The Gift of Yourself - A Christmas Story

The Small Town Texas Mason E-Magazine Dec 2011

“It’s another waste of the Lodge funds that your forefathers built up over the years!”

Yes, the crotchety old Past Master was wagging his finger yet again at the room awash with light blue aprons and dark hair. It had almost become a tradition since a wave of younger men had joined several years earlier and revived a sparsely-populated and sad old Lodge on the verge of reluctantly handing the warrant back to Grand Lodge. Whenever a motion came onto the floor, you could be sure Alec Sampson—or “Worshipful Brother Grumpy”, as they called him—would be automatically opposed. Especially when it came to the Lodge treasury. “You want to give yourselves free dinner and drinks on the Lodge’s dime using Christmas as an excuse,” he exclaimed, as he stated his lack of enthusiasm for the Junior Warden’s plan for a Christmas Party on Saturday night. “And besides, who’s going to be in the mood for Christmas? It’s going to rain that night,” was his parting shot as he sat down to raucous laughter of the Lodge, though he didn’t understand what they found amusing.

The Past Master ignored any further discussion as he sat and mumbled to no one in particular and stewed before the brethren voted in favor of the festive gathering.

“Now, remember,” the Worshipful Master gently reminded, “Make sure you bring a present that we can put under the tree. But nothing too expensive so it looks like we’re giving better gifts to some than others.” “Hmmpf,” grunted Sampson to himself. “I’ve been on a pension for 20 years. I don’t have the money these young guys with their gas-guzzlers and big-screen TVs have. And they want me to buy something for them?” Then he ‘hmmpf’ed again.

After the meeting, one of Lodge’s new members, a keen Fellow Craft who had attended everything since his initiation several months earlier, innocently went up to the Past Master.

“So, Worshipful Brother Sampson, are you going to the party?” he quietly asked.

“Going?” he said, shocked. “Johnny, do you know why we stopped having them parties years ago? We used to spend all kinds of money on a hall, decorations, a band—we even had a church choir come in one year—and no one showed up. Oh, the brethren said ‘Yeah, don’t worry, I’ll come’ but then they’d make some excuse and stiff the Lodge. That was back in the ’70s. We’d be left with a big, empty room and bills to pay. If a few of us hadn’t donated money to the Lodge we would have been broke. “The last one I went to was in 1959. One of the guys got liquored up beforehand—probably was at a Shriners do, or something like that—and fell into a huge cake Bro. Wallace’s wife baked. Ruined the whole night. Nope, I’ve had enough of Lodge Christmas Parties,” he added with an air of finality. With that, he went to get his coat and hat and headed for the door.

“Nice young fellow,” admitted Sampson to himself, as he drove away from the hall to his little home not far away, “He means well, and he does good work in the Lodge, but he has the dammedest ideas some times.”

Saturday night came, and the grouchy Past Master got set to spend it as he always did: watching some old movies on the TV. So it was a shock after he turned on the set and settled down into his chair that his wife stood in an arched doorway and said: “So, are you all set to go?”

“Go where, Martha?” he demanded. “A Western with Jimmy Stewart is about to come on.”

Just then, the doorbell rang. “You’ll see,” said the little grey-haired woman as she slowly made her way to the front door and found a young man clutching an open umbrella over his head. It was the Fellow Craft.

“Ohhhh, no!” exclaimed the Past Master, waving his finger in the air just like he did in Lodge all the time. “I see what this is. I’m not going!” “Now, Alec,” Martha chided, “Johnny called today to see if we wanted a ride to the Christmas Party. I told him my feet still aren’t feeling right, so I can’t go. But you can. He came all the way into town from out in the valley 45 miles away to pick you up.”

“But I’m not dressed for it,” he insisted.

“That’s okay,” said the Fellow Craft, “The guys won’t mind.”

“And I don’t have a present like you guys voted I should have,” he sputtered.

“But you do, Worshipful Brother Sampson,” replied Johnny.

The grumpy Past Master was puzzled by that remark. But then he thought for a moment. Johnny was a good young man and dedicated to the Lodge and, after all, had made an effort to come get him.

“Well, okay, I guess,” he reluctantly and sullenly agreed. “Besides, I know how ‘The Man From Laramie’ turns out anyhow.” Martha handed him his rumpled coat and a fedora that had seen better days then cracked open the front door. Sampson peered into the damp and menacing sky. “See? I told you it was going to rain. None of you ever listen to me!” Cheery music with sleigh bells filled the banquet room of the old hall. Brushing the tall ceiling was a healthy Douglas fir, glistening with tinsel, sitting watch in the corner over a mound of presents around its trunk. But the tree isn’t what shocked Sampson. It was the people. The 90-year-old room, big enough to fit 250 when the Hall was built and the Lodge was initiating dozens every year, was packed.

“Where did all these people come from?” Sampson demanded. “A lot of them are friends of the members,” the Fellow Craft replied. “They brought their wives and kids and other friends.”

“Well, the hall certainly looks nice,” said the Past Master, looking around.

“A bunch of us got together and decided to paint the downstairs,” Johnny answered, then pointed. “Dave over there donated the paint. Don brought the rollers and the brushes. We all chipped in to save the Lodge a bit of money.”

At that moment, a well-dressed man in his early 20s, came up to the pair. The Fellow Craft spoke. “Rob, this is Worshipful Brother Alec Sampson. He was Master of the Lodge in 1957. He’s been a Mason a very long time.”

“That’s great,” smiled the young man. “I’ve read a lot about Freemasonry and it’s the kind of thing I’d like to join. It believes in helping your fellow man and helping the world. And my grandfather was a Mason. He died when I was little but he was great to me and my sister and he used to bring over cookies that grandma baked for us. I think he was a member of this Lodge.”

“Oh?” Sampson’s left eyebrow went up. “Do you know his name?”

“Sure,” laughed the young man. “It’s Alan Wallace.”

Sampson stood stunned as if Santa himself had just bounded down the chimney.

“Alan Wallace was my sponsor into the Lodge,” Sampson said in a low voice. And his wife Emily used to bake things for our functions all the time.”

The young man brightened some more. “Do you want to see her? I brought her,” he asked. “What? She’s still alive?” Sampson asked, astounded.

“She was when I left her by the punch bowl three minutes ago,” he chuckled. And with that, the young man maneuvered the old Past Master through the crowded room of revelers over to a little table where a small woman sat primly, wearing a light blue dress and a neat hat that wasn’t too out of style. She looked wide-eyed at her guest for a second or two, then stood up. “Well, if it isn’t Worshipful Brother Grumpy!” she grinned. “Merry Christmas, Alec. How have you been?”

“I’m doing fine, Emily. I haven’t seen you for years.”

“The Lodge hasn’t had one of these for years,” the widow observed. The young members of the Lodge are really wonderful. They put together a list of all us old-timers and started calling. They offered to bring us to the party and even buy us a little gift. It’s very thoughtful. They want to do something for us on Valentine’s Day, too. Alan would be so proud of them.”

The old Past Master realized now he had not been paying attention to all the discussion during the Lodge meeting about the party. The gifts were for the widows. Not the members. “I asked one of the young ones if you were coming, but I was told you’re always busy doing something. That’s retirement, isn’t it? You become busier than when you were working.” Sampson offered a sheepish smile. “All of us used to have such fun at these years ago. Stanley Phillips and Ted Barnham and John Lee. Ah, they’re all gone now. And Dick Moody. Everyone thought he was drunk but he had a trick leg with a mind of its own sometimes. Remember the Christmas Party his leg gave out and he landed right in the middle of the cake I baked? Alan and I never laughed so hard!” The widow laughed heartily at the memory. “Well, I’m going to get some more punch. One of the wives of one of the new members brought it. See you in a bit!” And, with that, Emily Wallace spryly made her way into the crowd.

It was then Sampson realized that all the bad feelings he had built up about some of the things the younger members had planned were for naught. They were keeping an eye on the Lodge’s small funds. And they were following the principles of the fraternity by extending a hand of friendship and assistance to widows and senior brethren. And he had made some wrong assumptions about that Christmas Party so many years ago that caused him to stop coming. His thoughts were interrupted.

“So was it nice to see Mrs. Wallace again?” It was the new Fellow Craft. “You know, Johnny,” he started slowly, “you brothers have done such a wonderful job here. I really have to apologize to you. The Worshipful Master asked everyone to bring a gift and I didn’t bring anything.”

“But, it’s like I said before, you did bring one. Mrs. Wallace told me the one thing that makes her sad is just about all the people she knew in the Lodge when her husband joined are dead. She doesn’t know anyone any more. Except you. “Worshipful Brother Sampson, you brought a gift no one else could bring. You brought the gift of yourself.”

“Well, I had a little help doing that,” he chuckled. “And because of that, I’ve been given a Christmas gift, too.”

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