On Mother’s Day we had the family over, and Mom brought over a surprise for me: Grampa Neal’s fez from the Tadmor Shrine in Akron, Ohio. The fez is an evocative item; you feel a connection when you hold something that you know another person once wore. This fez is a sturdy piece of work, with a leather hat band, a well-preserved tassel, and the familiar Shriners logo.
I don’t know much about Grampa’s activities in the Shriners — technically, the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. Like many people of his generation, he was a joiner. He was a Mason, a Shriner, and an Odd Fellow, and perhaps belonged to other fraternal organizations I don’t know about. There isn’t a lot of information about the Shriners on the web, either. The home page of the Tadmor Shrine in Akron, Ohio is here. You can see the Tadmor Shrine building, which looks like it has been around since Grampa was a member, and learn about the current officers, but it doesn’t provide the kind of historical information I was hoping to find. When did Grampa join? Did he hold any offices? And — even though this is unimaginable to me — did he ever drive one of those tiny cars in a Memorial Day parade?
According to the Tadmor Shrine website, the organization is based on “Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth.” It is clear that Shriners do some good work, through their hospitals for children and support for local organizations. But what exactly is the connection between Shriners and Masons? Wikipedia indicates that you have to have completed some levels of Masonry to be a Shriner and provides some history, but that is about it. A Google search doesn’t yield much, either, although it doesn’t take long before you start to get into secret conspiracy-type websites and the kind of speculation that made National Treasure such a romp.
I’m just going to have to reconcile myself to the fact that I’ll probably never know what Grampa Neal did with the fez on, or what secrets he learned and kept faithfully.