New Marshal in Town
As with many people running family businesses, I don’t remember any point at which I knew that I was the boss. My father did not retire in the conventional sense, he simply came in less and less frequently, while I gradually took on more and more responsibilities. All I remember is that one day it dawned on me that I was no longer the first person to know what was going on in the shop, and that, in fact, I was frequently discovering that I was becoming the last person to know many things.
Not so, however, the Master of a lodge.
Last year, they warned me that it didn’t matter how much I thought I was doing as the Senior Warden; the very day of my installation I would suddenly have dozens of people asking me everything imaginable, and then some. Also, when people said “Hey Worshipful, where/when/how do you want this?” that I was going to keep looking around for my predecessor, simply because it would take about three months to get used to the title.
They weren’t kidding.
In Conn, like in many US states, the Installation of Officers can be a semi-public event, in which wives and significant others, family, old friends, etc., are invited. First-time Masters generally have a dinner or cocktail reception afterwards, and since my wife owed me for five years of church dinners, I drafted her. Actually, we work well together doing these kinds of events, so it was fun. We’d spent the eveing before setting up tables and cleaning, and the morning of my installation I was down at the lodge getting other things ready. For some reason, we never bother with schedules or sign-up sheets at Friendship, people usually tend to show up early to kibbitz and lend a hand. At some point I must have betrayed my nervousness, because one of the Past Masters handed me a small glass of irish whiskey, with an order to use it to calm my nerves. I went home, had a relaxing shower and changed into my tuxedo.
At two o’clock, I was ready.
At three o’clock, the Grand Master stopped into the ceremonies. He apologized for being late, apparently he’d written the time down wrong.
At four o’clock, I was shooing the public downstairs to enjoy the nibbly things, while we closed things up formally.
By five o’clock, my ears were ringing. “Hey, Worshipful!” “Oh, Worshipful Master?” “Congratulations, Worshipful!” “”Get you another drink, Worshipful?” “Great party, Worshipful.” “Where do we get more napkins, Worshipful?” “Worshipful, I think we’re out of pickles.” “Worshipful, the Grand Master is pulling somebody’s dues card for adding Coke to his single-malt scotch.” “Did you send out the new trestleboards, Worshipful?”
Anybody who has been the master of a lodge probably knows exactly what I’m talking about. Zero to sixty in record time. And it took about two months before I stopped looking around for my predecessor Honorable George when I heard the words. But oddly, by summer it began to feel like a comfortable old nickname.
A member of another lodge, Ralph once said “Out of all the men I’ve seen assume the mantle, it seemed to fall on you rather easily.” I explained that as the owner of a small business, I’m accustomed to people asking me to look at this or solve that on a daily basis. But unlike at work, I could afford to be more relaxed at the lodge; not careless, but secure in the knowledge that a mistake in ritual, that being short a couple of dinners or forgetting to introduce a visitor was not going to cost me thousands of dollars or get anyone hurt or killed. More importantly, people were there not because they had to be, but because they wanted to be. It’s difficult to describe how it feels to be, not the “boss”, but rather, simply the guy in charge of a group of other guys who are already enjoying themselves.
All of this is in retrospect, of course. On Sunday the 7th, my successor, Marshal Dave – the best Senior Warden this side of the Pecos – was installed, and I’m sure his own ears were ringing by the end of the evening.