In my extreme youth, I was unaware of secret entanglements until I became a 4-H member. Then I was entrusted with the esoteric information that the important words were Health, Heart, Hand, and Head, and it was essential to use big thoughts. No longer would we feed the pigs, but we would talk like professors and "administer nutrients." These nutrients, known hitherto as swill, were to be considered scholarly as "concentrates and roughages." The pig, naturally, was now a project.
It was a new world, but it would be years before I heard of the more sophisticated secret orders like the Red Men, the Grange, the Campfire Girls, the School Board, the Masons, and the Ark Mariners. I think it would be well had I never heard of the Ark Mariners. Since I heard about them only once, it may be they have ceased to sail without me. Does anybody have news of recent voyages?
My dad had recently become a member of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, and I had peeped in the little black book he got that was full of secrets. It didn't make much sense. He said maybe sometime he'd help me to understand it. Almost at once after he became a Mason, an older member of his lodge asked if he'd like to sail with the Ark Mariners.
Then I learned that now and then the Masons got carried away with the notion that Noah had a crew of able-bodied seamen to work the vessel during the Flood. The Ark Mariners were thus dedicated zealots whose purpose was to perpetuate the memory of those heroes who made it possible to replenish the earth. My dad said he would very much like to join them.
To me, he explained that the Ark Mariners had nothing whatever to do with the dignified and respectable Masonic bodies, but only Masons were Ark Mariners, and it was a lot like recess. He said as far as he knew there was no reason why I couldn't go with him, because it was all nonsense, anyway, and he thought it would get a laugh if I wore my sister's water wings.
So I went, and while I did not become an Ark Mariner, I had a dandy time. I was the only young'un there and I looked on and kept my distance.
Besides the veteran Mariners, there were about 200 candidates for the First Degree, including my dad, who had been right when he thought water wings at such a meeting might be comical. All during the sumptuous clambake that came after the formal meeting, Old Ark salts came to pat my little head and haw-haw.
The clambake was all-inclusive. Special benches were in place for the 200 candidates. It takes a bit over an hour to arrange, cook, and serve a true clambake, and this time was given over to lodge business.
First, all joined in the official anthem. Next, the jack of the Ark Mariners was lifted to the main truck while Ernie Littlefield whistled "Danny Boy" and Mort Griswold spelled out the words with Coast Guard signal flags. Next, the candidates were introduced, and each in turn disposed on the settees, to await the "will and pleasure" of "Admiral Noah."
This may be the only full and trustworthy report you'll ever get about the Ark Mariners, so I am careful to offer details. Admiral Noah, who was dressed like Nelson at Trafalgar, carried a bucket and a bailing scoop, and kept calling, "Ahoy, mateys!" In the background, a quarterdeck quartet sang "Blow the man down, bullies, blow the man down, /Way! Hey! Blow the man down." It must be borne in mind that there was little else in those frugal days to amuse the people.
But now Squire Reginald Ringrose made harangue and spoke to the candidates about the laudable charities of the Ark Mariners. He said a new program was being launched to provide wholesome all-wheat biscuits to the deprived wild dogs of Lapland, and donations were needed at once to acquire reindeer sledges to move the biscuits to the Arctic before deep winter set in.
SQUIRE Ringrose talked on and on, causing great ennui, and his verbosity killed time while the lobsters, clams, and with-its were perfected. Most of the candidates had dozed off.
And now Squire Ringrose got down to brass tacks, and he said, "And I want you all to be generous, and do your individual utmosts to bring this tremendous benefaction to joyful fruition, and I'm going to ask that each of you who will pledge $500 to this charity now stand...."
Perhaps I should now explain, at the risk of spoiling the narrative surprise, that Ark Mariner Ike Skillin was a man of inventive nature and gifted with a high quality of humorous skill. Before this embarkation of the Ark Mariners, Ike had wired a sparkplug coil from his Model-T truck along the settees on which the candidates for membership were to be seated. As Squire Ringrose delivered his speech, Ike had picked up the telegraph key that would close the settee circuit.
And now, as most of the candidates slumbered, and Squire Ringrose said, "Will all those desiring to contribute $500 please stand?" Ike Skillin depressed the key on big sparker.
Two hundred men accordingly stood up and became members of the Ark Mariners in accordance with the ancient usages and customs, and the lobsters were distributed. Then they played five innings of logy baseball. I haven't heard of the Mariners since, and my dad made just that one voyage.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society