By James C. “Chris” Williams IV – Staff Writer
This last month was strange and bizarre in many ways and it is a little painful to relive…but in some weird way I needed to tell the story. And, if you are reading this you are one of the ones that get to hear the whole story. I sent John and a few of those closest to him a slightly different version ….because ….well…you will understand after you get done reading it. As most of you know, Davy Crockett Lodge conferred our 8th annual “Widows’ Degree” last month and it was a great success as were the previous 7. For those of you who are new to this article, this is a program which was created to honor all wives and ladies of Masons and letting everyone laugh at us Masons by presenting a ceremony in which we initiate the ladies of Masons into a “secret”…wink, wink…. sorority of Masonic Widows. Not Widows in the traditional sense, but widows as in hunting widows or football widows or golf widows. To keep it fresh every year, we tweak it slightly and add or subtract a small part, always keeping the main body of the program intact. It is always a super funny program and everyone has a load of fun. This year the Brothers talked me into dressing as an older woman and portraying a member of the Grand Council of the Organization to confer the degree. At first I wanted nothing to do with that idea but I was reminded that our Brother Brad had dressed “in drag” the year before and everyone loved it. Soooo, reluctantly, I agreed to become Ms. Beulah Mae Beanblossom with the stipulation that we would keep it secret from everyone until I was introduced in the degree. Little did I know that Brad was going to surprise everyone and become Gertrude Shufflebottom once again. We sent out all the advertisements for the degree and started getting RSVP’s back. Now, that is all the background I am going to give before I tell the story.
It was a couple of days before the night of the Widows’ Degree when John called and said he had a big sales meeting in Houston and would be spending the night in San Antonio on Tuesday before continuing on to Houston the next morning. He wanted to meet for dinner and talk about the article for September. I told him that I couldn’t because of the Widows’ program that night….but I talked him into coming to Lodge and watching the program and told him we would try to meet before for a few minutes. I greeted him when he came in and we talked for a short time but couldn’t spend much time with him because not being used to dressing like a woman and knowing it was going to take a while, I had to disappear early to get it done. I told him I would meet him for lunch the next day and we could talk about the article. He knew a lot of the Brothers at our Lodge and he knew Pam so I wasn’t worried about leaving him alone. I also warned him about his behavior since I was going to have my Daughter Brenda with me at lunch, who was visiting from Oregon. As it turned out, the degree went fine and everyone had a great time. We initiated twenty-one new Masonic Widows with the usual ceremonies. I looked for John afterwards but couldn’t find him. Pam told me that he had told her he was tired and was going to the hotel to sleep.
The next morning I called him and set up lunch at a place called Chester’s Hamburgers. I thought that we may have eaten there before, but I had a taste for a green chili cheeseburger and Chester’s has the best. As usual, he arrived before Brenda and I did, and boy was he in a great mood. That sent up a red flag in my mind and I hoped he wasn’t going to get us banned from this place. Brenda and I found him in a back booth behind a large menu and we sat there listening to him talking to himself for a couple of minutes before he realized we were there. I introduced him to Brenda and gave him a warning glare, which he totally ignored while good naturedly bashing me for her benefit. Ordering food at Chester’s requires you to go to the counter and make your order and pay. Of course John, realizing this, had found a place to sit and he waited till I got there before ordering. I told him and Brenda that we might as well go and order, and I had to jump back to keep from getting trampled by John who made sure he was first in line. Brenda ordered some kind of salad something and John gave her a weird look asking her why she was having rabbit food for lunch. He then proceeded to order what seemed like one of everything on the menu. He ordered two of my favorite green chili cheeseburgers and a regular chili con carne burger and enough fries and onion rings to feed a normal person for a week. I thought I heard him tell the cashier that his Brother was paying as he stepped down the counter to pick up his drink…wow what a surprise. I ordered my own green chili cheeseburger and my own fries, because heaven forbid he would offer any of his to either of us. When I finally got to the table he was conversing with Brenda and waiting for my name to be called. I was pretty sure when that happened I wouldn’t be the one rushing up to the counter to get our food. I just hoped he didn’t eat much walking back to the table. True to form when they called out Chris on the speaker he was there in a flash to pick up our tray. I watched close as he walked back to the table and made sure that the fries he stole on the walk were the ones he took off the tray for himself. I learned something that day. John usually never talks when he eats….or so I thought. He and my Daughter carried on a running conversation the whole time they ate, as if she was talking to “Uncle John” or something. He just dug in like he hadn’t eaten in a week…….and he kept talking the whole time. He talked to Brenda, and to me, and sometimes to no one in particular. Then something really weird happened. As he talked he began to talk about the Widows’ Degree the night before. Brenda was one of the only ones who knew that I was dressing up as Beulah Mae. John talked about how much he liked the program and said that he couldn’t find me after the program to say good bye. And then, as he was babbling along about the Widows’ Program, right in the middle of a bite of my hamburger, he said plain as day, “Now don’t you ever tell Mrs. Deacon I said this but, Boy, that Beulah Mae sure is a looker, yup yup, and Gertrude wasn’t bad either.” I thought, Oh my God as an electric shock went up my spine!! I choked and jerked my head up and at the same time a little chunk of French fry shot out of my mouth right past a still babbling John. Thank goodness he never saw it. I heard Brenda choke and cough next to me and our eyes met in horror, both of us struggling not to laugh out loud. He not only didn’t see the missile I launched at him, but lucky for us, he never caught on to mine and Brenda’s emotional and physical distress. Brenda couldn’t stand it and ran for the Ladies room and I was still choking and coughing. John looked up asked if I was all right. And I have to admit that this is one of those times that you just have to lie to a Brother…..and I told him I was fine……when I wasn’t. I told him if he ever mentioned that about another woman again….especially those two, that I WOULD tell Mrs. Deacon. He shook his head and went back to eating and then…. I laughed and I laughed and laughed. I couldn’t stop and John just shook his head sadly like I was having some kind of attack or something and ate in silence. Brenda came back to the table with a strained look on her face and announced that she had to go and gave John and I a hug and out the door she went. I saw that John was just finishing up and asked if he had anything for the newsletter. He took a long swallow from his iced tea, leaned back and said” Yes I have something for you. I have been concerned about something for a long time Brother Chris. It’s about guys complaining that their wives don’t like Masonry or that they have a bad opinion about the Fraternity or that they just don’t have any interest in being a part of it or assisting their husbands in it. And, this topic is a very sticky subject so I am going to have to be real diplomatic here, because I don’t want to upset anyone. “Yup,” I said with a laugh. “Diplomacy has never been your strong suit.” “That’s not a very nice thing to say,” he growled…but went on anyway. “Like I was saying, this is not the easiest of topics but I think it’s something that needs to be addressed for both the Masons as well as the ladies…. and you have to realize and pass on to your readers that this is just one old cow-poke’s opinion. And you know what they say about opinions… …that they are like a…….” “Hey, now,” I said holding up my hand for him to stop. “I can’t print that and you know it.” “Ok.. OK.. sorry,” he said apologetically as I shook my head at him. “I just get to talking and stuff just comes out.” “I will make sure everyone knows it’s your opinion,” I promised. “But let’s get after it cause I don’t have all day.” That got me a John Deacon glare, but he finally began talking again, “In my opinion, if a woman is just not interested in assisting her husband or being a part of his Masonic journey, then he shouldn’t worry about it, nor should he try to force her to. If she is comfortable with his membership as a Mason and allows his level of participation then she should be allowed her space. It is however, those ladies of ours who have a dislike for our Fraternity possibly due to a lack of understanding of Masonry or because they resent the time that our Masonic duties take away from them and the family that I am going to try to offer some light and understanding. And, before you state the obvious and remind me that there are hardly any women who read your newsletter, what I am going to say is the same whether it is being read by a lady or a Brother. Hopefully, there are Brothers who will read this and either get a Masonic lady to read it or at the very least, maybe gain some understanding himself that will help him with a lady who has misgivings or even outright hostility towards the Craft. First, let’s define what Masonic involvement is for a wife or lady of a Mason. There IS NO involvement in a real sense. Women cannot be Masons in our Grand jurisdiction and they cannot sit in Lodge meetings nor can they participate in any business related to the Lodge. The extent of their involvement is that of attending open meetings and family programs. Knowing this, it is my belief that what we desire from our ladies is not so much involvement but rather acceptance and encouragement from them. Let’s look at the situation logically…..you tell her that you are joining a Lodge and that it is for men only, and that its purpose is to make good men better men, and it is a system of moral development. Then you tell her that you are going to be initiated into three degrees and that you don’t know anything about the degrees….and after your first initiation when you know what is in the degree….you inform her you can’t tell her anything about it because…..IT’S A SECRET. Then you tell her that you are going to have to study with an instructor a couple of times a week and also go to a couple of Lodge meetings a month. But you can’t tell her what you are studying except it’s no big deal….cause it’s a SECRET. And, do you know what she hears? She only hears “I am going to join a Lodge, and I am going to spend a lot of time doing stuff without you that I can’t tell you anything about.” When you look at it like that, I think it is easy to understand why a wife might have a few concerns.” “ Oh wow John,” I blurted out without thinking. “Until you said all of that, I never realized how bad we screw this up with our wives.” “Yes we do,” he agreed. “But it’s not all our fault. What Masonry is and what it means is hard enough for a veteran Brother to explain, much less for a brand new Brother. Brother Masons sometime….more than I care to think about…..never learn enough about the Craft to be able to explain it adequately to anyone…..and certainly their wife. It’s the word “secret” that causes the problems. I shudder to think how many of our Ladies have lived with their Husband/Mason for years, without a proper understanding of the Lodge and what Masons do in there, unhappy and barely tolerating something that has violated the promise we all make to our wives….that there will be no secrets. And surely there is a point in which that promise, that perceived breach of trust, causes irreparable damage to a relationship that should have been made stronger and happier because of the beautiful lessons and principles of the Masonic Fraternity. I am not saying that Masonic membership causes divorce, but I suspect and I believe that many Brothers have dropped out either partially or entirely due to their wives not being able to understand, or not wanting to wait for understanding of what Masonry is and its true purpose. And, how many of our loving wives have we imposed years of feelings of uncertainty and uneasiness and maybe a little jealousy as we have happily traveled our Masonic journey totally oblivious of the scars we may have created due to the difference between perception and truth. Masonry takes hold of our hearts and our minds and opens doors and casts aside veils within each of us. It causes us to sometimes, for the first time in our lives, to feel feelings that before were suppressed and to stir awakenings and discoveries in our character and to show us things about ourselves that we never knew before. To learn the work and the lessons of the three degrees brings a major sense of accomplishment. Those newly found feelings and sublime truths first discovered, lead to a greater confidence and sense of wellbeing which should naturally translate into a better man and a happier man. But many times the opposite happens. The hurt created by the perception that the man is embarking alone on a secret and separate life and his obvious love and attachment to this life could make a wife withdraw and create a divide between them. Sometimes this is obvious and sometimes not…..but it is always there….” John paused to take a drink from his glass and my mind began to wander. As I pondered, I began to wonder how much hurt I had caused…..how blind I could have been to the obvious. Listening to John was a revelation for sure. “Oh my God John, I whispered. “ We have really screwed this up big time.” “ Yes,” he replied. “We surely have……and it may be big time like you said and for some maybe not as bad as we think, but whatever the level, it’s not good. But how do we fix it, Brother Chris? How can we possibly make them understand that this love for Freemasonry is not a substitute for the love of a wife and family…that it can never be a replacement for the lifelong companionship of a wife….that Freemasonry’s purpose is to enhance his relationships and ultimately lead to a happier man who makes those around him happier. How can we comfort them with the fact that the perceived secrets are just that…..perceived, that they are necessary to the search, and that the real Masonic secrets relate to something much deeper and something much more important that is found within each of us. Can we ever succeed in showing them that Masonry is the vehicle that unlocks those deeper characteristics of a man’s inner self and allows the real him to step into the light of moral and spiritual truth. Moreover, how will they ever believe that this journey could never be complete or even be possible without the love of that special woman….a wife….a friend ….and companion? We have much work to do, my Brother. Spread the word…..we have much work to do.