"You might want to take a look at this, son," my father said as he put a pamphlet on my dresser titled, "History of Freemasonry."
I was in high school at the time. Didn't know much about the organization, other than that my father, grandfather and great grandfather were, or had been members. I knew the Masons had a proud line of American presidents, ranging from George Washington to Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
I was never much of a joiner of anything. It's not that I didn't try. Just couldn't get into other people's rules or ways of doing things. I joined the Boy Scouts, but never made it past "second class." Once, the scoutmaster wanted to know why my father didn't make me call him "sir." I explained that while my dad was in the Navy, he was into medicine, not sadomasochism. That comment crushed my chances for a coveted citizenship merit badge.
Many years later, I was asked to join a service club. They had this strict attendance policy — sort of like a convicted criminal never missing an appointment with his probation officer. Once, a guy stood up and said he had not missed a weekly meeting since 1934. That was weird. After his testimonial, another member was berated for being absent while fighting in Kuwait. They said he could have attended a chapter in Saudi Arabia!
Not too long ago, I tried to join a car club. One had to attend three consecutive meetings before an application would be considered. Then you had to agree to attend three events annually — from chili cookoffs to car shows. Trouble was, they didn't seem to be too interested in cars. Most of the meeting time was spent arguing over such things as: "Should we pay a $1.75 club debt?" At Christmas, they realized the kitty was full and started throwing excess funds at any "charity" that was called out in the room. I tried calling out my name and got a few bucks too.
But going back to the '50s and '60s, it was obvious in those days that the value of being a Freemason was a no-brainer. They had a lot of power. My dad used to drive like a maniac and got pulled over occasionally. However, he never got a ticket (Guess to what organization most of the state troopers belonged?).
I forgot about that "History of Freemasonry" brochure. Figured I'd take a second look after college, but it took a while. Other than university animal houses, I didn't know anyone from my generation that belonged to a fraternal organization. They just didn't seem to have the same appeal as they did in bygone eras. As a matter of fact, there hasn't been a Freemason in the White House since Gerald Ford.
In the '70s, a Lodi teacher got wind that I came from a Masonic family. He invited me to a local lodge to meet the members. I went once. They were all fine fellows, but most came from previous generations.
It was my understanding that to become a member, one had to pass muster. Any prospect could be "blackballed," I don't know if the Lodi lodge engaged in this practice, but traditionally each brother could choose a white marble or a black marble. A wooden box was passed around the room. At the end of the line, if one black marble appeared in the ballot box, the prospective member would be rejected.
I figured I'd made enough enemies in this town that the lodge probably wouldn't have enough black ones to go around. Most likely, they would have to borrow some "8" balls from the local pool hall. (I'm sure my friends wouldn't have minded lending a few.) That was the end of my pursuit of the Masons, or any other fraternal organization for that matter.
Now you know my sad story. I guess joining organizations for me could be summed up with a quote from noted comedian Groucho Marx, who once quipped:
"I don't want to belong to any club that would accept people like me as a member."
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer and satirist.