Waterloo Ice House and Let the Lodge Die Rather Than Change

By James C. “Chris” Williams IV

I almost didn’t get to talk to him this month.  He called and said that he was not going to be coming through San Antonio this month and of course I panicked and asked, “Well, how close are you going to come?”  “I will be staying in Austin tonight,” he said, “And then heading towards Dallas tomorrow.”  “Heck,” I answered, “That is just an hour away from me.  Why don’t I drive up there and meet you for breakfast.”  “  Ok, as long as it’s early cause I need to get on the road as quick as I can,” he said.  “And since I am going out of my way for you, then you have to buy breakfast.”  I bit my tongue so I wouldn’t say what immediately came to mind, and instead asked him if he had anything on his mind to put in the newsletter this month.  “What kind of question is that,” he growled.  “I always have something on my mind.”  “I just meant…..“  “I know what you meant and to tell you the truth, I am a little aggravated this month and you are the perfect person to vent my frustrations at.”  I think he meant “to” instead of “at”……at least I hoped so, but I said, “Ok, John, There is a place in Austin where I had one of the best breakfasts I have ever had.  It’s called the Waterloo Ice House.  Meet me there.”  “  Brother Chris, I know this is Texas and I know what an Ice House is but I never had no breakfast in one….except if it was what they used to call a little “hair of the dog.”  “Brother John,” I shot back.  “There ain’t no hair and there ain’t no dog just a real good breakfast.”  “You know I am driving don’t you?  I can’t be drinki…..….”  “Cut it out John and just meet me there.”  “OK, OK, you don’t have to get testy.”  Now for all of you out there who do not have the honor and privilege of being Texan and living in this great State, I need to explain that traditionally in Texas, Convenience stores and small beer bars were, and some still are, called ice houses.  This one was once an ice house but had been converted into a restaurant but still had the look and feel of a genuine Texas “ice house.”  I got there before him and found a table situated strategically as far back in the corner and as far away from everyone else as possible…. because, well, you know how he is sometimes.  By the time he strolled through the front door I had a couple of iced teas sitting on the table for us because neither of us are coffee people.  He didn’t even look around to see if I was there and sat down as far away from me as a person could.  I had to go up and get him.  “Sorry Brother Chris,” he said as he made it back to the table.  “I didn’t see you back there.”  I ignored him and handed him the menu which I knew he was going to like.  It was all just basic home cooking, eggs, potatoes, bacon, ham, and sausage made in every way known to man, and plenty of it which is why I picked this place.  He nodded his approval and looked around for someone to take our order.  Our server was Sandy, a nice, bubbly, and energetic young lady who asked John if he knew what he wanted.  “Yup,” he said, “I am gonna start off with that Hill Country Breakfast with bacon and don’t forget the gravy with my biscuits.”  She nodded and looked over at me and he cleared his throat semi-loudly and said, “Darlin, I’m not done yet.”  She raised her eyebrows in surprise and waited for him to continue.  “I will also have one of those All Star Breakfast’s, and a Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs breakfast.  And make all them eggs over medium and don’t scrimp on the gravy.”  “Sandy smiled and made the mistake of asking, “And what will the others be eating?”  He looked at her without any understanding in his expression and she just waited.  And then he got it, and blurted out, “Nooooo darling, that’s just for me.”  It was her turn to be confused as she stood there in shock.  I had been calculating all the eggs, bacon, and biscuits, he had ordered and the tally stood at 8 eggs, 6 slices of bacon, and 6 biscuits, and that didn’t even count the hash browns.  Slowly she turned to look at me and I quickly ordered the regular breakfast.  It took her a few seconds to get it written down, and then off she went to the kitchen.  I had picked a table for four because I knew there was going to be a lot of plates.  We didn’t have to wait long, as it seemed like only a few minutes had gone by when the kitchen door burst open and three servers headed to our table.  Sandy put my plate down in front of me first and then proceeded to lay out a pattern of china in front of John that covered most of the rest of the table.  As he dug right in to a big Chicken Fried Steak, I noticed two old timers sitting at the next table eyeballing John and his maxi-breakfast.  They glanced over at me and shook their head as I spread my hands and shrugged.  They went back to their coffee with smiles on their faces as I began to eat.  I was dying to know what had John all riled up because when he is riled up about something it can be a good talk.  It was futile trying to talk to him while he was eating so I just enjoyed my eggs and bacon, and boy those hash browns were great.  I was halfway done when he looked up and waved at Sandy and ordered four more eggs and another plate of biscuits and gravy which caused the two old timers to raise their eyebrows.  I said to one of them, “He knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”  Both of them grinned and shook their heads again and went back to their coffee cups.  John just rolled his eyes and continued to eat.  The only sound that came from him was the occasional grunt or groan as all that food searched for a place to go.  It made me remember that my Grandmother used to say I had a hollow leg because I ate so much when I was a kid.  Man, John must have a lot of hollow places…most I am sure I would rather not know about.  Finally, when all the plates had been cleaned and nothing was left that constituted nourishment of any kind, he looked up and said, “Boy am I upset.”  “What is it John,” I asked?  “Did something happen at your Lodge?”  “Brother Chris, It seems like things get a little crazy every year around Lodge elections time.  You know that we aren’t allowed by Masonic Law to campaign or influence in any way the vote of a Brother for any office.  And of course we can’t talk about how we are going to vote or even how we did vote because the integrity of any secret vote is sacrosanct in Masonry.”  “I know, John,” I said a little confused.  “Every Mason knows that….or should, why the refresher?”  He gave me an irritated look and said, “I know that you know that, and elections is not what I want to talk about, but something happened during our elections the other night that I think happens in a lot of Lodges.”  I could see he was getting agitated and I made the mistake of telling him to relax and tell me about it.  Well, dear reader, you probably remember how crazy he acts when I interrupt him when he gets going on something.  This time was no different.  He just stared at me for several seconds, and in that silence, with him glaring at me, the thought that he had totally forgot what he was going to say crossed my mind.  Suddenly he was back…..”  You have to stop cutting in on me,” he growled. . .  “I am trying to tell you what happened.  As usual our incoming Worshipful Master had talked to the current officers and confirmed that they would serve in a higher position if elected.  When it came time for the nominations another Brother who had recently started coming back to Lodge was nominated for a position, which was unexpected but perfectly normal, and as far as I was concerned, a welcome bit of news that this Brother was interested in serving his Lodge as an officer.  The vote was taken and the returning Brother lost.  He was then nominated for the next position and the next and was not elected to either.  Well during the balloting on the third nomination, the Brother who nominated him was heard to mumble something which was heard by several other Brothers and that is what I want to talk about today.”  

He stopped and I waited….and I waited…..and finally I couldn’t hold it any longer, “What did the Brother say, John?”  “I thought you would never ask,” he grinned further delaying the answer.  “What he said was,” “You can’t beat the clique.”  “And when I heard that it really hit me hard….in several different ways.  At first I was a little angry, and then after spending some time thinking about it, I began to see that there are several angles to that comment.  Do you know what a clique is, Brother Chris?”  Hmmm,” I said “I think it is a group within a group that is at odds with the group or tries to control the group.”  John got a bewildered look on his face and said, “I don’t know if I understand all of what you just said…..heck I am not sure you know what you just said but what you just described is exactly what this Brother was talking about.”  He was inferring that there was a group in the Lodge that controlled everything in the Lodge and, according to him, the elections of the officers.  This Brother was, by his mumbled words, saying that the election was rigged in some way.”  I couldn’t hold my words in any longer and I blurted out, “That’s ridiculous.”  “Ahhhh, of course you are right, Brother Chris”, he said.  “But I got to wondering if there were other Brethren who might be having the same ideas as this Brother.  So I decided that I needed to maybe explain to some of the “less informed Brethren” what the Brother who made the comment should already know.”  I grabbed my voice recorder and clicked it on and motioned for him to continue and after a sideways look at me he said, “Brother Chris, there really are cliques in many of our Lodges.  These cliques are usually made up of Brethren who band together in small groups to mostly oppose the ideas and or views of another group.  I will tell you that most always it is a group of Past Masters who would rather see their Lodge die than allow it to put into practice any policy or program that constitutes a deviation from the status quo.  The prevailing attitude is “If it was good enough for us when I was the Master then it is good enough for us now” or the ever popular “Well that’s the way we always did it.”  When I see this destructive choosing of sides in a Lodge I shake my head in sadness.  I already know what the problem is and I used to try to tell the Brothers what it was but my words always fell on deaf ears.  Boy, Masons are some of the most pigheaded men in existence.  The problem is always education and communication…  ….and not necessarily in that order either.  In Lodges where there is education and communication there are usually no cliques…because the Brethren can and do talk to each other.  In Lodges with destructive cliques, no one talks unless it is behind the others back.  And all of this is really bad since a clique by definition is a violation of a Brothers obligation.  And I continue to be saddened by the lack of Masonic Education of our members both in the area of Masonic Philosophy as well as Masonic history.  To the Brothers who fight change of any kind or the slightest attempt at doing something which might appeal to someone born to a younger generation, a rather small amount of research would inform them that Masonry in all ages and time periods has been the leader in change.  Masons and this fraternity have led the world into every period of progress for the last 500 years and more.  The age of enlightenment was ushered in by Masons who led the world in the study of science and scientific discovery.  It was our Brethren who led the fight for freedom in all its forms throughout history.  It was our Masonic Grandfathers and Great grandfathers, in huge numbers who created this country and this government which is unequaled by any in the history of the world….and who were responsible for the greatest leap in knowledge in the world in the shortest amount of time ever.  These were our Masonic Brothers who were always at the forefront of free thinking and forward thinking, constantly leading the change of the world, bringing mankind along paths they had not before known and making things light before them.  My God, Brother Chris.  We are the innovators and always have been.  We have changed this world and at least until lately it seems have embraced new ideas and ways.  And we have done all of this and still preserved our Ancient traditions and work.  Bottom line Brother Chris….it’s what we do…or at least what we have always done.  So sad that so many won’t try to understand that it is, and has always been, our free thinking and our changing that has helped make the world what it is.  Change is our destiny and by not changing we are in essence telling those young, healthy, free thinking minds that we don’t want you.  And then he went quiet…and I couldn’t tell if he was done or just ran out of gas.  He just sat there staring straight ahead with a confused look on his face.  I was still taking in what he had just said, knowing that he was right.  I said, “John, are you ok?”  A voice to my left said, “Yeah, are you OK?”  I glanced over and saw that the old guys at the next table had been listening to us.  John shook his head and said, “Yeah, I’m ok.  The one nearest John said, “Boy, what you said was great.  Just who are you guys anyway and how do you know you did all that stuff?”  John and I just looked at each other wondering how we were going to explain this.  They did seem genuinely interested and I was wondering what they were going to say when we told them.  John finally looked over at them and said directly, “We are Freemasons and what I said was true….all of it.”  “I told you it was them Masons” the one said to the other.  “My Daddy was a Mason and I used to hear him talk like that sometimes.  Those Masons are good men and my Daddy was a good man.”  “  Well then why the Sam Hill ain’t you a Mason,” the other old timer countered?  “I just don’t really know,” was the answer.  “It’s never too late,” I offered and they both nodded.  Then one of them said to John, “I really liked what you said and how you said it.  But that don’t just happen in your organization.  It happens pretty much everywhere.”  The two old timers then apologized for butting into our conversation and turned back to their coffee cups.  John turned back to me and took a deep breath and said, “I just got a little off track about talking about the cliques but you can’t talk about the bad stuff without understanding the ins and outs of why they are bad.  Now you know why I was upset, because our Lodge doesn’t have cliques like that.  We communicate and we educate.  Course it helps to go to Lodge to get educated…and also to read as much as possible.  What many Brethren think are cliques, are just a few of the same guys doing all the work.  I have seen it many times that guys who don’t or won’t get involved in the Lodge, who won’t take on a challenge of working on a committee, who won’t come and practice or even to regular meetings very often will decide that the Lodge is being run by a clique.  Well I’ve got news for those guys….the Lodge is being run by those who are interested enough in its future to get involved and be a part of its future.  All any Brother has to do to get involved is to show up.  There is so much that needs to be done that no one would ever be turned down for wanting to help.  I have heard the clique comment from time to time for years and I doubt I will ever be able to hear it without getting angry.  I have heard it from Brothers who’s Lodge has a serious problem and are angry and frustrated and have every right to be.  Sometimes Brothers have a valid point when the group running the Lodge is not attentive to the membership.”  “  You are so right Brother John,” I said.  “But what can a Brother do when his Lodge is being stymied or hurt by one of these groups?”  He thought about it for a few seconds and said, “As I see it, they have a couple of choices.  They can quit complaining and just get involved in their Lodge and gain consensus over time with other Brothers who have the Lodges best interests in mind instead of their own.  Then good things are surely to happen.  Or, if all avenues to correct a sinking Lodge have been exhausted, then it may be time to find a Lodge that is receptive to the Brethren.  To stop coming to Lodge is not the answer.  The Lodge is the center of Masonry and sharing that fraternal love and friendship with like-minded Brethren is the essence of Masonry….it is where our strength is.  I hope you pass this along Brother Chris.”  “I surely will John.  It looks like this trip was well worth it.”  I paid the bill and we said our goodbyes to the old timers.  He told me he would see me for sure next month, and as I watched him roar off in that big diesel pickup it occurred to me just how closely intertwined our lives become as Masons and how close to each other we become.  Wow….I sure hope I never have to live without that.  Have a great month y’all.