By James C. “Chris” Williams IV

Those of you who have been regular readers of this column know that I do not believe in luck or coincidence.  I now know that things happen ….because they are supposed to happen.  And, that knowledge has been such a great awakening because of all I have realized and experienced.  What I don’t understand is how my Big Brother John Deacon seems to know where I am every month.  It’s almost as if he has some kind of a tracking device on my truck or something…… hummmmm.  I might ought to check that out……well anyway here’s what happened recently.  I was in Waco getting ready to have lunch with two of my closest Masonic Brothers when my phone rings.  I saw it was John and figured that he knowing it was about time for my newsletter, was going to tell me when he was coming through San Antonio so we could meet.  I answered and he told me that he was on his way to town and wanted to know if I could meet him the next day for lunch.  I told him that I was not going to be back for three days and told him where I was and what I was doing.  His answer was, “Hey that’s great.  I am just passing through Waco now….I will be right there.”  I just stood there with the phone to my ear with, no one on the other end because he had already hung up, a dumb look on my face, and Brad and Larry looking at me wondering what the heck was going on.  I told them that there was going to be one more joining us for lunch.  They were a lot happier about it than I was…..heck they weren’t going to have to pay for him.  We were at Vitek’s BBQ just getting ready to get in line to order.  I explained to the order taker that we had one more coming and that he was a really big guy and he eats like three men.  I just wanted to warn him, but right in the middle of my explanation John walked up and danged if every employee in the place didn’t walk up and say hi to him…..  by name.  Apparently, he has been there before….many times before.  He said hi to all three of us and said, “I’ll get us a table.”  And he walked off.  I called out to him that he had to order at the counter first and he just laughed and kept on walking.  The guy taking the orders laughed and said, “Don’t worry, we have his order already.”  We were all confused, but we went ahead and ordered and picked up our food at the end of the counter and went to look for John.  We found him sitting at a big booth in the back.  As surprised as we were that he did not have to order his lunch…….he didn’t even have to pick it up either…..they brought it to him.  I asked him what he ordered as he tried to look over the top of the mountain of food in front of him.  He said he got his usual which was four “full” Gut Paks.  A Gut Pak is a big cardboard bowl with a layer of Fritos on the bottom and piled on top was chopped beef, beans, sausage, cheese, onions, bread, pickles, jalapeno peppers, and BBQ sauce.  Just one was a huge amount of food….and he had four of them.  Larry, Brad, and I just had BBQ plates and were finished long before he was.  We made small talk amongst ourselves because John always eats in total silence.  Just when we thought he was done, one of the staff came over to shovel ….  er…pick up all the trash he left behind and left him a big bowl of banana pudding, the whole top covered in vanilla wafers just the way I like it.  We all looked at that and immediately asked the guy to bring three more…..and boy, was it good!!!  Finally all the food on the table was gone and I asked John if he had anything worth putting in the newsletter to share with us.  He contemplated for a moment trying to build suspense until I got up and said, “OK, we’re outta here…let’s go.”  “OK, OK,” he said motioning us to sit back down.  “I do have a great story for you.”  We’ll be the judge of that,” I said smiling at Larry and Brad who agreed with me.  He blinked a couple of times like he was confused but continued, “We talk about Masonic secrecy and for most non-Masons the “secrecy” is Masonry.  They don’t seem to care about anything else.  It’s all about the secrecy.  Well last week I experienced Masonic secrecy in its purest and most perfect form.  I had been invited to install my Brother Nephew as Worshipful Master of Chambers Creek Lodge, one of our many historic moonlight Lodges.  Coincidentally, as it turned out, I was going to mention Masonic secrecy in my remarks to the non-Masons in attendance.  But little did I know that I was going to see Masonic secrecy in action.”  He had our full and undivided attention now and we were all leaning a little forward in our seats.  John talks a little loud at times and I was sure that the guys at the table next to us must have heard him because they were leaning a little towards us and not talking to each other at all.  I gave John the “lower your voice” signal which he totally ignored so I kept myself ready to jump on him if he said anything he wasn’t supposed to.  “Now I am going to tell the story as close to how Brother Joe told it,” he said seriously.  “This is a very old Lodge building, over 100 years old, but still standing strong.  Originally, it was a school on the ground floor and the Lodge room on the top floor….and as you can imagine, pest and varmint control is always a challenge.  Brother Joe, the incoming Junior Warden, got to the Lodge before the rest of us and opened up the fellowship hall which is on the ground floor.  He then was going to climb the stairs to the Lodge room and get the lights on.  To get to the stairs you have to exit the lower level and enter a hallway on the side of the building.  As he got to the top of the stairs he saw something move and when he saw what it was, he froze.”  At this point, dear reader, I have to tell you that when John paused to take a swallow of his tea, with me, Larry, and Brad hanging on that last word, he came really close to being roughed up by all three of us…..and I think we could have taken him.  He saw the aggravation on our faces and chuckled and finally continued, “There, against the wall and wrapped around the top of the staircase banister was a snake.  They just stared at each other for a few seconds waiting for the other to make a move.  Brother Joe looked him over and saw that he was a rat snake about four foot long and although he knew he wasn’t poisonous, that didn’t mean he liked him any better.  Then symbolically pro teming as Tiler, Brother Joe grabbed the implement of that office and used the business end to coax that slithering intruder down the stairs.  I can almost see him in my mind thrusting and parrying, keeping that sucker moving downstairs towards the door.  Every few feet that old snake would raise his head and swivel it around to look at Joe as if to say “give me a break….I’m going already.”  And when that snake got to the door instead of just going out, he went in behind the door.  So Joe, really careful like, used the tip of his sword to gently swing the door away from the wall, keeping a watch out for him to try and double back.  Instead of the door just swinging away from the wall, it shut completely, and there Joe was….him and that Rat Snake together……alone…..in total darkness.  Now I don’t know about you boys, but I would have been up on my tippy toes doing a little tap dance worrying about keeping my bodily functions in check in that situation.  But Brother Joe is a braver man than I and he reached across and opened that door and looked down just in time to see the last 12 inches of serpent disappear through a sizable crack between the door frame and the floor.  And then, knowing there were visitors….and more than likely ladies coming, he found a piece of wood and covered the escape hatch to prevent any sort of re-entry…….at least from that spot.”  John stopped to take a breath and I could hear the guys at the next table giggling.  Brad’s mouth was open in shock and Larry was shaking his head in disbelief.  I just sat there in silence staring at him.  I still wasn’t sure that he was not making the whole thing up.  “So where does the Masonic secrecy come into play,” I asked?  “Well, if you would hold your horses and let me finish,” he shot back sarcastically.  “When the rest of us got to the Lodge, Brother Joe was just sitting at one of the tables, still a little winded, holding that Tiler’s sword in his hand.  After he told us the story, we all went to searching the various apartments of the building, upstairs and down for that unwanted visitor.  We then held a quick clandestine meeting to swear everyone to secrecy as to not have the visitors and ladies refuse to come into the building and having to cancel the Installation.  It was decided that all hands were to keep an eye out to guard against the approach of any kind of cowan or eavesdropper.”  “  Why was the meeting clandestine,” Brad wanted to know.  “Because we didn’t have enough to open a Lodge,” he snarled like we already knew that.  “And we didn’t want anyone to get wind of what happened…….and nothing did.  That snake never made an appearance and all went well.”  “  So what about your comments before the installation,” Larry asked.  “You said you were going to say something about secrecy.  How did that go?”  “  Well let me tell you fellers what I told them,” he said.  I told them that there are a lot of people out there who think our Fraternity is a secret society and that everything we do is secret, and that it is true that secrecy is at the heart of our lessons and obligations, and that our rituals contain “supposed” Masonic secrets…….but as most Brother Masons know, our secret ritual can differ quite a bit from one Lodge to another and sometimes from one night to another in the same Lodge.  Also the ritual from one Grand Jurisdiction to another is either slightly or in most cases very different from each other.  I told them that the true secrets of the Freemasons are just this: shared experiences, private thoughts, and deeper understandings between men…. who have formed a bond through a fraternity that supports and strengthens them through its teachings.  Men from all walks of life and from all backgrounds come together in Masonry and call each other Brother.  And, many of us truly become like brothers.  We form trusting and resilient friendships.  We share life’s trials and tribulations.  We accept and are accepted.”  Wow, John.  That’s really good,” I said.  “How did they like it?”  “Well if you would quit interrupting like you always do and let me finish, I will tell you,” he growled.  “I told them that there are those who believe that Masons are a group of elitists, who parade around in their Aprons, and think they are better than everyone else…..but the truth is that Masons are just regular men, good men, who are each on his own personal journey of self-discovery and self-improvement.  Masons are men who believe in God…. who are looking for, and in most cases finding truths about not only themselves, but life in general.  And, I told them that we use what we call working tools which relate symbolically to the tools of the ancient builders.  These tools are used symbolically in our rituals to convey moral and spiritual lessons by using allegory or simply a play in which the initiate represents the principal character.  I finished by telling them that Masonry speaks to every man differently.  It speaks to him in a way he can understand.  It is said about Masonry that, from the outside looking in, it is impossible to understand… ….and from the inside looking out, it is impossible to explain.  In many ways it cannot be explained.  It must be experienced….it must be felt.  It is about doing things right……and it is about good.  If you are a family member of a Mason, it is important for you to understand that Masonry is not to be made more important than your God, your family, or your vocation.  Masons are not perfect men…….but we are working on it.  The stated purpose of Masonry is to make good men, better men…… better husbands…..better Fathers….and better citizens and to be a positive example and influence to others.”  And he stopped …….and no one said anything.  Partly because he chewed my rear last time anyone said anything and partly because no words were necessary.  There was no doubt it was good….maybe real good.  The guys at the next table who were eavesdropping got up and came over and shook John’s hand and said, “Thank you sir.  That was very interesting.  I learned more about you Masons in that last thirty minutes than I have ever known.  We are glad we were here to snoop and hear them.  I have family members who are Masons but I never asked to join because everyone who tried to explain it to me had a different story….and I took that to be suspicious.  I am starting to see why it is so confusing to those of us who aren’t Masons.  I can see that it is different for each man and that makes sense to me.”  With that he and his friend said goodbye and walked out the door.  “That was a pretty good story John,” Larry said.  “And I am not sure that it lives up to the definition of pure and true Masonic secrecy, but it sure puts into perspective our obsession with the word “secrecy.”  Did you ever stop to think about how long that snake has been hanging around the Lodge?  He might already be in possession of all the secrets of a Master Mason.”  If that is true my Brother,” Brad interjected.  “Maybe y’all ran him off and he was just looking to get a petition.  That’s a hell of a way to treat a prospective candidate.”  We all…….except John got a good laugh out of that.  He had a frown on his face and seemed offended.  “You know it’s not that funny,” he said seriously.  “Brother Joe was in a scary situation.”  Well we stopped laughing immediately.  Heck we didn’t realize it was such a big deal to him.  And as we sat there feeling sorry for making a joke, John suddenly let a whoop and began laughing uncontrollably.  The joke was on us.  “Brother John,” I said after the laughter died down.  “This was fun.  The story was good, the fellowship was good, and the food was real good.  Unfortunately, we have to get going so instead of sneaking out and sticking me with the lunch bill or telling me you forgot your wallet, just give me your ticket and I will pay.  I have to say it was worth it this time.”  “  Well, that’s awful Brotherly of you my Brother,” he said as he waived one of the employees over.  “Could you bring my lunch bill to my Brother Chris?  He has graciously offered to pay for my lunch.”  The employee smiled and said, “Mr. Deacon, every time you drive through Waco you stop and eat here and because of all the money you have spent here over the years, the manager told me to tell you that your meal today is on the house.”  It was my turn to let out a whoop, and when I did, I looked over at John and the look on his face as he realized that technically I was getting the free lunch by not having to pay for his …..  was priceless.  His mouth was moving but there were no words coming out and that is how we left him.  Yessir….it was a great day.