In 1981 my Great Uncle Cyrus died. He had a big house on Cape Cod, about 300 yards from the water. My family was tasked with cleaning it out.
My Great Uncle was a kind and giving man. On my 16th birthday he gave me his late wife’s 1964 Ford Falcon as a present. I was grateful yet conflicted, I barely knew the man. Amazingly, the distance between us and the Cape was enough to keep me from seeing him more than 5 times in my life. And there I was cleaning out his house, charged alongside my mother, father and Grandparents with deciding what was “junk” and what wasn’t.
There I was, a 16 year old exploring a old house. I meandered to the basement where I found a dusty tool bench with some really cool but unfinished wood working projects and a lot of unorganized stuff scattered around. I stooped to check out the bottom shelf and I saw a bottle. I blew an inch of dust off it and I studied it. It was a bottle of J&B Scotch, a fairly middle of the road blend and a very popular drink in its time. I was intrigued by the label “half gallon” and realized that this bottle was old. The stamp revealed that it was bottled in 1949.
“Hey Dad, check this out!”.
Dad came over and agreed that it was a find. We brought it home with us and stored it in my grandparents basement.
Saturday I had my installation ceremony as Master of my Masonic Lodge. Due to Covid restrictions we were only allowed to have 50 guests and we reached that number. My children and my mother, several brothers from other lodges that I became friendly with over the years graced me with their presence. One of them had told me 5 years ago that should I become master he wanted to be there. So I invited him. The remainder of the crowd consisted of lodge members and their guests who all came out to support the new line of officers.
It was an AMAZING ceremony, the same one that was conferred on George Washington in the 1700’s. Once complete it was my turn to say some words. I had it all planned out. In fact, I have had it planned out since the day I decided that I would move through the chairs to Master.
“Brother Marshall, would you retrieve my conversation piece?”
The crowd was intrigued.
Brother Marshall is my good friend and past master Basil who promised to help me in any way should I take the big chair. He winked at me and walked to the back of the building and came back with the bottle of J&B. He handed it to me with a wink and sat back in his seat.
I hoisted the J&B in the air and told the story.
“I am a lover of objects, for their significance and place in history. Objects do not contain memories but they have important associations. For example, I wear my grandfathers watch and cufflinks. I wear my fathers motorcycle helmet. They hold memories for me and mean something. This bottle is not just a bottle, it is a reminder of a different time”.
I told the story of cleaning out Uncle Cyrus’s house, who I later found out was an esteemed and beloved Freemason (it explained why he gave me a car) and how the bottle in my hand has fascinated me all along.
“This bottle has never been opened, it was bottled in 1949”. The crowd was hanging on every word now.
“This bottle was owned by a wonderful man. It was also bottled during the era of Harry Truman, my favorite President. Harry Truman, you may not know, was a Freemason. He served as Grand Master of the state of Missouri as Vice President yet he never discussed it”.
I asked the crowd if they knew that in a Masonic lodge everyone is treated the same regardless of social stature. I told of how Harry Truman went to a regular lodge as Vice President and later President and wasn’t greeted with fanfare and adulation…he was simply “brother Harry”.
“This bottle represents a simpler time and I hope to run this lodge as Harry did his own, with humility and honesty”.
It was a hit, everyone applauded. After, I rounded up all of the shot glasses I could find and I opened it. We toasted and took a drink. After 70 years in several basements, I finally shared my find with those people closest to me.
A week and a half later, people are still talking about it. They agreed with me that it wasn’t just a bottle.
It meant something.