I was recently initiated at the Eagles Aerie 1, “The Mother Aerie,” in Lake City, Washington. My friend Natalie, also an attorney and a fellow book club member, is a member of the Women’s Auxiliary, and she was my sponsor.
If you don’t know anything about the Eagles, here is a short history. The order was formed in 1898 in Seattle by six theater owners. In the early days all members were involved in some way or another with the entertainment industry, and early meetings were held on theater stages. The organization was originally known as, “The Order of Good Things.” There are over 1600 Aeries in North America, and the order raises nearly $10 million annually for charity. The official fraternal order of Eagles mission statement provides, “The Fraternal Order of Eagles, an international non-profit organization, unites fraternally in the spirit of liberty, truth, justice, and equality, to make human life more desirable by lessening its ills, and by promoting peace, prosperity, gladness and hope.”
I was a bit nervous as I dressed for the initiation. I was concerned that my blue and purple hair would not play well before members sure to be at least 25 years my senior, much less the new ink on my upper arms. I wore a sleeveless dress but topped it with a black sweater to hide most of the tattoos.
I arrived before Natalie and did not know a soul, but that did not last long. I was immediately welcomed by the bartender and members sitting at the bar. Conversation began quickly. Several people saw a little bit of my tattoo sticking out from under the short sleeve and wanted to see the rest of it. It was quickly apparent that my hair and tattoos were not going to be an issue. I had so many requests to see the tat that I removed the sweater. I met the Worthy President and his wife, both of whom were gracious and friendly.
Two of us were initiated that evening. I am sworn as a Brother not to divulge the initiation rites, but here are a few observations about that strange and wonderful experience. The paintings revealed during the ceremony reminded me of the artist Maxfield Parrish, and I wish I had more time to look at them. I wonder how old they are?
I am a sucker for a good ritual, and the flowery language and elaborate hand gestures and salutes are right up my alley. I loved every minute of it. No one could possibly know all of the ritual language by heart, and it was heartwarming to see all the Brothers reading from their booklets, many with eyeglasses on the tips of their noses, striving to enunciate every word.
A special place is reserved for the Brothers who are no longer with us on this earthly plane. I won’t go into more detail than that, but I liked that there is a sacred place for them.
Nothing can make an event more solemn than to evoke the Grim Reaper. Enough said.
I am very excited to see where this affiliation with the Eagles leads. There are Aeries all over the country, and Natalie was kind enough to buy me the yellow book which lists them all. Each Aerie will certainly be different – its own little fiefdom. I daresay that not all Brothers will be welcoming, but that will be part of the adventure.
Of this I am sure: There will be no better way to get to know a community then to visit with its Eagles members. Many of them have been members for generations, and they are generally the hard-working, salt of the earth, blue-collar types that mean what they say and say what they mean. Membership in all fraternal organizations is down, and I fear that my tours of Eagles lodges may reveal a decaying rural and middle America. I’m open to the experiences, good bad or indifferent.