By James C. “Chris” Williams IV – Staff Writer

You know how sometimes you are working or doing chores or, whatever and something or someone will pop into your mind and shortly thereafter that person will come walking in the door? Well it’s happened to me before and in fact it happened last week. I was at work and all of a sudden John popped into my mind. I tried real hard to put him out of my mind but he wouldn’t leave …… Ha! Kinda like him being here in person. Anyway I was wondering about what had happened between him and his boss last month. I remember he was worried about their meeting. I sure hoped he didn’t get laid off because his job was the only reason he came down our way every month. What was I going to do if he didn’t show up every month………. hmmmm ……..

As I was mulling the pluses and the minuses the front door flew open and there he was. “Helloooooooo Fellers”, he bellowed with his arms spread wide like he was addressing his subjects. “It is I, your Brother John. I can go no further. I must eat.” Roger looked over at me and said, “I think he is looking for you.” “Don’t yell so loud,” I said. “You’re scaring all the customers.” “Oh man, I’m sorry,” he apologized as he looked around quickly, “Hey, wait a minute….. there’s no customers in here.”

I guess that answered my question about his meeting with his boss last month. He was way too happy for a man who had been laid off his job. “So what happened at your meeting last month,” I asked. “I was a little worried about you.” “Brother Chris, you are not going to believe this,” he said. “He wanted to tell me what a good job I was doing and he wanted to ask me about becoming a Mason. He said that when I talk about the Lodge and being a Mason he can tell how proud I that am to be one. He said it seems to be the source of all my energy”

“I could have told him that was wrong,” I butted in sarcastically. “The source of your energy is all that food you eat.” “I am not going to even dignify that with a response,” he said giving me a cold stare. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Roger with his head down laughing as silently as he could. “I’m being serious here Brother,” he said. “When he said that to me, I told him that the energy actually came from a higher source but that energy along with the principals and teachings in Masonry are what makes me the man that I am.

Brother Chris it’s a good feeling when someone wants to be a Mason because of who you are.” I had lost the sarcasm and I noticed that Roger had stopped laughing and I could tell he had liked what John said. “Brother John, that was good,” I said. “I have to agree with your boss.”
“Well now that you are done being a smart aleck,” he demanded. “Take me to eat before I have to get violent. I have a lot to tell you.” “OK, Ok calm down,” I said, “I am going to take you to the Texas Road House.” He said, “I have never been there before so quit talking and let’s go.

We apparently showed up at a bad time cause the place was packed and several people were waiting for tables. We ended up only having to wait about 10 minutes before we were escorted to a booth. All the way to the table John was checking out all the peanut shells on the floor and made a comment to the hostess as we were sitting down that somebody ought to do some sweeping up. She smiled sweetly and informed him that there were peanuts in the buckets on the table and he was allowed to throw the shells on the floor.

I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but he was like a kid in a candy store. He grabbed a handful of peanuts out of the bucket and began popping them open and eating them one after another. After each shell was empty he ceremoniously flipped it out and watched its travel path all the way to the floor.

He soon realized that having a mouthful of nuts and nothing to wash them down with is not good. He began to frantically look around for a server and finally began waving wildly hoping to attract someone’s attention which only served to annoy the two ladies in the booth behind us. I waved at them and apologized as a guy stopped in front of our table and announced he was going to be our server. I noticed that his badge identified him as Tony, the store manager, and I asked him why the manager was going to be taking care of us. He said that it was very busy and two servers had not shown up for their shift so he had to fill in. John was trying unsuccessfully to push out some words but all I heard was gibberish. His face was getting red and he was staring at me with disgust in his eyes. I told Tony, “I think he has had too many nuts and needs something to drink.” Immediately John began nodding and grunting in agreement. I ordered two iced teas and Tony went to get them. John was still staring bullets at me when Tony showed up with our drinks and he grabbed his and gulped down about half of the glass before he paused to take a breath.

Tony watched him with amused indifference and asked if we were ready to order and I said we were. He asked if it was going to be on 1 or 2 tickets and simultaneously we pointed at each other. Tony rolled his eyes and said, “Figure it out guys. I don’t have all day.” I was starting to think that I didn’t like Tony’s attitude much, considering he didn’t know how much money this table was about to make him.

John said, “Wait a minute Brother Chris, I paid for all my stuff last month at the Fiesta.” To which I replied, “Yeah but the month before I had to pay the Chinese lady for two extra meals just so she would stop yelling at you. He looked at me for a few seconds then at Tony and said, It ain’t fair but I guess I am buying this month. I quickly ordered the T-Bone Steak Salad with extra Ranch Dressing. John was still looking at the menu and finally looked up and said, “I’ll have two of them T-Bone Steak Salads and then I will have that Porter House Steak cooked medium well and don’t even think about bringing it out here bleeding all over the place. Put a baked potato next to it with all the fixins you can find and you better bring us some of those hot rolls before the smell drives me crazy. And one more thing there pardner, can you fill up this here bucket of peanuts?

Tony was shaking his head in disbelief as he turned towards the kitchen. “I sure do like these nuts Brother Chris,” John said as he grabbed another handful. Tony brought a full bucket and took away the empty one that John had finished. As we were waiting for our lunches we made small talk about the weather and the price of gas and such and I noticed that there was a good sized pile of peanut shells building up next to our table. I could actually hear the loud crunching as people passed our booth.

Pretty soon our lunch arrived needing three people to carry it all and as usual his plates took up most of the table. John lapsed into his usual silence while he was eating which was OK with me. One of the best things about that T-Bone Steak Salad is that they put two hard boiled eggs cut in half in it. That is one of my favorite parts……..after the steak of course. It always amazes me how fast John can finish off a meal. I was about halfway done with my salad and he had finished both of his and was attacking the other steak and baked potato. He had just asked for three more rolls and was eyeballing something intently behind me over my shoulder. I asked him what he was looking at and he said that there was a strange looking guy sitting at another table.

I turned in my seat to look but nobody looked strange to me. When I turned back around I told him so and he just shrugged and continued chewing. I looked down at my salad and … I had a strange feeling that I was missing one of my eggs. I looked up at John and then back at my plate and then back at John and his face remained expressionless still chewing away. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a lady at the table next to us and I wasn’t sure but it looked like she was trying not to laugh. I stared at John again and his expression never changed. I really wasn’t sure but I was not going to turn around again. I kept a close eye on him until I finished my salad and shortly thereafter he got done and to my surprise went back to the peanuts.

Holy moly, I wonder if he has ever gotten filled up! I waited patiently to hear what important stuff he had to tell me and finally as if he just remembered what it was, he started talking. “Brother Chris,” he said with a touch of pride in his voice. “I got to do something last weekend that I never thought I would get to do. I went to a different Lodge to confer an EA degree and the candidate was my Nephew.” “Wow John, that sounds great,” I replied. “How did it go?” “It was really great. It was just a couple of months ago my Nephew told me he wanted to become a Mason and he turned in a petition. As he was going through the process I contacted the Lodge Secretary, Brother Guido, and let him know I wanted to come down for the degree and he had kept me in the loop on what was going on.

Once they got all the investigating and voting and all that stuff done they got it scheduled for a Saturday morning which was great because I didn’t have to miss any work. I stopped being nervous about working in Degrees a long time ago and I had never conferred a degree in a different Lodge before and the fact that it was my Nephew and at a Lodge that I had never been to made me nervous as heck and excited at the same time. I didn’t even sleep the night before. I was worried that the alarm clock in my hotel wouldn’t go off on time and I would miss the whole dang thing. That is too much stress for an old guy like me.”

“So did it go off on time,” I asked? “Well Gol Durn it Brother Chris, of course it did,” he growled. “I am telling you about it, ain’t I? Anyway, I picked up Travis (that’s my Nephew, the candidate) and we got to the Lodge around 7:30. and ohhhh my gosh Brother Chris, you should see this Lodge.

It’s an old Lodge which was established in the 1870’s. It’s got an alley running down one side of it and the local newspaper office on the other side. This building has to be a hundred years old or better. When I opened the door the wonderful smell of bacon and sausage cooking in the fry pan and biscuits baking in the oven and fresh brewed coffee hit me like a freight train….. a real good freight train,” he said with a big smile. “I know this will be hard for you to believe Brother Chris but I had clean forgot that I hadn’t eaten breakfast.”

I looked at him sideways and said, “Yeah, right, who do you think you are talking to?” “It’s the truth,” he whined. “Anyway Brother Guido and Brother Paul were in the kitchen and I met them first. Sitting in the dining room waiting to make the gravy for the biscuits was Brother Tom who checked to make sure I was who I said I was. I met the other three Brothers Jake, Jeff, and Robert who were sitting waiting for Breakfast and also Brother George who was one of their new Entered Apprentice’s and his wife and son. I have to tell you he was one of the most energetic Brothers I have ever seen. They were all taking turns chastising Brother Guido and Brother Paul about their cooking skills. I learned a big lesson from my Mother when I was a kid that you don’t ever criticize the cook……. if you plan on eating that is, so I just kept my mouth shut. Actually they were giving back as much abuse as they were getting and the friendly ragging on each other was about what you would expect when you get a bunch of Brothers together for work.

About that time three really good looking ladies came in.”“Ladies,” I asked. “Wait a minute John,” I asked, obviously irritating him. “What where the ladies doing there?” “There you go, interrupting me all the time,” he growled. Well, if you must know Brother Chris, these ladies I happen to be a little partial to. It was my Wife and my two Nieces one of whom was Travis’s wife. The Lodge, which I thought was a real nice gesture, had invited them and his kids all to have breakfast with us.

We introduced them all around and directly Brother Tom made the gravy and the eggs got finished cooking and we all lined up to fill our plates. I think that was one of the best meals I have ever had at Lodge before. Somebody must have told them that I am a growing boy and I need a lot to keep me going cause they sure made plenty.” “ After breakfast all the ladies and kids left and I wandered into the Lodge Room to kinda get the lay of the land so to speak and talked with a couple of the other Brothers who were getting the Lodge ready for the degree.

Brother Dennis who is the Senior Warden but was proteming for the Master introduced himself and asked me if I was ready to go. I told him I was and went and sat myself down in the South towards the front of the Lodge Room and was just going over the work in my mind. A couple of minutes later I looked up and they were escorting an older Brother into the Lodge and they sat him down next to me. Before I could say anything he turned and held out his hand and introduced himself as Brother Bill. I took his hand and we exchanged that “familiar grip” and I told him who I was, to which he replied, “So you’re the one.”

I asked him what he meant and he said he had heard that a Brother from another Lodge was going to confer the degree. He welcomed me and told me that he hadn’t been to Lodge for a while and was glad to be back. He told me that he was almost totally blind, that he could only see shapes but not faces. I told him it was no problem and that if he needed anything that I was right next to him. We both sat back waiting for the officers to get to their places and get ready to open the Lodge and all of a sudden Brother Bill started talking.

I turned my head towards him and he was looking straight ahead and talking in a voice low enough that I had to lean in towards him to hear. He said that he was 85 years old and that he was raised when he was 21. He said that some of the greatest times in his life were sitting in Lodge next to his Dad, and that sometimes when he sits in Lodge he gets a feeling that his Dad is sitting right beside him. Oh my gosh, Brother Chris, when he said that, a big ol lump jumped right up in my throat and I was trying my darndest to talk but nothing would come out.” (I knew what he meant because one had just formed in my throat.)

He said, “Brother Chris I swallowed a couple of times and without really thinking about it I leaned forward and looked at the empty seat on the other side of him. Then I sat back and leaned over to him and whispered in his ear “I think I do see him sitting right there next to you Brother Bill.” Well he got a big smile on his face, closed his eyes, nodded his head twice, and laid his hand on the armrest of the chair next to him. It was all I could do to keep from getting choked up Brother Chris, but luckily I didn’t have time to think about it too much because the gavel came down and the Worshipful Master began to open the Lodge.

As soon as Brother Robert got the door tiled Brother Tom gave us a prayer and we were open and ready to go. The Worshipful Master asked the Degree team to take their places and as I took my place in the East I looked around the room. Brother J.D. was at the Secretary’s desk ready for me to get it going. Brother Dennis had gone to the West and Brother Scott was in the South and my new Buddy Brother Guido was ready to take charge of the candidate as Senior Deacon. Brother John was holding down the Junior Deacons chair and I could see Brother Robert playing with some kind of coin and ready to do his part. I couldn’t see Brother Jeff but I knew he was with Travis outside the door.

Well I took a deep breath and dropped the gavel and Brother Chris; we commenced to put on what turned out to be a heck of an Entered Apprentice degree. The guys from the Lodge did an outstanding job and I was awful proud to be there with them. You know you always want the new candidate to get a good degree, but I can tell you for sure that my Nephew got a great degree. Brother Cecil gave an excellent Lecture and Brother Skylar wrapped it all up with the Charge.

When I got back to my seat next to Brother Bill he leaned over and told me that we all did a good job. I thanked him and the Worshipful Master congratulated our new Brother Travis and asked Brother Tom to go over the Lodge protocol with him. Brother Dennis then asked the Brothers to all stand and give whatever advice and information they would like to give their new Brother. One by one we all stood and offered congratulations and encouragement as well as helpful advice to Brother Travis.

When it was Brother Bill’s turn he stood and faced the new Brother and welcomed him to the Lodge and told him with as much emotion as I have ever seen from a Brother in a Lodge that he had just made the best decision he would ever make and to not waste what he had been given. Then it was my turn and I congratulated Brother Travis and told him that I was proud of him. I then told the Worshipful Master and all the brothers that I was honored to be a part of their degree team and thanked them for their hospitality.

The last to speak was the Worshipful Master, Brother Dennis, who encouraged the new Brother to not just memorize the words of the EA work, but to ask questions and learn what the words meant. Then he gave Brother Travis an opportunity to speak and he thanked the Lodge for the opportunity to become a Mason and to be a member of the Lodge and thanked the Brothers for taking time on a Saturday to work in his degree. The Worshipful Master then promptly closed the Lodge. Everyone came over to congratulate our new Brother and I took a deep breath and suddenly I realized that I was tired, really, really tired. I was ready for a nap. But we had to take care of the important stuff first… like lunch.

“Sounds like you had a pretty great weekend Brother John,” I said and I meant it. “It sure meant a lot to me to just be there for Brother Travis’s degree, he said. “But to be able to work in his degree, and not just to work, but to have the opportunity to confer the degree is something I will always be proud of and grateful to the Lodge for. I am looking forward to going back for his other degrees.”

I had been concentrating on John’s story and didn’t notice that Tony was standing at the edge of our table. He had a different kind of smile on his face and said to John, “I hope you don’t mind but I overheard most of your story and it was a good one.” With that he laid the bill down on the table. John reached for it saying, “How much are all those peanuts I ate?” Tony laughed and told him that they were no charge to customers. While John paid Tony I took a quick trip to the restroom and when I got back John was just sliding out of the booth. As we neared the door a voice called out, “Mr. Deacon?” We turned around and Tony held out one of those buckets that holds the peanuts on the tables. He handed it to John and said, “Here’s a bucket to carry all your peanuts.”

I looked at John with a puzzled look and with his face turning red he started pulling out handfuls of peanuts out of his pants pockets and his shirt pockets. Heck he even had some in both hip pockets. “Oh my God John,” I said nervously as I looked around to see if people were watching. “What are you doing with all these nuts?” “Well, Tony said I could take all I wanted so I was just taking some to munch on while I was driving down the road,” he stammered. As I watched he darn near filled that bucket with all he pulled out of his pockets. John tried to hand Tony the bucket full of nuts but he said with a smile, “The bucket is yours to carry the nuts in. Come back and eat here again sometime, and good luck with your Nephew. It struck me then that apparently Tony had been standing at our table longer than I realized. He held out his hand and John shook it. John got a big smile on his face and said, “Thank you. We will be back” And then we left.

We got to my truck first and I told John I would see him next month and lunch would be on me. As he and his bucket of nuts walked away I commented that the scene at the door was kind of weird. He turned and said, “As it turns out, Tony the Manager is actually Brother Tony.” “How did you know,” I asked? John rolled his eyes and gave me a sideways look. Then it came to me and I said Ahhhhh, it must have been that “special grip.” He smiled and nodded.