Penetrating the Mystique of the Masons

The society of Masons is a fraternity that evokes images of mysterious symbols, grand legends of King Solomon's Temple, hidden treasure and the founding fathers. It also fits right in with America's current Da Vinci Code fascination. Recently, commentator Holly Rossi got an assignment to write a newspaper story about the Masons. And she rediscovered her personal connection to Masons. Holly Rossi lives in Arlington, Mass.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The Masons, a fraternity that evokes images of mysterious symbols, grand legends of King Solomon's temple, hidden treasure and the founding fathers. It also fits right in with America's current Da Vinci Code fascination. Recently commentator Holly Rossi got an assignment to write a newspaper story about the Masons and she rediscovered her personal connection to Masons.

HOLLY ROSSI reporting:

I spent hours talking and emailing with Frank Brown, a Mason who was full of cool historical tidbits. The Knights Templar, he said, could have been in Jerusalem during the Crusades to collect their ancient Masonic brothers' buried treasure. Sam Houston and President Andrew Jackson, who brokered the agreement for Texas to enter the Union, were old lodge buddies from back in Tennessee.

On and on, connection after connection. After a while, I decided to share with him that both of my grandfathers were Masons and my Great Aunt Minnie had come up the line in the Order of the Eastern Star, the women's branch of the fraternity. Frank immediately suggested that I, as the granddaughter of Masons, should look into joining the Eastern Star myself. Then he said that knowing of my family's connection to the fraternity made him feel like he knew something about me, about the kind of good men my grandfathers must have been and how proud they would have been to read my story.

Wait. He knew something about me? And about my family?

Frank is a son of the Republic of Texas and a Southern Baptist. My grandfathers were both Boston-born Jews, whose parents had fled Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. The word brothers hardly comes to mind when thinking of these three men.

But brotherhood is the watchword of the Masons. Their motto is we make good men better. Mostly, the fraternity is about community service, think of Shriner's hospitals, and hanging out with the guys. There are also secret handshakes, words and rituals, but basically a Masonic lodge is a place where men can gather with others who've committed to living by a basic, but powerful moral code. This is why Frank felt he knew something about my grandfathers and, apparently, about me.

I was surprised at how deeply his words moved me and not just because I miss my grandfathers. No, his comments touched on something else. A feeling of loss over some bygone era. When my grandfathers joined the fraternity after World War II, there were four million Masons in America. Then, being a Mason was one of many automatic points of community connection during a time of local family doctors, neighborhood banks and potluck dinners at the neighbor's house. Those things seem distant today, and the Masons' membership hovers around 1.5 million.

I was a little tempted when Frank suggested that I join the Eastern Star. But I can't. Mostly, I felt like going to an Eastern Star meeting would be me chasing my grandparents and their time. After all, my bank is a big national corporation. My doctor? Part of an HMO practice. I have been to fewer than a dozen potluck dinners in my life. I didn't join a sorority in college. What place would I have in one now?

Still, I don't think the Masons should be dismissed as a stodgy relic. The fraternity is smaller than it once was, sure. But it still inspires deep pride in its members. And even if I'm not counted among them, on behalf of my forbearers I think it's safe to say that it inspires deep pride in me, too.

BLOCK: Holly Rossi lives in Arlington, Massachusetts.

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