By Walter Boomsma
For several years now I’ve used our staves as part of our Valley Grange Dictionary Day visits—whether the kids visit us at the Grange Hall or we visit their classrooms. They have always seemed to enjoy learning about these “farmer’s tools” and often will mention them when they write thank you notes. Occasionally a student will accurately draw each of the four. When that happens, I confess to wondering if we Grangers can remember all four? I hope so because I also explain to these third graders why we use them in our meetings. Historically that explanation has been a general one. This year I decided to be a bit more specific and I turned to the officer installation ceremony for help.
“Your emblem is the Spud, an ancient implement used by Stewards in passing through the fields to eradicate weeds that may have escaped the notice of the laborers… Let it remind you of your duty as a faithful steward to remove all causes of dissension or strife, in the Grange and in order.” When I’ve explained to the kids that all Grangers see the spud as a reminder to keep the Grange free of weeds, they offer what some of the things are they as classmates, might want to eliminate for their classroom. Their answers often include “bullying” and “bad words.”
“Your emblem is the Pruning Hook. The spear, beaten into a pruning hook is emblematic of peace. May it always remind you of your duty to preserve peace in our order…” There’s a natural progression here. My dictionary day helpers know the staves must be in the “right” order before I began—not just because of tradition, but because it makes sense. When we eliminate bad things (dissension and strife or bullying and bad words) we begin building peace.
“I present you, the Lady Assistant Steward of your Grange with the Shepherd’s Crook, which symbolizes a sense of caring.” I will confess that my instruction to the children takes some editorial license, in part because we have fun with this “tool.” I’ll select a volunteer to be a sheep and demonstrate how the shepherd uses the crook “like a leash” to guide the sheep. The application is, therefore, that seeing the crook reminds us that we each can be a leader, guiding others in our efforts to remove “weeds” and “build peace.”
The kids love the owl; he’s almost everybody’s favorite stave. When I remove him from the stand, someone always shouts, “He’s cute!” (The one I use is wooden and quite realistic in appearance.) Upon receiving it, the Gatekeeper is told “I caution you to be vigilant and watchful” with a comparatively lengthy explanation of the dangers to be kept from our Order. Usually the kids can come up with why a farmer might like an owl to “scare away birds and mice.” In the Grange, the owl reminds us to see what’s around us, both to enjoy beauty but also to protect it by removing dissension…
I confess the first time I tried this it was unrehearsed and probably didn’t hang together as well as it could and now does. As a teacher, for the first time I saw these four staves as potential classroom management tools—even joking with one class that it’s too bad they don’t have a set like we do—or maybe a photo poster of them. (I can picture a kid going to a corner of the room, grabbing a spud, marching over to another kid and saying, “You used an inappropriate word! That’s not allowed!” I also confess that I now see the staves a bit different myself. These tools represent tools that we must use constantly to preserve our Order, an Order that strives to remove dissension and strife, build peace and caring, and develop vigilance and watchfulness.
“The Order of the Patrons of Husbandry is the only association whose teachings accompany its members in their daily pursuits. They form part of the farmer’s life. They do not call him from his work to put his mind upon any other subjects, but furnish recreation in his daily duties, and, by cheerful instruction, lighten and elevate his labor.”
While the literal staves may remain in the holders between meetings, what they represent should accompany us in our daily pursuits. I would encourage (uh oh, sounds like we’re going to get some homework!) each member to find or borrow a Grange Manual and read/study the installing officer’s opening address. That address describes some of the reasons we need those staves—not just for four people to hold and carry during the ritual but as a way of life.
Any degree or ritual quotations are from the forty-sixth edition of the 2013 Subordinate Grange Manual. The views and opinions expressed in “Exploring Traditions” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official doctrine and policy of the Grange.