Archive for July 2008
My Grandfather was a Shriner. He appeared to enjoy it; but as a kid, I didn’t pay much attention. When my Mother and I went to the funeral in 1982, the honor of his participation showed through. The podium featured the logos of the Freemasons and Shriners, and eulogies from both groups. Wow, Henry was a Freemason. They are the world’s largest fraternity. To me that’s kind of a big deal.
Henry Sussman (Heinrich Süssmann) wasn’t a rich guy or a man with connections. His family left Germany in 1900 to settle in Pennsauken, NJ, and on October 10, 1903 Henry was born; the only one of his siblings conceived in the USA. He grew up to become a loom mechanic and shift supervisor for Belding Hemingway, who in the 30s and 40s was manufacturing silk thread. His father and he went to Lynchburg, VA to open a plant for the company, and at some point Henry moved to Bedford, VA to help open another facility. Eventually the company made a decision to switch from producing thread to the manufacture of fiberglass fibers. Occupational disease became an issue with the employees, who developed illnesses from the product, causing the demise of the Bedford location. But, Henry eked out a decent living for the time; back when “blue collar” meant you made enough to live. He raised my Mom as a single parent and things turned out grand. Knowing he was a Freemason piques my interest.
Throughout history, there have been quite a few Freemasons who were famous and influential. George Washington, Ben Franklin, Paul Revere and Colonel Sanders were Freemasons. I’m not sure Freemasonry had anything to do with the taste of Kentucky Fried Chicken, but the secrecy of the Society probably contributed to the Colonel keeping his Original Recipe® of 11 secret herbs and spices under wraps. To this day, we still don’t know how the bird is dressed. Phrases like “Level with him,” “Be square,” and “The Third Degree” all originated with Freemasons. They are very important in our history, whether or not we are aware.
Red Skelton, John Wayne, Danny Thomas and Harry Truman were Shriners. I can picture Red Skelton wearing the funny hat, but not John Wayne. Being a Freemason doesn’t necessarily lead to Shrinerism, but to join the club, you must first be a Freemason and make it all the way to Master Mason. Check out this list of famous Shriners, and you might be impressed.
Shriners always look like they’re having fun. I bet they are. Helping kids is a heart-warming thing. Then there are the meetings, parades, conventions and all sorts of activities that keep the mind abuzz. And don’t forget . . . the little cars. You never hear of them causing any problems in the hotels or towns where they are holding conventions (news of Shriners throwing televisions out of hotel windows is minimal). They seem to be well behaved, upstanding citizens.
Because of my renewed interest in my Grandfather, I recently inquired about joining the Shriners, not understanding the necessary steps. At my age, I will be dead before qualifying. They were kind in not laughing at my naivete, and directed me to the Freemasons. Then I found out you don’t just join. You have to be recommended. Since, the only person I know who was a Freemason/Shriner died in 1982, it seems a difficult task. My interest will probably dwindle soon, but if there is a Freemason out there who is interested in recruiting a new member with a connected ancestor, give me a call. Better yet, send an email to Bake My Fish.
Henry Sussman was a pretty good guy. Whenever he came to visit my family, particularly on Thanksgiving and Christmas, he always brought me liverwurst (I was the only one in my family who liked it) and Land O’ Lakes butter (Mom preferred margarine). And, my mother always cooked a pot of Spareribs and Sauerkraut, which was his favorite. He loved me, and I loved him. Now that I know Henry even better, I love him more.
“Rest im Frieden, Heinrich Süssmann. Du warst ein guter Mann.” When we meet again, I’ll bring the Spareribs and Sauerkraut. Just make sure you leave my name at the gate, because Saint Peter may not let me in without a referral.
Bake My Fish
“To escape the wrath of a mushroom cloud, you should hide under your desk.” That was what we were told when practicing our nuclear attack preparedness at elementary schools during the late 1950s. Especially after the USSR launched Sputnik on October 4, 1957. How out-of-tune is that kind of thinking? Wooden desks will stop Gamma Rays, X-Rays, Sugar Ray, Ray Charles, or any rays whatsoever. Today, anyone working in a Nuclear Power Plant wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a wooden suit for protection (or maybe they wood).
Look at that desk. Do you think it’s going to stop atomic radiation or falling debris? We did as kids. Just scrunch under it and nothing will hurt you. Not even the invisible stuff. My guess is during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, none of those primary school students were thinking about hovering under furniture for protection. Tatami mats and bamboo were about the best shields in those days. We got them good. Then again, they didn’t know it was coming. At Bradbury Heights Elementary School in Coral Hills, MD we were preparing. The drills were fun because it broke up the monotony of lessons. Still, it was a little scary.
Click on the picture to the left, and you’ll see one of the few structures standing after the Hiroshima bombing was a desk. I bought four for my bomb shelter. One for me, one for my wife, one for our dog and one for Nicky (the Love Bird). I know it’s silly now, but in the 50s we thought it was real. The whole country went nuts after Sputnik flew.
I liked the Cold War. Khrushchev was funny looking and sort of Grandfatherish. I bet he did the “pull my finger” joke often. He made me laugh, and was probably more like the Uncle at Thanksgiving dinner seated next to the kids table, telling Knock Knock jokes, who had too much to drink and belched as if it were expected, rather than the cold-hearted killer we thought. These days, the people in power in threatening countries around the world, are spooky. I would rather laugh than cringe. Give me a Nikita over an Osama any day.
The Space Race really took off after Sputnik embarrassed us. Our childhood was devoted to beating the Russians, conveyed in our toys, media and even our lunch boxes. Eventually we landed on the moon, and now satellites are so prevalent there is no room for Superman. I do enjoy the 200+ TV channels we have today, so thank you, Nikita and the Boys, for forcing our hand.
There was a Russian movie spoof of the Three Stooges starring Joe Stalin as Moe, Nick Khrushchev as Curly and Al Einstein as Larry. Einstein was too bright to play Larry, challenging the credibility of the production and the Russians didn’t take to the use of a Foreigner in their film. Plus, there was an issue about the pay scale. As smart as he was, Al just couldn’t figure out the conversion of Rubles to Dollars, so the project was scrapped. His response was, “I am a Scientist not an Economist, so take your money and shove it!”
We continued on through the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, challenging the Soviet Union at every turn. The Soviet war in Afghanistan from 1978 – 1989 ruined their economy and eventually caused the downfall of Russia. It is generally accepted the Cold War ended on Christmas of 1991 when the USSR was officially dissolved. So, it wasn’t our doing, it was those dang Muslims.
“Let that be a lesson to you, Commies!”
Bake My Fish
It was a beautiful afternoon on April 3, 1989; Orioles Opening Day at Memorial Stadium. I attended the game with a co-worker, Scott Becker, and a business acquaintance, Jeff Funk. The Orioles had just beaten the Red Sox, 5-4. Fans were enjoying a victory on the way to their vehicles.
We were waiting for the light to cross the street to get to our cars, when we heard, “Stop!” A father in distress was yelling to his six-year-old son, who had just broken the grasp of his hand and ran into busy traffic. The son obeyed and stopped; in the middle of the road. A car hit him and he flew from the front of the vehicle to the rear (described as 30 feet into the air) and slid for another 20 feet after landing. Everyone was horrified. I had never seen anything like it. The child laid unconscious in the road and we all thought he was dead.
His mother was screaming hysterically (what mother wouldn’t?). His father was trying to calm her, while attending to his son. I, like a fool, ran over to the vehicle that hit him, and shrieked at the driver, “Get out of the car!! Get out!!” I was convinced he had been speeding, because that’s what I saw. The driver was obviously distraught, thinking he had just killed a boy. But, I was undaunted in my vigilantism. My friends pulled me away, and we all tried to collect ourselves. It was terrifying.
I tearfully observed the father trying to keep everyone in tune with the situation, while thinking his son had just died. He looked athletic, a big fellow, leading me to believe he was an athlete attending the game and seemed familiar to me, but with all the commotion, I couldn’t recall who he might be. The police came, told me to go away, and we walked to our cars. I immediately called my wife and told her what had happened and asked her to check the news. On my way home, she called to tell me the boy was Al Gore’s son.
At the time he wasn’t quite as famous as today. Whatever your political philosophy may be, and however Al Gore fits into your political spectrum, in this case he was just a father; scared to death he had lost his son. No one ever wants to deal with that. The internet, Vice Presidency, 2000 election fiasco and global warming were all in his future, but at this point he was just praying for the recovery of his child.
We tend to think celebrities are beyond heartbreak. Their lives are not like ours. Those whose children die before them are not our concern, because we think they are somehow surreal and unapproachable. But, it happens to people in all walks of life, and we shouldn’t lose sight of how vulnerable we are to mishaps and disease. Albert Arnold Gore, III survived, thanks to the attending physicians at Johns Hopkins, but he very well could have died. Most of us wouldn’t have even thought about it. If I had not been there, I wouldn’t either.
I like Al Gore, and am sure it is because of this particular experience. I also like that he is a Vietnam Veteran. Many people give him grief because of his liberal leanings, but I can’t get past this accident. No matter what he does or says, there will always be a spot in my heart for April 3, 1989. He dealt with it well, but it could have been the end of him if his son had not pulled through.
I only hope none of you have to suffer the loss of a child.
Bake My Fish