry is really about. Only then can Masons and Masonry have a real effect on people and society.
The name “Freemason” is not enough. There are way too many named (and many come to mind as I sat there) organizations and groups whose actions are contrary to what their name or stated purpose implies. The name means nothing unless the actions meet or exceed it. The majority of things that we do, we do without thinking about them and as such are the products of the good men that we are, but those times that we come to that fork in the road where we are challenged to do something different or react in a different way than most people would; those are the times that show the world the true meaning of being a Freemason. John’s worshipful master obviously had been a great example of Masonry to his Brother and I expect that he was the same everywhere.
I snapped back into the present at the sound of dishes clattering and not surprisingly John was busy making sure there was nothing left in any. On my left Larry announced that we needed to get back on the road and he was right. We had taken a lot longer than we planned for lunch. I asked for the bill but the lady clearing off the table informed us that there was none and to just go to the register.
I do not know how I managed to pull myself to my feet….it sure wasn’t easy…but it was gratifying to see that I wasn’t the only one with that problem. I was the first to stagger to the cashier and I started to tell her what I had eaten and she ignored me and simply said, “Ten dollars” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had my wallet in my hands and as I opened it I asked, “Ten Dollars?” It was obvious that she didn’t have the time or
patience to explain it to me as she reached into my opened wallet and deftly extracted a ten dollar bill slide it into the register and thank me all in the same motion. All the guys were in line behind me and it was apparent that everyone thought I was shocked by how inexpensive the meal was, however the truth was that I was angry. “How could you be angry,” you say? I was angry for several reasons. I was angry because of all the lunches I had endured with John that he had eaten enough food for four grown men and stuck me with the check. I was angry that here I was at the same lunch with John Deacon and all he had eaten was only going to cost his two groupies ten lousy dollars. Wow, I needed to get on the road and cool off. I got out to my truck and before I could open the door, I was stopped in my tracks by the booming voice of the John as he ran across the parking lot to my truck. He was pretty winded having run about 30 feet and I thought he might have a heart attack as he reached out and grabbed me in one of those smothering John Deacon bear hugs.
“I haven’t seen you for over a year my Brother pardner. Let’s not make it so long next time. Well I forgot about being angry and said, “I agree, John” and hugged him back even though I couldn’t come close to getting my arms around what can only be described as his equator. I am sure there were people who were scandalized watching two grown men hug….but there is a lot of meaning in a Masonic embrace. And that is all I am going to say about that… Sitting in my truck waiting for Larry to go in front of me I watched John haul his humongous -ness into the driver’s seat of Ol Blackie and I smiled at his name for that big black truck. And as he roared off down the road …..I was angry again about that dang ten dollars. I hope I can get over that before I see him again. Until next time…y’all be safe.