Thursday, September 18, 2014

Going to My Grandpa's Home Lodge

My grandpa, my dad, and I at my dad's raising

The great thing about being in Minnesota is that sometimes, if a lodge needs a ritualist for some part, a lot of us will drop everything to help. I've been fortunate to help at a number of lodges and when I was an elected officer of my blue lodge, to have brothers come in to help us out. When I received a phone call from one of my mentors about potentially helping out with some degree work, I just got ready to suit up and head out the door. Then he mentioned the lodge: Fidelity Lodge No. 39 in Austin, MN.

"Fidelity? Really?"

Fidelity Lodge is my grandfather's mother lodge. Grandpa Dick passed away a few years back and even now, it's tough to think about his passing. Grandpa Dick was the man who got me started on my Masonic journey. He's a man I continue to respect, more so each day. When I got the call to help, I was beside myself. How could I possibly say no?

I have always had a major regret. It still eats at me every time I think of it. My grandpa was one of those Masons that joined at a very young age, around the same age that I did, and after a long life, he finally arrived at his 60th year as a Mason. The ceremony for his 60 year pin presentation was scheduled on the same night as a lodge meeting when I was still a Warden for my lodge. Sadly, what I now describe as the rather useless, kinda dumb, pre-meeting program was set for the same evening. Me being a young, dumb officer, I believed that I couldn't miss the rather useless, kinda dumb pre-meeting program so I skipped his 60th year award. He passed a couple years later so I missed all further anniversary celebrations; all potential trips to his lodge to sit in lodge with the man that made me a Mason were never, ever going to happen. I was devastated. When I received the phone call to help, I felt that redemption was possible.

Austin is a little bit of a drive from my house, but I was fortunate to have my mentor drive. We talked and shared stories and just had a real good time. I've visited Austin my whole life but I had never seen the lodge, not even the exterior of the building. This was all new to me. I can honestly say I was nervous. Like teeth chattering nervous.

We got to the door and I started thinking about what went through my grandpa's head when he opened this exact same door the first time he visited the lodge before he even became a Mason. I looked up the long flight of stairs, the really long flight of stairs and I paused.

"This is it," I thought. "This is grandpa's Masonic home."

I got to the top of the stairs and everyone saw us and started shaking our hands. It was as if I had known these men my whole life. One of the first men I met was Otto. Otto is very important to my Masonic story. When I was considering petitioning, my grandpa asked Otto if he knew a local lodge where I could join. He got in contact with my mentor and I was off to the races. I had never met Otto and had only spoken to him once over the phone. Otto is a great man and I had a lot of fun talking to him about my grandpa and the lodge.

I also met Bill who is also a great Mason and was very kind in showing me around the lodge. I was fortunate to have eaten with him and chatted about all things Masonic. And it was great to see Dean again. Dean and I have seen and chatted at Southeast Area events often, for almost a decade now. For the longest time, he was the only Austin Mason I knew and he was always happy to tell me about my grandpa.

Finally, the meal was over and I needed to focus. Ritual is very important to me and whenever I'm the Senior Deacon on this particular degree, I have to get my game face on. Masons in Preston-Webb states know why I'm saying this. Considering where I was, though, it was even more important to me. We had three candidates that night and I wanted to do a great, scratch that, stellar job for them.

Me next to the charter for Fidelity Lodge

As I began my ritual work, I started to look at the benches, at the officers' chairs, the altar, and the large lodge room. In my mind, I saw my grandpa. He was there. He was there listening to me deliver the ritual. He was there smiling with an encouraging glance. He was there as the candidate, experiencing the ritual for the first time. He was there as a long time member, listening again to the important lessons conveyed. He was there with me.

As we finished up the ritual work for the night, I finally sat down in the chair. I was emotionally drained but happy. I looked around. They were smiling. It was as if everyone in the room was saying, "you made your grandpa proud." It was tough not to tear up at that moment.

During the comment section, when everyone in the lodge was asked if they had something to say, I paused to let everyone speak. Finally, I stood up. I told everyone who I was and what the lodge meant to me.

"A lot of you knew my grandfather. My grandfather was a man of few words. I just want to say, 'thank you.'"

I said a few other things but really, I just remember the thank you. We closed the lodge and I went out to chat with everyone. A number of the brothers came up to me and told me little stories about my grandpa. One brother told me that he worked with him on the railroad starting the fire in the engine (and he even said to me that I would never remember his name which turned out to be true.). Another told me about bowling with him. It was great. I was starting to fill in the blanks of his life, a life I had never known.

Bill pulled out a book of members and there was my grandpa's page, right there, open on the counter. I stared at the page a long time. This was his record. This was the record of my grandfather. He had a memorial laid up in this very lodge's records for eternity. As I was leaving, the brothers handed me a mug and pen from their sesquicentennial (and later, they even sent me a thank you card).



As we drove away, the night sky filled with low clouds, I looked out the window at a view that I had seen countless times but one I best remembered as a child. The cornstalks swayed as a late August rain was slowly rolling in and my mind wandered back to that cold and crisp Thanksgiving day in 2005; my family and I entering my grandparents' door, greetings exchanged, and coats doffed and hung. I remember seeing the letter on the counter, a letter from a knightly order, and the long conversation I had with a man I admired then and continue to admire now.

Now that I have my own kids and my dad is a grandpa, I often think about the time when my own kids are grown. What will life be like then? But I try not to tarry too long on that question. I start to play with them and wish they'd stop growing. I wish those little moments could slow down. That I could have just one more hour at the playground, just one more day before he has to start preschool, just one more year before he's getting on a schoolbus. That's the funny thing. When you want time to stop, it speeds up. As one brother told me, "raising children is like this: the days are long and the years are short." The best we can do is try our best to remember and store away those memories in our heart.

I'm going to say something that we never said while you were alive but, Grandpa, I love you, I miss you, your great-grandchildren are doing great, and I look forward to seeing you again.

7 comments:

Tom Accuosti said...

Sometimes it's nice to take a break from the ritual, the arguing about regularity, the GL programs, the esoterica, and remember that Freemasonry is about men associating with each other. Thanks for the reminder that It's a network of relationships.

Josh said...

Thanks for this post, Nick. I'm very fortunate to, like you, share our fraternity with my father and grandfather, both Past Masters. Just this past June, I was able to enjoy Father/Son night with the two of them by my side. I hope that my grandfather will be with us long enough to see me sit in the East and be with me when I receive the word of the chair. Until then, I'll treasure the chances I get to be with him. Cheers.

Nick Johnson said...

Thanks Tom.

Jimmy Harris said...

My story is similar. My grandfather, the smartest man I ever knew, never thought himself qualified to sit in the East having only received a sixth grade education. When he was cremated, my grandmother gave me his apron as nobody else in my generation had chosen to follow his lead. I have no words to describe the pride I felt when I wore it as Most Worshipful Brother John Cook installed me as Master.

Nick Johnson said...

@Josh

Treasure every moment you can with both of them. My grandfather was there for my installation.

@Jimmy

I still love that picture of you wearing your grandfather's apron. I smile every time I see it.

Anonymous said...

Great post Nick!

Richard Ingham said...

Thank you for sharing this great story Brother Nick
I can still picture my dad being in lodge & truly miss him