“Uncle” was Mammy’s deceased husband. She was my great-grandfather’s half-sister, and my Mother’s foster mother. Making her home with us in her declining years, she was a “grandmother” to me. She embodied the essence of Southern grandmothers that inspired Stark Young’s memorable quote: “Every boy should have a grandmother – preferably in residence.”
The years melted away. I thought of Mammy’s words whenever I encountered the Square and Compasses, and at times I wondered why no Mason ever invited me to join the order. I was busy, and shrugged off my sense of slight, and went on with life. I was forty when my sons gave their scout leader a wallet with the square & compasses imprint for his birthday. As he examined it and expressed his pleasure, he traced the curiously mesmerizing emblem with a fore-finger and explained to my son, “The Square reminds me to square my actions, and the compasses to keep me circumscribed within bounds with all mankind.” I was impressed.
When a brother-in-law became a Mason and explained to me that no man is ever invited to become a Mason – he must ask, I asked, and in 1988, I became a Mason. I learned what the order was about: morality, brotherhood, truth-seeking, and charity. Those booby-traps of fraternal feeling, viz., sectarian religion and politics, were banned from Masonic meetings that their divisive qualities might not poison the spring of fraternal affection. Timeless lessons of morality and fraternity were repeatedly taught via rituals honed by repetition and sanctified by time. I came to love it, and hoped that my sons would someday ask.
Last fall, my eldest son petitioned his local lodge, and on January 17, 2013, I had the sublime pleasure of watching him raised to the degree of Master Mason. Words failed me as I tried to share my joy with the assembled brethren. I was two years old when Uncle Bobby died. My son was three when Mammy died. She had doted on him, as she and Uncle Bobby had on me. Some of my mystical friends suggest that Mammy is aware that “Little Hank” has become a Mason like her beloved husband. I don’t know about that, but if she could know, her pleasure would be unbounded.
Masonry has declined in public esteem. A plethora of activities compete for free time, and scores of organizations vie for loyalty. Masons’ reluctance to talk about their activities contributes to the aura of suspicion surrounding the fraternity – suspicion that certain talk-radio hucksters exploit for profit. Many initiates go away disappointed when they find there are no raucous initiation rites, no deep, dark secrets nor esoteric knowledge. Those seeking business preferment or sectarian allies also go away disappointed. To those who find pleasure in fellowship with like-minded men and appreciate lessons of friendship, morality, and brotherly love conveyed in rituals inspired by morality plays as used by the Church during the Middle Ages to teach the unlettered, and who want to improve mankind through the philosophy of ancient Egypt and Greece, the spiritual insights of the Hebrews, the mathematics and astronomy of the Classical Age, and the civic ideals of Rome all packaged in time-honored ritual, it is a pearl of great price.
Welcome to the fraternity, my son and my “brother.” You will benefit from Masonry in proportion to the time and effort that you expend on it. I have the pleasure of passing on to you the lambskin, a white leather apron presented to Uncle Bobby by Woodland Lodge #542, Free & Accepted Masons on Sept. 14, 1918. It is “an emblem of innocence, and the badge of a Mason … and which I hope you will wear with equal pleasure to yourself and honor to the fraternity.”
Mammy, this precious artifact from the love of your life and the personification of the Masonic Ideal of “Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth” is in good hands. Rest in peace.
Sonny Scott is a Chickasaw County resident and a community columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.