Saying Goodbye

Gladys was in the lead and stopped in the middle of the chancel when she should have kept walking. Because when she stopped, she ‘bout caused a blue-haired chain reaction.

Two biddies deep, Myrtle catches on.

Since she can’t say it out loud in a silent church packed for such a somber occasion, Myrtle just kinda leans out and scowls at Gladys, silently telepathing, “WTF, Glad? Keep movin!’” Five of the ladies of the Order of the Eastern Star are holding a flower of a different color, each representing a point on the star, a virtue and heroine of the Bible. The sixth holds a vase.

Gladys cuts loose:

“Ruth is the second point. Its color is yellow and its symbol is a sheaf of wheat. Ruth represents the ideals of loyalty and friendship.”

Gladys and the girls each brought talking points, or more accurately, verbatim scripts. Helen’s not wearing her bifocals, but between her notes, her memory and her ability to ad lib, she sufficiently conveys the notion that “Electa is red, representing fervent love and faith.”

Helen’s a trouper, vanity notwithstanding.

Next up, Harold, Earl, George, Walter, Raymond and Melvin. Masons, these duffers, clad in their best Sunday-go-to-meetin’ with the pièce de résistance, square white lambskin aprons with triangular flaps tied around their waist.

A nod to the traditions and tools of actual latter day stonemasons, I was to learn.

Harold (this guy was 85 if he was a day) launches into an eloquent declamation about death, freemasonry, life everlasting, grief, loss and sorrow.

No crib notes, no talking points. All from memory. A full 15-minute soliloquy, leaning in dramatically, though by no means obtrusively, toward the bereaved daughters during moments apropos.

“Human companionships are temporary in this world of change. It is not possible that the associations of a lifetime should be broken without a pang of pain and a wrench of parting which seem to rend our very souls.”

Wow. I wanna be this guy in 30 years. Phhht, I wanna be this guy Thursday when I speak to the Pratt Rotary.

We were saying our last goodbyes to Jimmie Poe, a 5th grade teacher and Mason all his adult life. I was privileged to represent the thousands of 5th graders whose lives he touched.

I suspect none of us knew Mr. Poe was a Mason. It would not have crossed our 10-year old minds. But it makes sense. It’s what civic-minded rural Kansans of his generation did.

The underlying premise of the Masons and the Ladies of the Order of the Eastern Star and the Rotary and the Lions and the Jaycees and the Methodist Youth Fellowship is like-minded humans gathering in groups to accomplish some higher purpose.

It starts with fulfilling the basic human need to socialize. Any bidness conducted is gravy. If we get carried away, a motion to adjourn is always in order – and non-debatable.

In a previous career, I didn’t fully appreciate the power behind a meeting of the County Farm Bureau (x 105 in Kansas) until I got my heart around the notion that for many, if not most – just seeing friends was enough.

In the long pull of time, Gladys, Harold, Myrtle, et al, won’t be with us much longer. I’m confident at their funerals, their Mason and Eastern Star comrades will shed a tear, wax as eloquently as they can and mourn their loss.

We should all be so fortunate.