Monday, May 5, 2008

Childhood Glimpses

Last week I had occasion to drive through Worcester, Massachusetts on Route 190. Having grown up in a town near Worcester, I rode through many a car trip along that major artery through the city, and one building used to dominate the hillside to the north of the freeway: The Odd Fellows' Home. It's still there, but another building has sprung up between it and the Freeway, so it has receded into the background a little bit.

My parents would often point it out, partly because it's a neat building, and partly because it's fun and mysterious to talk about a group of people called "The Odd Fellows". My parents never had much of an answer for me as to who the Odd Fellows were, other than that they 1) had been around for a long time, 2) did a lot of charity work. 3) were a private sort of a group (they might have gone so far as to use the word "secretive".)

What they didn't know was how people got to be in the Odd Fellows in the first place... and as a kid, any question your parents can't answer is surely a deep, deep mystery of the universe.

Looking at the large, victorian building perched atop a hill with its prominent logo (three interlinked rings) across the tower, it's exactly the sort of dramatic place you would expect a group called the Odd Fellows to meet, and as a kid the fuzzy mental picture I developed went along with the building; old guys in fancy clothes meeting at night behind locked doors, doing mysterious things. The fact that such a phenomenon existed was intriguing to me, but did not strike me as relevant to my own existence, nobody in my immediate sphere being involved; over the years it was an interesting bit of cultural trivia to know of the Odd Fellows, and to recognize the three linked rings on the occasional building or cemetery headstone, but it wasn't until much more recently that I ever contemplated finding out how to join such an outfit.

I was not a particularly popular kid growing up, and was never at the top of anyone's list to invite to any "clubs" that might have been formed... but the notion of clubs and club houses definitely appealed to me. One of my favorite book series as a kid was Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators... the titular teenaged characters had their own detective agency run out of an old trailer completely buried in a junkyard. They could surveil their surroundings via periscope, and access to the clubhouse was via a series of hidden tunnels through the debris, with special knocks and everything.

I would bet that aside from all of the noble ideals of spiritual temple building and service to mankind, inside just about every Mason is a 10 year old boy who really digs being part of a "secret club". I'll cop to it, how about you? Apart from those of you whose fathers/uncles/grandfathers were Brothers, How old were you when you became aware of groups like the Masons and Odd Fellows? How did you learn about them? What did you think? Looking back, what do you think now?

No comments: