Another Masonic Tradition: Heirlooms

Men come to Freemasonry for many different reasons, but for many, it's a beautiful family tradition--something fathers and sons (and grandfathers) can share in together long after the young man grows up and leaves the nest to strike out into the world on his own.

The first time I'd made particular note of that was shortly after I joined the Scottish Rite.  I was visiting the Valley of Indianapolis during one of their reunions, when somebody asked me if I'd take a picture.  We went outside, and I took the picture on the front steps of the Indianapolis Scottish Rite Cathedral (many would argue, the cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and I would agree).  As it turned out, I was taking a family picture of four-generations of Scottish Rite Masons--that's son (who had become a 32nd Degree Mason that day), father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.  All four men grinning proudly in the bright fall sunlight.

I know a lot of Masons, and I can tell you, one of the most priceless possessions some of these guys own is an heirloom--a lapel pin, ring, tie tack, cuff links--that belonged to a member of their family or a close friend who was a Mason.  We're not talking about gold and diamonds here--sometimes it's nothing more than a $3 lacquered pin, or a set of $10 electroplated shirt studs.  But when received, they are treated as priceless artifacts by those beginning their journey in the Craft.

One of our Past Masters was given a Scottish Rite ring by one of his close friends and mentors when he joined the Scottish Rite, a friend of his who has since passed away.  It means a lot to him.  He wears it just about every meeting, and tells the story of where it came from often.

We raised a young man a Master Mason a couple years ago in my lodge.  After his degree, his father made a presentation to him.  He gave the young man his grandfather's Masonic ring.  I have no doubt he knew that ring well--he'd probably seen it on his grandfather's hand, and his father's hand many times.  It had probably never occurred to him before that moment that one day he would wear that ring on his own hand.  I'll never forget the look on his face as he put that ring on.  In that moment, he suddenly realized he hadn't just become a Master Mason, in itself a tremendous accomplishment, but more importantly to him, he'd just become the third generation of Masons in his family, and I'm sure every time he looks at that ring, he thinks of his departed grandfather.

Me and the 60-year-old hat I wore
as Master. My first time, the hat's second.
It had sat the Master's head in 1949.
I think it was happy to be out of the box.
One of the greatest honors a Mason can receive is being elected Master of his lodge.  I won't even get started on gavels--that's a blog post in itself.  Master's have the distinction of wearing a hat.  That hat is something a newly elected Master thinks a lot about, and very often, that hat belongs to a previous Master of the lodge, or perhaps a mentor, or a family member. I wore a special hat that  belonged to a close family friend and Past Master of my lodge--Raymond VanBuskirk.  He was the Master of my lodge in 1949.

He had been like a grandfather to me growing up, and when I decided to petition to become a Mason, he signed it on the top line--after the longest conversation the two of us ever had about why I wanted to join.  It was a conversation that forever changed our relationship--we went from our previous relationship of being almost grandfather to grandson, to Masonic Brothers in 90 minutes.  When I left that meeting, there was no question in my mind how important he saw the journey I was about to take was to him.  And my life has never been the same since. That was before the books, the blog, the website, the articles, and all that has come since. He passed away when I was Master of his lodge--which is how I always saw it.  But I think about him every time I slip his old ring on my right finger when I prepare for a Mason event--that priceless relic that takes me back to my very roots.  And in many ways, I'm more honored by that ring I wear on my right hand, than I am by the one I wear on the left--the one with the "33" on it.  The irony that I had to have Raymond's ring sized down to fit me isn't lost on me--they are big shoes to fill.

Those lucky enough to have been given or have inherited an heirloom cherish those items (even a $3 pin).  They remind us of those that have gone before us.  They remind us of the importance of the work we do in the world.  They give us a sense of tradition that goes far beyond just the noble traditions of the world's oldest fraternity--it makes our journey in Freemasonry much more personal.  It reminds us each time we dress for a  Masonic event, just how large the footprints are that we follow.  It gives us inspiration to make those who gave us those priceless treasures proud of us.  It's not the honors we receive after, it's those that motivated us originally to pursue them that matter.


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