Vol. XXXIX No. 10 — October 1961

Let Your Bucket Down Where You Are

Elbert Bede, PM

This Short Talk Bulletin is the work of Elbert Bede, President of the Philalethes Society, Editor Emeritus, The Oregon Freemason, P.M. Cottage Grove Lodge No. 51, and Charter Member, Research lodge of Oregon and Ashlar Lodge No. 209, Oregon.

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Booker T. Washington, the famous educator and crusader, while encouraging people of his race, told the story of a sailing ship becalmed off the coast of South America. The vessel was in desperate need of drinking water. A small boat approached and the captain of the becalmed ship signaled his need for fresh water. He got the reply, “Let your bucket down where you are.” Thrice the request was repeated and thrice came the answer, “Let your bucket down where you are.”

Finally the captain had a bucket lowered and was astounded when it came up filled with fresh water, taken from the ocean so far from land that none could be seen. A miracle it seemed; but it wasn’t. Unknown to the captain, his ship had drifted off the mouth of the Amazon. This mighty river, draining an area twenty-five times as great as almost any state in the Union, with a 200-mile mouth that looks like a part of the ocean, emits a rush of water that overcasts the ocean water for two hundred miles. The becalmed ship was in this overcast. All around was opportunity to secure the much-needed life-giving water, but the opportunity had not been recognized.

Isn’t there a lesson here for us both in our Freemasonry and in our daily lives? Many of us complain because opportunities seem so few where we happen to be. We fail to recognize the opportunities that are all around us. Don’t many people in small communities look forward to moving to larger communities where they believe opportunities are greater, while others in large communities wish they might five in smaller ones, where they could know their next-door neighbors and operate businesses with a sure income and few worries? We don’t let our buckets down where we are. Always we are yearning for greener fields and fresh water, both of which may be found right at hand if we let our buckets down where we are.

Study all the important achievements of the ages, and you will find the greater number were set in motion by men and women who didn’t go looking elsewhere for greener fields, for fresh water, in order that conditions might be propitious. They let their buckets down where they were.

Susan B. Anthony, a former school teacher, gave herself completely for more than half a century to winning suffrage for women. She didn’t wait for the women to gather in great numbers under her banner in a great nationwide revolution. She went to work in the community in which she lived. She let her bucket down where she was.

The fact that Thanksgiving is a holiday we owe almost entirely to the efforts of one woman who for seventeen years carried on a campaign from her home town. She let her bucket down where she was. In 1864 it came back laden with the votes of the Congress.

Study great religious movements, and you are likely to find that each was given impetus by one or a few persons who let their buckets down where they were.

John Wesley, the great religious leader of the eighteenth century, almost single-handed gave us the Methodist Church, but he didn’t give up his ministry in the Church of England to do so. He didn’t search for greener fields, for fresh water. He let his bucket down where he was and it came back filled with Episcopalians, some former freethinkers, and perhaps a few Scotch Presbyterians.

Martin Luther, the man of God who founded Protestantism, is credited with giving us the Lutheran Church, but he didn’t leave the Church of Rome to preach his new gospel. He let his bucket down where he was and it came back filled with Romanists and others.

Many of our great medical discoveries, most of them in comparatively recent years, have come through the experiments of one or a few persons who had no large and well-equipped laboratories in which to work. Their equipment was meager, but they let their buckets down where they were; and they came back with fresh ideas for saving human lives.

Who hasn’t heard of the Mayo brothers and their great work as surgeons in the medium-sized city of Rochester, Minnesota? These brothers, with established practices in Rochester, didn’t feel that they had to seek greener fields or fresh water in one of the nearby twin cities, St. Paul and Minneapolis, in order to establish what has become a great medical center. They let their buckets down where they were, and the world has beaten a path to their hospital doors.

Dr. William Worrell Mayo, father of the two famous brothers, was raised in Rochester Lodge No. 21, A.F & A.M., in 1863. His son, Charles Horace, was raised in the same lodge, served a year as grand orator of the grand lodge, and attained the 33°. Dr. Charles’ son, Dr. Charles William, also received his degrees in the same lodge and became a Knight Templar. In 1958 Dr. Charles W. Mayo became the first Minnesotan in history to receive the New York Grand Lodge Medal for Distinguished Achievement.

The father, who taught his sons, Dr. William J. and Dr. Charles H., the elements of the general practice of medicine years before the Mayo Clinic was established, was a man of uncommon vision and perception. The Clinic’s early headquarters were in the temple building of Rochester Lodge.

Writing in 1934 to the president of the University of Minnesota, Dr. William J. Mayo said of his father, Dr. W. W. Mayo:

Our father recognized certain definite social obligations. He believed that any man who had better opportunities than others, greater strength of mind, body, or character, owed something to those who had not been so provided; that is, that the important thing in life is not to accomplish for one’s self alone, but for each to carry his share of collective responsibility.

The sons, Dr. William J. and Dr. Charles H., certainly exemplified the practical application of this philosophy, which strongly resembles the lessons, teachings and tenets of Freemasonry. The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, to which millions of dollars have come from the Mayo brothers and the Mayo Clinic, is a part of the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota; it embodies the ideals of the Mayo family by training young physicians in new knowledge and techniques in medicine and surgery, thus lightening the physical burdens of the sick.

Enumerate the famous inventions of the ages and you will find that the greater number of inventors didn’t demand well-equipped machine shops and laboratories in which to give life to their brain children. They let their buckets down where they were.

How one who has adopted one profession for a life work may become famous for his success in an entirely unrelated activity was illustrated in the life of Robert Fulton, who didn’t hesitate to let his bucket down in strange waters. Starting his adult life as a jeweler and later adopting portrait and landscape painting as a profession, he lives in history as an engineer, as the first person to apply steam propulsion to a ship. He refused to listen to those who jeered and said it couldn’t be done. He let his bucket down where he was, on the Hudson River, and soon heard the plaudits of those who had gathered to witness the failure of his invention. His Clermont, although it plied the Hudson at a speed of only five miles an hour, is probably the most famous ship in naval history.

Fulton went on to invent a submarine, the Nautilus, which brings to mind the first operational nuclear submarine. He also constructed the first steam warship; he didn’t hesitate to let his bucket down where he was.

The Wright brothers were in the bicycle repair business when their first airplane took brief flight from Kitty Hawk. They let their buckets down where they were.

Thomas Edison, who already had some notable inventions to his credit, was only thirty years of age and had a comparatively small shop when he started the experiments that gave the world the incandescent fight. Scientists had declared it an impossibility. He let his bucket down where he was, and now our homes, our streets, and even our athletic fields enjoy at night the light of day.

Henry Ford, a Freemason, had no great assemblyline factories when he dreamed his automobile that was to revolutionize transportation on our highways. He had a few tools and a few funds, but he had an idea that he believed would work. He let his bucket down where he was; it came back with an invention that has put us all on cushioned wheels.

Morse and Bell had no great laboratories in which to experiment when they gave us the telegraph and telephone. They let their buckets down where they were, and as a result we can talk with anyone today, wherever he may be. The world now spends millions of dollars every year “just for talking.”

We owe most of our great political reforms to persons who didn’t go looking for greener fields, for fresh water. They were men who let their buckets down where they were. One of the first momentous reforms that struck at boss control, graft, and corruption was the Australian or secret ballot, which has now been in use for so many years that few of us have known any other. When I voted for the first time, over sixty years ago, I carried my own ballot into the polling booth. It was one of several that had been handed to me by those whose names appeared on them. I didn’t have to mark it. That sort of balloting was done away with through the efforts made by a few men who raised their voices against what they found in their own communities. They let their buckets down where they were.

We feel that we can’t do big things if we live in small communities, but big things have been done by those living in small communities who let their buckets down where they were. Freemasons have recognized such opportunities, too.

Probably nothing in the political history of the United States bred more corruption than the election of United States Senators by legislative assemblies. Credited with being the father of the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, which provides for election of the members of the upper house of the Congress by popular vote, was William S. U’Ren, an unassuming lawyer living in the small community of Dayton, Oregon, and a member of the little Masonic lodge in that community. He undoubtedly felt outraged by the unchallenged corruption of members of the legislative assembly of his own state. Brother U’Ren is also referred to as the father of what is commonly known as the Oregon political system because most of it originated in Oregon. It includes primary nominating elections for candidates of all parties, the initiative and referendum, a corrupt practices act, minimum wages, and maximum hours of labor for women and children. Brother U’Ren never sought to take advantage of the publicity — much of it negative — that came to him as a crusader; he eschewed public office and dropped from the public eye as soon as his work was done. Ridicule and vituperation did not daunt this Freemason, nor did he believe it necessary to seek a larger field in which to start his reforms. He let his bucket down where he was and it came back filled with cleaner politics for his state and for his country.

We may feel that as individual Freemasons we cannot undertake great tasks, but many great tasks have been performed by small groups of brethren. The beautiful Masonic home in the state of Oregon was the brainchild of only half-a-dozen earnest brethren who wished to make provision for the care of their aged brethren and widows of brethren, in their twilight years. Other states unquestionably can point to Masonic homes that are the result of an effort that started with a small group.

A few earnest members of small lodges in small communities may accomplish remarkable results when they let their buckets down where they are.

Freemasonry is deeply interested in the education of our youth. Few of us do much about it, but a few years ago an energetic past master of a small Oregon lodge decided that something should be done. He developed the idea of holding an annual entertainment for the eighth-grade students in each community in which a Masonic lodge is located. Members of his lodge liked the idea. They tried it. It was an immediate and tremendous success. Several lodges immediately joined in conducting similar programs. More joined later and the idea won grand lodge approval. When necessary, members of the lodge picked up children who were without transportation and returned them to their homes. Most of the children came with their parents or teachers, who remained for the program. Usually each of the several classes present gave part of the program, and the lodge provided the remainder. Refreshments, served during a break in the program, were such as appeal to children: hot dogs, pop, etc., which the children put away in astounding quantities. The gathering was held in the lodge room, usually with a considerable number of Freemasons, Eastern Stars, and Amaranths present. Children in their formative years are impressed by the interest of Freemasons in them and their schools, but they were not bored with speeches. By providing a large part of the program, the children learned responsibility; but at the same time they had a jolly evening and looked forward to the next time they would be guests of the Freemasons.

It is regrettable that this activity has been discontinued, but as a result of these entertainments, which continued for several years, the Grand Lodge of Oregon, through a special committee, is promoting receptions for teachers in public schools. These are proving highly successful and are likely to continue indefinitely as the result of the dream of a past master of a small lodge in a small community. He put his bucket down where he was.

Let us not be like the ship captain who did not observe that he had drifted into the fresh water that he so much needed. Let us put our buckets down where we are. We may be astonished by what they contain when they come up to us again.

The Masonic Service Association of North America