The Caretaker: A Photograph

By Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson, PM

This week as I was looking around the office for something to write about, I asked my wife what I should talk about next. She said "How about that photograph of Curtis?" I didn't think about it for more than a second or two. I knew that's what I should write about. While the photograph isn't an artifact, it does have a story and a real meaning to me.

Curtis was a Past Master, he was my mentor and he was a great friend who imparted to me what Freemasonry was all about. When I first became a Freemason, the Worshipful Master told me that Curtis would be my Intender. I didn't know what that meant at the time. But week after week, I met Curtis at the lodge. Every Monday, rain or shine, we sat there in the foyer of the lodge and practiced my catechism.

We'd go through it a bit then something would always come up and we'd break away from the memory work and talk instead about life. Curtis taught me a lot about life. Things I never even considered before. How to treat people, being a leader, knowing how and when to say "no", we talked about the benefits of having hearing aids (He joked about turning his off so as not to hear his wife yell at him), but most of all, we talked about Freemasonry and what it did for him in his life. He once told me his favorite bumper sticker said "Whence Came You?", because no one but a Mason would know what it meant. Now you know the backstory on the name of my podcast.

I was Curtis' last pupil. Shortly after being raised to Master Mason, the lodge got together and bought Curtis a Lifetime Membership, a token of appreciation for all he had done for Waukegan Lodge #78 over the years. I remember sitting in the dining hall thinking, "I hope I can influence as many men as he did someday."

During our catechism practices, Curtis would smoke. And in between cigarettes, he would take multiple hits off of his inhaler. He was funny that way. This was back in the day of course, before smoking was banned in lodges (which wasn't that long ago). Curtis told me one day that he knew his time was coming. I always played it off. I would say things like, "You have another 100 years old man." Of course he knew and so did I, that I was wrong.

One morning I received a call from another Brother of the lodge. Zig was his name. Zig is still around and one feisty old sailor, I might add. He said, "Bob, Curtis is in the hospital. Betty took him in, he was having a rough time breathing." I told Zig that we should go see him and of course Zig swung by the house and picked me up. When I arrived at the hospital, he was in bed and sleeping. Betty, his wife, said he's been tired and not able to sleep comfortably. So Zig and I sat there and just talked.
Soon however, Curtis woke up and smiled. He asked how we were doing and made some small talk. He fatigued easily. He had to do some lung exercises while we were there as well. All in all, it looked as though he'd go home in a few days. I held his hand and said, "Curtis, Zig and I are taking off. Get some rest, Brother."

And that was the last time I ever saw Curtis. He passed that evening and I received the call the next day. I stayed home from work that day. It was a weird feeling altogether. Feeling a sadness like that for someone I hadn't truly known for that long. But there I was, head in hands, sobbing.
I'll never forget the the first Masonic Funeral I ever attended. It was Curtis'. And I will never forget what Terry Behling, a Past Master and mentor from our lodge said as he and I stood in the lounge of the funeral home. We stood there in silence, sipping burnt coffee and eating those awful short bread funeral cookies, I'm sure we looked a mess. Terry looked up and said, "You know who I really feel sorry for? All the new Brothers who won't get that experience."

He was right. Curtis brought something to the table that I have yet to see again. Years after he passed away, another mentor of the lodge was in the dining room going through some old pictures. One of them was this picture. I asked him if I could have it. "Of course." Was the reply. I've kept this picture in my office ever since. In all my Masonic endeavors I think about Curtis and I guess in my own way, get an approval.


Bro. Robert Johnson, PM is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the First North-East District of Illinois. He is the Secretary of Waukegan Lodge No. 78 and Education officer for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois as well as a member on the Grand Lodge Education Committee. He is also a member of the York Rite bodies, AMD, The Illinois Lodge of Research and a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Chicago as well as a charter member of the Society of King Solomon, a charity organization run by the Grand Lodge of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatrewhich focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. In addition, he produces video shorts focusing on driving interest in the Fraternity and writes original Masonic papers from time to time. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four. He works full time in the executive medical industry and is also a photographer on the side as well as an avid home brewer. He is currently working on a book of Masonic essays.


  1. Absolutely awesome work, RJ. I had tears in my eyes by the end.

  2. Awesome piece, Brother. Reminds me of my first mentor who passed away not too long ago.


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