My First Experience of Freemasons

(Second Installment in a series on “Freemasons in My Life.”)

After graduation, I attended a trade school and began an apprenticeship for Marine Engineers. The demanding curriculum left scant time for anything else and after six months in classrooms, they placed me aboard ship for a year of hands-on training augmented by a massive correspondence course. This would prove to be my first, eye-opening experience with the Freemasons.

A ship at sea is a cloistered society where the vessel’s length determines how far you can distance yourself from your tormentors. Being the new guy, I seemed to attract my share of tormentors and the fact that I was the only “Yankee” aboard a ship full of Southerners seemed to exacerbate the situation.

The Southerners, as I would soon learn, had a propensity for gravitating toward secret societies of all type and description. Perhaps this resulted from the South’s inherently low educational standards or the desire of the few to gain control of the many through clandestine means.

The probing began on my first day aboard. Masonic passwords, gestures, handshakes and body language accompanied several of the introductions to my new shipmates. Each meeting with a Mason quickly became an unspoken test to determine the status of my priorities. In many cases, the person I met would try several different tactics to induce the proper response before giving up.

Their reactions to having an “unknown value” who probably wasn’t a Mason in their midst clearly demonstrated their disappointment.

These first encounters set the tone for my six-month stay aboard this particular ship where an obvious Mason/non-Mason schism existed among the vessel’s occupants.

This schism was notably evident in the officer’s mess where I shared a table with two cadets from another school (neither of whom were Masons) and the radio operator who was an overt Mason.

His demeanor toward us was always condescending and he made it a habit to engage in “Mason Speak” with an engineer named Willie who sat nearby. This really irked me and occasionally I would make a casual comment that made them question whether I was indeed a Mason. Eventually, my off hand remarks got under Willie’s skin and affected my training program.

As an apprentice, I was supposed to work with the experienced engineers like Willie, ask questions and learn by doing.

One day, in our second week out, he veered away from technical talk and began to question me about my background. When I mentioned that I had been brought up Catholic and attended parochial schools, he underwent an amazing transformation.

His first reaction was to narrow his eyes and say, “Uhhhgh”, then he immediately turned and walked away. From that day on, Willie would only grunt or nod to recognize my presence. After this incident, I began receiving the same “cold shoulder” treatment from the other Masons aboard and it was obvious that my fate had been sealed by Masonic decree.

Shortly thereafter, my assistance aboard the ship ceased to exist. Upon reporting for work each morning, I would be told there was nothing requiring my participation. I had been summarily ostracized and disenfranchised from the training routine.

This continued through the remainder of the three-month voyage leaving me no recourse but to learn the ship’s systems on my own and work on my correspondence course. It was plainly evident that my tormentors expected me to leave the ship before the end of my six-month assignment and thus disqualify myself from the training program. Imagine their chagrin when, upon our return to the States, I signed on for another three-month voyage!

By the time I left the ship, I had successfully submitted the entire correspondence course, a contrivance designed to occupy a student for a whole year.

To this end, the Masons unwittingly did me a favor. The next six-month assignment put me on a ship where, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t a single Freemason among the crew. Without the encumbrance of the correspondence course, my new shipmates were able to take me under their wing and set me to work full time.

After the infusion of their knowledge and experience, I returned to school, completed the final phase of classroom study and graduated near the top of my class.

This brief sojourn into the world of the Free Mason’s would prove to be a harbinger of things to come. As the years wore on, my dad’s lessons, coupled with experiences like this furnished me with a box of very valuable tools. I quickly found myself in the process of using these tools to great advantage in what would end up being a life-long contest of wills with a very elusive foe.