Monday, May 20, 2013

Boy Friends Come Last

I joined the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls in the winter of my freshman year of high school. I heard snippets about this organization. I felt drawn to the betterment of life it seemed to portray. A sorority for young girls, maybe even privileged, called to me.
My friend, Nancy, asked me causally one day if I wanted to join. I suppose she had been turned down by many. I thought the girl's father had to be a Mason and my father at that time, was not. I told her as much and she didn't know if that were true. The next day, she informed me I did not need to be the daughter of a Mason and I gladly said, "Yes."
My initiation was in the winter. We scrambled to find  long and short white dresses and shoes. My parents could not witness this ritual, as it was closed to Rainbow girls, Masons and Eastern Star members only. I climbed the innumerable stairs of the old Masonic Temple on Vine Street in downtown Sharon. The young girls in white dresses sat in the outer room on stuffed leather chairs and couches. I had not seen the hall.
The meeting started as we waited. Then the knock on the door, the ritual back and forth between the drill leader, Faith and the Worthy Adviser, as we stood glancing at each other, waiting. Finally, we entered the two story room, dark lush green carpet, mahogany heavy chairs and woodwork, a large painting of a rainbow in the clouds over the dais. The teen girls in long white gowns perched in their throne like chairs around the room, the highest one with a rainbow crown on her head. We ended this journey at her station last. Faith led us after the drill leader directed us to her.
The stations of the bow had ribbons of colors at their chairs. After they quoted their speech on the meaning of their office, the active candidate with Faith streamed the ribbon to the altar. At the end, as the meeting closed, the ribbons were retired and the officers drilled into a cross formation, kneeling on the floor, as they sang The Old Rugged Cross.
Looking back this seems archaic and rather strange, but as an impressionable fourteen year old, I entered a cloud. The beauty of the ritual, the symbolism of a faith journey, the extraction of perfection carried me to a higher place. Even back then, if a girl didn't feel the magic, she couldn't understand the attraction. I got teased often for my love of the Rainbow life.
I remained a Rainbow girl till my majority at age twenty. I climbed the chairs to Worthy Adviser. I ran for a state office of Charity. I still love the speech she gives at the initiation, explaining the secrets of the pot of gold.
The era for this organization has long gone. I never wanted my daughters to be involved. We limited our time to the church and one outside activity. Modern day parents could not permit the closed meetings. I think I heard they gave in to allowing parents to observe. Girls would not put up with wearing dresses to all the functions. Other school activities squeezed this organization out.
As an adult, when I lived in New Hampshire and Connecticut, I attended Rainbow meetings. I even served on the advisory board in Norwich, Connecticut. Some meetings more adults attended that girls. The Masonic Temple in Norwich, surrounded by lawn, as it was built on the north side of the town, was, too, ancient and huge with hidden rooms filled with the props for all the meetings.
We went one last time to a Rainbow installation for a friend's daughter as Worthy Adviser. Katie, at twelve, rebelled the whole night, but Mary Ellen, a youngster of six, enthralled like I was by the pageantry. I knew I wouldn't encourage Katie joining.
As I said, I think I belong as the need for these organizations waned. I did enjoy the Grand Assembly at Penn State every year. We met girls from all over the state. Supreme Assembly, an international gathering of the girls, opened doors to seeing girls from all over the world. I went twice. I cherish those trips. We did more than meetings. Sight seeing, days at amusement parks and hanging out in motel rooms bonding with girls from all over were some highlights.
Part of the Rainbow Girls experience sharpened my desire for political office. I ran for one office. I spoke as part of the Grand Lecturer role of visiting other assemblies. My public speaking and speaking off the cuff honed during these years. Yet there has been many years since this time of practice making me out of practice with public speaking.
Like all of life, we look back. I don't think Rainbow girls made me a worse person. I know because my school didn't have a drama department, the ritual memorization helped fill that desire of performing. Good deeds were encouraged, service a main part of this organization. I have friends I would not have had I not belonged. I met Terrie and ended up living at her home my junior year of nursing school, got me out of the dorm. Traveling is always a bonus, too. I explored defeat of losing an election calming those aspirations of running for office. So I don't regret belonging to this organization. I learned a lot.


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