I spent a great afternoon with my old friends in Pekin this afternoon. I visited them once before, back in October 2008. That wasn't too long after I'd published my first book. Amazingly, they invited me back again! Once is usually enough for most people. They had put a lot of work into today's event--everything from the menu, to the patriotic table decorations. Everything was absolutely perfect. I think they had a pretty good idea after my last visit what they could expect today, and the decorations certainly showed it. Get ready to wave your flag--Todd's back in town!
I had a great time last time, so it wasn't hard to talk me into taking the long trek over again. They have a secret weapon--a very powerful persuasion tool. His name is Chef Charles. And once again, Chef Charles didn't let us down.
This is Chef Charles describing the dishes he had prepared. He put on a fantastic brunch. Pork and chicken in wonderful sauces, Masonic beans (green beans for the rest of you), two egg dishes on the breakfast side, salads, braised potatoes, three remarkable desserts (there may have been more, those are the ones I tried.) I just realized something . . . I missed the biscuits. There's a whole pile there. I never tried the biscuits! I got to go back now! That in itself is inspiration enough to finish the third and last book in my series.
Charles set things up very casually--buffet style. This is my friend the Illustrious Bob Blacketer, 33rd Degree from Danville (in the blue shirt) and I loading our plates. Bob went with me to keep me company on the long drive over. The only thing that could have made that buffet better would have been plates the size of hubcaps.
I'm a very special guest, so of course, I had my own wait-staff. Just kidding, these are girls from the Pekin Bethel--and believe me, there are a lot of waitresses I know of around here that could learn a thing or two from these young women. The Job's Daughters did a great job keeping the cups filled and the plates cleared. That wasn't an easy job--there were often multiple trips to the buffet involved.
I don't know what I'm doing here--that's not unusual. Probably trying to figure out how one of those tricky ink pens work or something. But the lady standing beside me is one of my favorite Pekin friends--Theodora. She's a very funny lady, and I'd always wondered where she got her unique name. Here I am meeting her father, Theodore. I discovered he knows a thing or two about history as well. He took me to task today. I'm still hoping one day, Theodora will tell me how she got that name. Maybe I should ask Theodore. You think?
After lunch I did my thing--gave that history talk. They seemed to enjoy it, but I've always been a better writer than speaker. So today, I decided instead of relying solely on my own stellar speaking skills, I'd bring along a surprise guest, and a truly remarkable orator. When I was done, I introduced my friend. It's not every day I get to introduce the Freemason that was the very first man I profiled in my first book--General George Washington.
I think his entrance had the anticipated impact. It was a complete surprise. Only two people in Pekin knew he was coming--Ray and Judy. Ray had seen pictures of Washington's visit to Ogden Lodge during our Past Master's dinner, and asked what the chances were of getting him to visit Pekin. Pretty good, I'd say! And they kept it a secret--of course Masons are supposed to be good at that, right?
Washington's oratory is mesmerizing. He talks about his growing up, the Revolution, his family, and about his Masonic affiliations. I've heard him speak before, and every time, it puts a knot in my throat, and makes me proud to be an American all over again.
I'd have to say, one of my favorite parts of Washington's oratory is his presentation of the flag. It's the climax of his presentation, and it takes the listeners back to his day, and reminds us all what that flag actually means from the man that first fought for it.
One interesting note--my friend Bob Blacketer totally missed Washington's oratory today--again! I've seen Washington several times now, and I've been with Bob every time, but oddly enough, every time Washington shows up, Bob's either in the restroom, or outside making a call. It's like Clark Kent every time Superman shows up. Odd, isn't it?
Afterwards, I signed a ton of books, and there was picture taking going on. These two wanted a picture. This is Judy, and Lena (that's Theodora's daughter!) All I said was, "Okay, but let's not do that whole bunny-ears thing . . ." I should have known better, considering the source of one (Theodora) and my experience on Facebook with Judy since I met her and her husband Ray the first trip I made to Pekin. I have a way of bringing out the best in people, don't I? I was really, really trying to be on my best behavior! It's not easy for me. I was only about two clicks of the camera away from joining in. You can see that, right?
Today was a very good example of what I enjoy most about our fraternity. A good meal, meeting new friends, and joking around with some I've met before. If I hadn't joined this fraternity in 2005, I wouldn't know anyone from Pekin, or Peoria, or Lincoln, or Kankakee, or Lawrenceville, Olney, Mattoon . . . on and on. But this isn't just a fraternity--this is family.
Thanks again for inviting me. I'll be back.