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A Mason’s Christmas

By Carl H. Claudy

(First printed in the book “The Old Past Master” published in 1924 by the Masonic Service Association, of which Brother Claudy was an associate editor. Brother Claudy later served as the Grand Master of the District of Columbia in 1943.)

“I don’t believe in a Christmas celebration by the lodge. I don’t think we ought to have one, or be asked to contribute to one or in any way engage in Christmas festivities.”

The Junior Mason spoke emphatically and with marked disapproval of the little ante-room group nearby, making happy plans for Yule-tide.

“That’s very interesting,” commented the Old Past Master. “I like to hear points of view unfamiliar to me. Would you mind telling me why?”

“Of course not. It’s very simple. Masonry is not Christian. King Solomon, of course, wasn’t a Christian, nor were either of the Hiram’s. Masonry admits to her ranks any good man of faith; Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist … it makes no difference, so he has a Faith. Then, as a lodge, we celebrate a holiday belonging to one faith?

“Now I personally am a Christian, and of course I celebrate Christmas. But my brother across the way is a Jew, who does not recognize Christianity. To ask him to spend his proportion of lodge funds in celebrating the birth of a Leader in whom he does not believe would be exactly like asking me to celebrate, with my proportion of lodge money, the birth of Confucius.

“Of course, I have only one vote and the majority rules, but when it comes to personal contributions to a Masonic Christmas celebration, my hands will never come out of my pockets.”

He shoved them deeper in as he spoke to emphasize his intention not to spend.

“Hum!” answered the Old Past Master. “So you think your Jewish brother across the way doesn’t recognize Christianity? Don’t you mean he doesn’t recognize Christ as the Son of God? Wait a minute … Oh, Brother Samuels.” The Old Past Master called across the ante-room. “Here a minute, will you?”

The Jewish brother rose and came forward.

“I just wanted to ask you if you are in favor or against the lodge Christmas celebration?” asked the Old Past Master.

“Me? I am in favor of it, of course, both for the lodge appropriation and the individual contribution.”

“Thank you,” nodded the Old Past Master. Then as the Jewish brother went back to his seat, he turned to the Junior Mason.

“You see, my son, our Jewish friend is not narrow. He does not believe in Christ as the Redeemer, but he recognizes that he lives in a country largely Christian, and belongs to a lodge largely Christian.

“To him the Christmas celebration is not one of His birthday, but of the spirit of joyousness and love which we mean when we sing, at Christmas time ‘Peace on earth, good will towards men!’

“If you argue that ‘peace’ is only a Christian word, he might even quote to you the words of One who said ‘I bring you not Peace, but a Sword.’

“Now let me explain something to you. The Jew has just as much right to refuse to recognize Christ as the Son of God, as you have to refuse to consider Mohammed the Prophet the followers of Allah say he is.

“But as an educated man, you must know that Mohammed was a good man, a devout leader, a wise teacher. As an educated man, you admit that the religion founded by Buddha has much in it that is good, and you admit that Confucius was a wise and just leader.

“Were you in the land where the birthdays of any of these were celebrated, would you refuse your part in the people’s joy in their Leader, simply because you followed another? I trust not. Well, neither do our Jewish brethren or our Mohammedan brethren, desire to be left out of our celebration. They may not believe in the Divinity of Him we as Christians follow, but if they are good men and good Masons … they are perfectly willing to admit that the religion we follow is as good for us as theirs is for them, and to join with us in celebrating the day which is to us the glad day of all the year.

“Believe me, boy, Christmas doesn’t mean Christ’s birthday to many a man who calls himself Christian. It is not because of joy that He was born that many a good man celebrates Christmas. It is because his neighbor celebrates it, because it is a time of joy for little ones, because it is a day when he can express his thanks to his God that he is allowed to have a wife and family and children and friends and a lodge, because of that very ‘peace on earth’ spirit which is no more the property of the Gentile than the Jew, the Chinese or the Mohammedan.

“It is such a spirit that Masons join, all, in celebrating Christmas. It is on the Masonic side of the tree we dance, not the Christian side.

“When this lodge erects its Christmas tree in the basement and throws it open to the little ones of the poor of this town, you will find children of all kinds there; black, white, yellow, and brown, Jew and Gentile, Christian and Mohammedan.

“And you will find a Jew at the door, and among the biggest subscriptions will be those from some Jewish brethren, and there is a Jew who rents cars for a living who will supply us a dozen free to take baskets to those who cannot come.

“And when the Jewish Orphan Asylum has its fair in the Spring, you will find many a Christian Mason attending to spend his money and help along the cause dear to his Jewish brethren, never remembering that they are of a different faith. That, my son, is Masonry.”

“For Charity is neither Christian nor Jewish, nor Chinese nor Buddhist. And celebrations which create joy in little hearts and feed the hungry and make the poor think that Masons do not forget the lessons in lodge, are not Christian alone, though they be held at Christmas, and are not for Christians alone, though the celebration be in His honor.

“Recall the ritual: ‘By the exercise of brotherly love we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family, the high and low, the rich and poor, who, as created by one Almighty Parent, and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support and protect each other.’

“It is with this thought that we, as Masons, celebrate Christmas, to bring joy to our brethren and their little ones, and truly observe the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God, whether we be Jew or Gentile, Mohammedan or Buddhist.”

The Old Past Master ceased and stood musing, his old eyes looking back along a long line of lodge Christmas trees about which eager little faces danced. Then he turned to the Junior Mason.

“Well,” he said smiling, “Do you understand?”

“I thank you for my Christmas present,” came the answer. “Please tell me to which brother I should make my Christmas contribution?”

Carl Harry Claudy (1879–1957) was an American magazine writer, a journalist for the New York Herald and author of a number of books relating to photography and to aviation, including First Book of Photography: A Primer of Theory and Prize Winners’ Book of Model Airplanes. During the early 1900s, Claudy photographed many important aeronautical events such as Alexander Graham Bell’s tetrahedral kite experiments and the Wright Flyer Army Trials at Fort Meyer, Virginia. Claudy wrote many science fiction stories for The American Boy magazine during the early 1930s. Four novelization books were printed from some of those stories. From 1939-1941, he wrote for DC Comics.

Brother Claudy’s association with Freemasonry began in 1908, when, at the age of 29, he was raised a Master Mason in Lodge Harmony No. 17 in Washington, DC. He served as its Master in 1932 and eventually served as Grand Master of Masons in the District of Columbia in 1943.

His Masonic writing career began in earnest when he became associated with the Masonic Service Association in 1923, serving as associate editor of its magazine, The Master Mason, until 1931. Under his leadership the Masonic Service Association was brought to a place of preeminence through his authorship and distribution of the Short Talk Bulletin which made his name familiar to virtually every lodge in the country. He authored approximately 350 Short Talk Bulletins. In addition to the bulletins themselves, he wrote and distributed innumerable digests, special bulletins, and portfolios of an historical and factual nature.

Epilogue

This weekend, I learned that Alexa can call your phone, which came in handy when I couldn’t find my phone after I got home tonight.

So I asked Alexa to call it. My handset phone system, which is connected to my iPhone by Bluetooth, rang, but I couldn’t hear the old phone sound of my cell phone. But for the handsets to ring, I knew my iPhone had to be nearby.

Then I remembered that I had the iPhone on silent mode during tonight’s Masonic meeting, so I turned off all the lights in the house and had Alexa call.

No lights anywhere other than from the three handsets in the house.

So I stood with the front door open and asked Alexa to call again.

On the ground, next to the driver’s door, partly covered by leaves, I could see the phone light up.

Technology can have an upside, too.

The long and winding road

In 1980, I was flush with oilfield cash and spent more than $20,000 on a Heritage model T-Bird.

That was an unheard of price back then, but it had a digital dashboard and all the bells and whistles you could imagine.

I loved that car but after the warranty expired (and before I wrecked it twice), and after I got laid off from the oilfield and no longer was flush with cash, all the bells and whistles stopped working. Not all at once, but one by one, leaving me in a bind.

That included the digital speedometer. It would read 0 most of the time, but every now and then flicker the actual speed, so I had to rely on my own guesstimate of how fast I was going. I bought a radar detector and that helped me keep out of trouble until I was able to buy a new car in 1987.

My new car was a 1987 Chevy Nova with manual transmission as well as manual windows and an analog radio. I wasn’t taking any chances.

I think about that T-Bird every time I am tempted to buy a “smart home” gadget.

My sister gave me a couple of smart plugs and an Echo Flex for Christmas last year, and I have to admit, I really like them. I even bought a couple of more plugs to use for lights that are hard for me to reach.

Being able to program them so that when I walk through the door and say “Alexa, I’m home” and watch lights magically pop on has been a cool thing. Telling Alexa goodnight and watching all the lights go out from the comfort of my bed is pretty neat too.

But thanks to my ’81 T-Bird, there’s a lamp by the door that turns on and off manually. It’s the same in my bedroom.

On this Cyber Monday, I find myself tempted to buy smart outlets and more plugs so that I can do all sorts of neat things without lifting a finger.

But the lessons learned from that old T-Bird prevail.

My RAV4 has all the bells and whistles that I could ever imagine having in a car and some that I never imagined. I also bought the lifetime warranty. I just hope I never have to use it.

Technology is a wonderful thing until it quits working.

Suddenly, it’s September

Finally. I never thought September would get here.

This is what the pirogue looked like after I loaded it on the car, all wrapped in shipping plastic to keep the love bugs off of it.

I picked up my pirogue in Bunkie weekend before last. Folks were getting ready for two hurricanes at the time, so I did a quick trip from Nashville. Down on Saturday, home on Sunday, though it may have been a little after midnight when I finally got home.

I installed a luggage rack Saturday afternoon in Memphis, where I was working with some Masonic friends to get our Grotto hall in shape. Headed to Alexandria, La., afterward, pulling in to town around midnight. Got up at the crack of 8, traveled to Home Depot for some quick supplies to wrap the boat to protect it from insects flying into it and picked up my cypress pirogue in Bunkie before noon.
The pirogue weighs about 60 pounds, easy enough for me to handle on my own. But I had to put it on the rack upside down and I couldn’t drive faster than 50 so it wouldn’t try to go airborne.

This is what it looked like after 10 miles. I had to stop at Dollar General and buy garbage bags and duct tape to protect the bow, after the wind ripped the shipping plastic to shreds.

50 mph, 600 miles to home. Ugh. I haven’t driven 50 in a vehicle since my mom last rode with me. I didn’t want to be “that guy” on the interstate, so I worked my way through the back roads of central Louisiana to Natchez, where I got on the Natchez Trace (speed limit 50 mph). It took a while to get home.

So what does any of that have to do with September? Everyone knows when you buy a pirogue, you have to paint it green. The builder suggested a stain rather than paint and I had to order it from Home Depot since they don’t normally stock “coonass green” stain for some unknown reason. (OK, they call it alligator green, but we know better.)
Anyway … it should arrive at the Home Depot in Bellevue today and I can start the process of making my pirogue hold water.
It’s not a bayou, but the Harpeth River is in for a workout in a few weeks.

The masked blogger

I think I am addicted to buying masks.

At the outset of this virus, I was scrambling to find masks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, etc. I made my own sanitizer and have been lucky to find toilet paper at opportune times. But masks. Nope.

I asked a seamstress friend to make three masks for me when the solution was first publicized.I have my mother’s sewing machine, but I still haven’t taken the time to learn how to use it. I will. But not now. So I contacted an old friend and agreed to pay her what she thought they were worth.

Two days later, as anxiety set in, I asked another seamstress friend to make a few masks for me because I was getting antsy about how soon the first friend’s masks would arrive and I was still venturing out to the store every two or three days.

With her, I exchanged a roll of elastic I picked up last summer for the masks.

Both sets of masks arrived on the same day, so I went from none to six in a week and a half and I was contented for a while.

A few weeks later, I saw a mask with the Royal Arch Mason’s emblem on it. I am a state officer for Royal Arch Masons, so naturally, I had to have one since we were still planning to have a convention in the summer.

A week or two later, a brother Mason on a Facebook forum said his wife was ordering cloth with the Masonic square and compasses on it and he was taking orders. I ordered one. I am a Mason, after all, and I could wear it to masonic meetings, too.

In June, while dining with fellow members of Zaman Grotto, I stumbled across masks with the Grotto emblem of Mokanna, the veiled prophet, on it on eBay.  I ordered one while we chatted about the Grotto at a Mexican restaurant. I wore it to the Allied Masonic Degrees meeting at the end of June and used it as a recruiting tool for the Grotto. I haven’t worn it at Grotto, yet.

A few days later, while scrolling through my saved searches on eBay, I found another homemade mask with the square and compasses on it. I bought it, too, since the Facebook brother hadn’t mentioned his wife’s masks since asking who wanted one.

Three weeks after I got the eBay mask in, the Facebook brother announced the masks were ready, so I sent him a check last week and got the mask in the mail yesterday.

On Monday, while preparing for our annual ceremony at a time capsule the Cryptic Masons have at the state capitol, I picked up a pack of 10 disposable masks, in case anyone needed one. They didn’t, so I have that pack on hand now, too.

That’s 20 masks altogether: 10 cloth and 10 paper. And yet, I’m still looking at masks online and in the store.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the masks I already have, the courage to wear them everywhere I go, and the wisdom to know when enough is enough.

Busy morning when compared to the other days this week. I ran out of bread last night, so peanut butter crackers played the role of breakfast.

The masks my friends are making won’t get here until Thursday at the earliest, and I’d rather not go into town without one. Since I do have hotdog buns, hot dogs played the role of lunch.

Supper was a creation I call a bologna quesadilla.

I warmed a tortilla on the griddle, flipped it over, put a slice of cheese on and then bologna, topped with a second slice of cheese and another tortilla. I flipped it twice and let the cheese melt and the bologna heat up.

Not bad if I do say so myself.

I was chatting with a friend on the phone and we were talking about masks. She’s worried about me not having any yet.  I told her I tried to make a mask out of a t-shirt, but it wasn’t long enough to cover my beard.

The other option, using a bandana with rubber bands, wasn’t an option because I don’t have rubber bands. But it occurred to me I could cut strips out of a t-shirt and use as ties.

I did a few minutes ago and darned if it didn’t work. I’ll use this to get bread tomorrow. And while I’m in town, I’ll get a sausage and pepperoni pizza to go from Jonah’s.

I get paid tomorrow, so it will be a win-win kind of day.

Here’s me and my bandana mask with t-shirt ties.

Stay safe.

When I was in college, someone introduced me to pure grain alcohol through a product named Everclear.

Everclear is legal moonshine and it will burn going down when you drink it. We could buy it by the pint at the K&B drugstore.

Pure grain alcohol will also burn if you spit it into a fire. So I did, at every fraternity party where we had a fire going.

I’d stand by the fireplace sipping until someone asked what I was drinking. Then I’d take a sip and spit it into the fire. It would flare up. “Moonshine,” I’d say, “Want some?”

It was fun. But what we really used it for was to make “jungle juice.” (Google it, if you’re not familiar. I don’t have time to explain.) It ate the galvanize off of the garbage can we used to make jungle juice.

Fast-forward 45 years. Coronovirus has caused hoarders from all over (and a couple of nitwits in Chattanooga) to buy up all the hand sanitizer in Middle Tennessee.

The local news had a segment on how to make your own using liquor with a high alcohol content, along with aloe vera to make your own hand sanitizer. 

“Everclear” was the first thing that popped into my head.

I drove around town looking for aloe vera gel, but everywhere was sold out. But the local pharmacy had glycerine in a small bottle, so I bought one and then stopped at the liquor store and picked up a pint of “Golden Grain” pure grain alcohol, 190 proof, 95% alcohol by volume.

When I got home, I took out my 1-cup measuring cup. I poured the alcohol to the 2/3rd cup mark and then added glycerine until the mixture rose to the 1 cup line. I poured it into a mixing bowl and added 5 drops of peppermint extract essential oil then whisked it all together until it was fully blended.

I put some in a 3-ounce bottle I bought to use when I fly (but never used). The rest went into a cleaned out Dawn squeeze bottle. I use the small bottle whenever I venture out, putting a few drops in my hand after every stop at a store.

Everclear killed a lot of my brain cells in college. I eventually partied my way to a 1.8 grade point average, so I dropped out and went to work offshore. By then, I’d moved on to something a little mellower, Jack Daniel’s. I eventually quit Jack, too, and went back to college and earned my degree when I was 30.

But some of those brain cells were really just put into hibernation and when the right circumstance came along, woke up and reminded me.

I guess you never really forget what you learn.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am growing old. By the CDC’s measure tonight, I am elderly and should stay home, which I have been doing. For the most part.
 
I have 3 rooms in my house and with only one of them — the bathroom — is there rarely any question why I walked in.

I am forgetful, to say the least.

 
Because I live alone in the woods in the middle of nowhere, there’s no delivery service outside of FedEx, UPS and the Postal Service for me. So I go into town every few days to buy perishables because, well, they perish if not consumed in a day or two.
 
Ice is one of those. I know. I can make my own. But for $2, I can buy a bag that fills a quarter of my freezer. So I buy it. Twice a week.
 
Tonight, I picked up some Diet Dr. Pepper, and some low-carb snacks to go along with the healthy food I bought yesterday. And a bag of ice, which I put on the floor of my car behind the driver’s seat. The rest of the groceries got loaded in the back of the SUV since I have no trunk. 
 
When I got home, I had to pee really bad, so I started to race into the one room where I never forget why I’m there, but saw a tree and remembered I live in the woods. Yay, me. Yay, tree. Crisis averted.
 
Afterwards I grabbed the groceries and went inside. I put them away, stripped down to my drawers (because I live alone in the woods in the middle of nowhere) and started watching TV. NCIS: New Orleans had a double feature tonight, so I settled into my recliner to watch.

About halfway through the first episode, I got up to get something to drink, opened the freezer to get some ice and … Ice. Shit. It’s been in the car for an hour.

I grabbed my keys from the bedroom, slipped on some shoes and ran out to the car thinking along the way that I was smart to buy rubber mats when I bought the RAV4. But it’s 40 degrees outside and the ice hadn’t started to melt. Another crisis averted.

The rest of the evening has been uneventful. Until now. Shit. Where did I put the car keys?

Taking it easy

I was two hours from home and the end of one of my best vacations ever and decided to stop for one last meal at a down-home diner, to extend the trip just a bit.

I had my mouth set on a jalapeño burger from the Bell Buckle Cafe when I pulled off the interstate and took the back roads to get there.

But I forgot the RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival was that day and the town was crawling with people. So I moved on to Shelbyville and found Pope’s Cafe on the square.

There’s something about a cafe near a courthouse that guarantees there will be good food there.

The cheeseburger was great. Pope’s did not disappoint. But the jackass who pulled in to the parking spot next to mine after I went in did.

I could not open the driver’s door wide enough to squeeze in. Granted, I am a big boy, but this dipshit had pulled in with the front tires turned 90 perpendicular to the line, wedging the car into the spot. Whoever was driving was alone or with one really skinny friend.

My first instinct was to kick their car hard enough to dent it. But it was broad daylight and folks were walking by. Besides, I had foot surgery last fall and I don’t want to go through that again.

So I got in the passenger seat of my car and stewed. It took a few minutes for me to realize I could still turn my car on and roll down the windows to let the breeze in while I waited for the jackass to return.

I pushed the button to turn on the power and sat.

What am I going to say to this guy? Will I get in a fight? What if it’s a woman? The possibilities played through my head.

I opened the car door and tried to shimmy across the arm rest and gear shift into the driver’s seat, but, like I said, I’m a big boy and that didn’t work.

So I sat and stewed some more. It seemed like an hour passed, but it was really only 5 minutes. Five really long minutes.

To start my car (it’s a RAV4, so technically an SUV), you need to press the brake while pushing the power button.

If only I had a stick, I could press the brake and back out enough to open the driver’s door.

I scanned the sidewalk. No stick. I sat some more.

Don’t I have an umbrella on the floor in the back? I felt around. Ice scraper. Not long enough. Light jacket, not sturdy enough. I finally got out and opened the back door. There was the umbrella.

I got back in and started the car. My RAV4 has a back-up camera, so I was able to see where I was going and I started to inch the car out. Who knew city squares were so busy? After another minute, I was able to back out far enough to open the driver’s door.

As I settled in to the driver’s seat, I grabbed the pen from the console and a napkin that was on the passenger seat, planning to write “You Park Like An Asshole” on it and leave it on the windshield. I decided they probably already know they park like an asshole. Hell, I drive like an asshole most of the time and it doesn’t bother me.

So I put the pen down and headed home.

Did I mention I had a really great vacation?

I stopped for supper at O’Brien’s tonight and the place was hopping. It’s Good Friday and in addition to their regular meatloaf special, they offered a variety of combinations involving crab legs, shrimp and steak.

I was tempted to get the crab leg cluster and shrimp combo, but when I asked about portion size, I opted for the meatloaf instead. One cluster of 4 legs and a half dozen shrimp is an appetizer to this coonass.

The only open table when I walked in was right next to the kitchen and the pace was hectic. It reminded me of my high school days, when I worked as a busboy and dishwasher the last 5 months of my senior year.

It was about this time of year 44 years ago when Coach Gros, my Algebra teacher, suggested that my late-night job was affecting my class work. “If you don’t really need the money, you might think about cutting back on week nights so you can graduate.”

Graduate. That had been an abstract word to me up until that moment. I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up and here I was, a month and a half away from graduation.

I thought about what he said during my shift at the restaurant that night.

Working at The Emporium had been the most fun I’d had in a while. I met some great people working there. (And stay in touch with them to this day.)

Most nights, we’d finish up by 10:30, then sneak into the back room of the Iron Horse next door and trade beer for washing glasses for the bartenders. It was easy to tell my parents I worked late. In a way, I wasn’t lying.

“Graduation.” That word kept playing in my mind as I scraped dishes and put them in the dishwasher.

At the end of the shift, I pulled the manager aside and told him I needed to quit so I could get my grades up. It was a tough decision. In a few short months, everyone there had become family to me.

“That’s a smart move,” he said. “You’ve got a job here if you change your mind.”

So here I am, 44 years later and another word is playing in my head.

“Retirement.”

Retirement starts in June. Where did the time go?

Last month I was a busboy. A week later a welder’s helper, then a fitter’s helper and machinist’s helper, then a freshman in college with ideas of becoming a lawyer. Then I was a college dropout working offshore and in the blink of an eye, I was a laid-off oilfield hand going back to college. I became a journalist because there weren’t many job opportunities in Thibodaux, La., for a history major with a journalism minor.

Journalism lasted for 20 years, then I became a corporate communicator after toying with becoming a locksmith for a few years. I got married. I got divorced. I’ve bought 4 houses and 10 cars and I’ve lived in three states.

And today I am 8 Mondays from retirement (though I’m off for 2 of them) and I’ve got that same feeling in my gut that I had 44 years ago.

During an interview in the mid-1990s, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “Retired,” I said. “I want to be retired.”

We laughed. It was a good interview. I can’t remember what story I was working on.

But here I am on the precipice of retirement and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I guess I’m fixing to find out, though.