Yes, Friendship Lodge is back for another two weekends at the Southington Apple Harvest Festival. Once again we are featuring our fried apple wedges, and despite the damp weather, the crowds are lining up for a taste.
Connecticut may seem a long way from Haiti, both geographically and culturally, but five years ago, members of the Haitian community requested permission to form a lodge. After a year under dispensation, during which they had to learn the very different Connecticut workings, they were chartered as Universal Fraternity Lodge No. 149 in 2006.
The following article was originally written by RW Carl Ek for The Connecticut Freemason.
Universal Fraternity Lodge No. 149 – Their Strength is in Prayer
by Carl G. Ek
The sound of singing could be heard in the anteroom as the lodge opened. The brothers again joined in song as a delegation from the Grand Lodge was received – in French, of course, as this is the native language of so many of the brothers of Universal Fraternity Lodge No. 149.
Yet the music lacked the joy usually associated with the brothers of this lodge. The songs were a capella, with the organist away, dealing with personal issues. Pro-tem officers filled the West and the secretary’s chair. And while the room was well filled, the majority of brothers were almost certainly visitors.
Recently installed Worshipful Master Leslie St. Victor welcomed his visitors – RW’s Deputy Grand Master Charles A. Buck, Jr., Grand Senior Warden James T. McWain, and Grand Senior Deacon Simon R. LaPlace, plus a number of past and present District Deputies and Associate Grand Marshals. All were present to bring early support to brothers just beginning to learn the horrors of Haiti’s earthquake. Universal Fraternity Lodge No. 149, Stratford, was chartered at the Grand Lodge of 2006, but nearly all of its charter members were made Masons in their native Haiti. These good brothers bring traditions of their homeland to their new Grand Lodge, making a positive impression on those who have had the pleasure to visit their communications and celebrations.
In Haiti, it was clear there was nothing to celebrate. The poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti has been described as a country lacking food, clean water, medical facilities, infrastructure, or even a working government – and this was before the earthquake. On January 16, less than a week after the quake, even factual information was hard to come by.
WM St. Victor emotionally filled in some of the facts that were known concerning “the inexplicable calamity of the island of Haiti” as it affected members of his lodge. His mom was uninjured, and he was planning to go to Haiti to bring her back to Connecticut. His father-in-law had lived for a half century in Brooklyn, New York before deciding to return to his homeland. His home was flattened; his own 98 year-old mother and an infant survived, but he did not. Bro. Leslie knew of at least six of his relatives who had been taken by the quake and its aftershocks.
The sister of one brother worked for the Archdiocese of Haiti. She died in the collapse of the cathedral, as did the Archbishop. Another brother had seven relatives – including his father and father-in-law – living in the same house. What was left of the structure had been shown several times on television news, but he could get no information about his family. All that he was told was that there were “bad smells” coming from the flattened dwelling.
The Master said that he and his brothers were, as best, coping, “not understanding why, not understanding how, not understanding how much their poor little country would have to suffer.” Against that backdrop, all present took part in a program of hope. “We pray for those who survive,” said WM St. Victor, who asked all present to “learn from the devastation how merciful can be the Almighty.”
Noting that “there is strength in prayer,” the Master led the group in the reading of several psalms, some familiar, others less so. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want… He restoreth my soul… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:1,3 4) “I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (Psalm 42:9) “Have mercy upon me, O God…” (Psalm 51) “Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord… But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, make no tarrying.” (Psalm 70:1,5) “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Shew us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.” (Psalm 85:7) The readings were concluded by the singing of the “Haitian Faith Battle Song,” en Francais, certainment.
A number of visiting brothers stepped forward as early responders to MW Arthur H. Carlstrom’s request that Connecticut brothers wishing to help in Haitian relief send checks to he Universal Fraternity Lodge Relief Fund. Worshipful Master Tony Foote of Corinthian Lodge No. 104, Stamford, presented a check for $1,000, and RW Steven Bowen delivered a Temple Lodge No. 65 check for $2,120. Bro. Chris Buck, Senior Warden of Ansantawae Lodge No. 89, Milford, delivered the proceeds of a collection taken the night before at his lodge. He was startled to find exactly $149 in cash donations.
Several brothers mentioned gifts to other relief agencies, while a number noted that they have not yet met but would be making donations as soon as their lodges opened. In total, over $5,500 had already been donated by lodges and brothers present in the 5 days after the initial earthquake, with promises of far more in the upcoming days.
RW Deputy Grand Master Charles A. Buck, Jr. noted his sorrow that his first visit to Universal Fraternity Lodge was under such circumstances. He noted that Freemasons around the state share these brothers’ pain, and will do all they can to lessen it.
Worshipful Master Leslie St. Victor was eloquent in his sadness. “We are asking for prayer. We will be whole again. Please pray for us.” And, as he said quietly to one of the brothers in the Grand Lodge suite as they met in the East, “We’ll be all right. We’ll be all right.”
The tent has been folded up, the flooring has been packed away until next year, the fryers have been power-washed, and the apple prep gear has been boxed and stowed away. And most of us that worked the 2009 Southington Apple Harvest Festival are exhausted. In my opinion, we spent a hell of a lot of man hours (and some woman hours) just to make $1,200.
|From Apple Harvest 2009|
I’m not complaining — too much. Overall, the prep work was less tiring, and the clean-up much easier than when we had been cooking up those steak sandwiches. And we discovered that fresh, local cider — hot or cold –sells pretty well. And we also discovered that the warm, friend apples were an excellent mix with some ice cream, something that we’ll keep on the menu for next year. And as I’ve written before, I think that the two weekend stint is like a built-in team-building session, except that it is not run by high-priced consultants.
But still, the lodge building is old, and we need to raise more capital in order to stay ahead of the repairs, and to be able to lay something by in case of emergencies. I wonder what we could add to the mix for next year?
I can’t believe that this is my fourth time blogging about Friendship Lodge at the Southington Apple Harvest Festival. My first time was in 2006 when I was Master of the lodge, and really, not all that much has changed. Local businesses and street vendors still cross their fingers about the weather (apparently, those weather-changing HAARP beams aren’t supposed to be used frivolously), and the same members of Friendship still show up for the entire weekend to keep the food going. This year, however, we decided not to sell the “Philly” steak & cheese sandwiches that Friendship has sold for the last 15 years or so., and to concentrate just on selling the fried apple wedges that we’ve been perfecting for the last eight or nine years.
This was not an easy decision to make. Although it became clear that the sandwiches actually lost money during the last few years, the sheer amount of work involved to make them created a camaraderie that certainly added to the harmony of the members. How can you be upset with somebody who stood next to you, slicing the onions that you were peeling? And few things help develop common trust like knowing that somebody will show up for the important, but oft-overlooked cleanup work.
Our initial weekend was marred by cloudy, drizzly weather that became a downpour by Saturday afternoon. But Sunday was warm and sunny, and the crowds were out in droves to taste the typical fair fare, to browse some of the craft booths, and to enjoy the weather.
This being the lodge’s largest (and essentially only) fund raiser, we count on good weather and healthy appetites for the two weekends that the festival takes place. The first weekend ended up doing fairly well, allowing us to cover our initial expenses. We’re hoping that next weekend will be even more successful.
Maybe we’ll see you there?
The end of Apple Harvest is the final reminder that summer is over and we’re now beginning our long slide through autumn into winter.
Our own Apple Harvest was a mixed success; the changing New England weather left the crowds a bit more sparse than we would have liked to have seen them, but the people who did show up brought their appetites, and Friendship Lodge was benefited by that. In an interesting twist on our fund raising efforts, though, we discovered that those little fried apples that we’ve been selling for the last few years actually make more money for us than our famous Philly steak sandwiches. We never actually took a serious look at our sales until this year, when we were faced with an interesting dilemma.
Our building faces the town green, and is on a small, one-way street parallel to the main thoroughfare. Along the short block is a small office building, a bank, the American Legion, and a newly remodeled office building. The American Legion is right next door to us – we share a driveway in front and a small parking lot in the rear of the buildings.
For almost ten years, our lodge has sold steak sandwiches during the Apple Harvest Festival; it’s really our only big fundraiser, and we use the money to help maintain the old building that we’ve owned since the 1930s. In order to be a participant in the Festival, we pay a fee. We also pay a separate fee to get a tent, electricity (which we don’t use, since the tent is on our front lawn), gas hookups, and a temporary food permit. We also get some mention in one of the local sponsor flyers.
For the last three years the Festival was not run by the local Chamber of Commerce – it was turned over to private managers. Our lodge, being right on the green and in the middle of the Festival, has always kicked in a “goodwill payment” to help with the general costs. For this, we were supposed to get some extra mention in the various sponsorship ads – but each time it failed to materialize. It did entitle us to sell soda, which was a town-run franchise, but this year we noticed that several other non-sponsor vendors were selling soda, too.
Okay, stuff happens. But that’s not the worst of it.
Our neighbors, the American Legion, decided that they wanted to take advantage of the crowds and sell food outside. In a booth. Just like ours. And while they could have sold pretty much anything, especially items that weren’t already being sold (sausage & pepper sandwiches, burgers and dogs, Irish stew, turkey legs, etc.), they chose to sell. . . steak sandwiches.
The Festival managers limit the items that can be sold, so that vendors are not selling the same things. However, the American Legion does not pay the entry fee, so they do not have to abide by the same rules as the other food vendors. Being right on the green, they are in the middle of the Festival, and being 20 feet closer to the band stage, they probably intercepted some of the traffic that we would have otherwise had.
They also priced their sandwiches a dollar lower than ours (we lowered our own prices to match). They also opted to sell drinks, and since they did not need to pay anything to the town supplier, were able to price their soda lower than the rest of us. Complaints to the Festival managers went nowhere, as they had no authority to do anything.
I know that the libertarian-minded people will say that this is just a matter of supply and demand, of simple economics – but that is not the way that the rest of us viewed the situation. All of the other vendors agreed to abide by certain rules, with the understanding that such rules turn a potential free-for-all into an organized community event.
Every year we always have one or two members who ask why we continue to pay a fee to the town. “The Legion never pays anything, and they get the benefits. Why don’t we do the same thing? We could put up our own tent and sell what we want, and keep all the money.” And every year, a few of us sigh and explain that while it’s frustrating for us, the majority of the members of our lodge believe that it’s the right thing to do. We believe that we are part of the community, and we want to contribute in any way that we can.
It’s easy to voice those sentiments when things are going well, of course, but it’s another thing to hold to your principles when faced with opposition. We spent the two weekends kicking around the idea of not paying the entry fee next year, but really, it was more about blowing off some steam.
But ultimately, this all led to some good things. At the meeting after the end of the Festival, we discussed a number of alternatives to sell; this included taking a closer look at how well the fried apples were selling, and what we could add or subtract to the mix. Some of the officers are already coming up with ideas for the next year, and I fully expect that our fund raising efforts for next year will be completely different.