Alson Alexander White
Alson Alexander White was my mother’s grandfather. I won’t anesthetize you with his ancestors’ heroics in the Revolutionary War, or his connection to Stephen F. Austin, the “father of Texas”. I don’t think mother knew this history, or even cared. She lived in the present tense.
She mentioned that her grandfather loved biscuits, which he consumed in great quantities. Mother says Mary Trulucia, his daughter and Mary's mother (Sadie) didn’t know how to cook much of anything, with the exception of biscuits. Mary would make dozens on his request. She loved her father, but perhaps she overdid the biscuit-baking. Alson grew fat and, in my mother’s telling, his great girth aided and abetted his fatal tumble down the basement stairs. She omitted any details that could pinpoint the actual cause of death. It may have been the fall, or it may have been a heart attack. His death was premature in any case. He was only fifty years old.
My mother didn’t have much to say about her maternal grandparents. I found the restrained lack of commentary on them strange. Maybe it was the other way around. Her grandmother cried when she was born with dark eyes and dark hair, the stain of too much Italian in her genes. This initial response must have struck a painful nerve when shared with my mother at some later date. It might explain why my mother, emphatically, would point out that we were not from Sicilian stock. We hailed from the blue-eyed, fair-haired Florentine Italians. Amazing, the filters that blind the obvious in a mother’s eyes. Of the five she birthed, none of us had blue eyes or blonde hair. The most Italian looking of my sisters recently had DNA testing that revealed that she is less than three percent Italian. This, despite the fact that my mother’s grandfather was, we thought, all Italian--with a line traced back to the fifteenth century Florentine Alberti’s who were bankers to the Pope.
I found this less than three percent Italian DNA result perplexing. Perplexing enough to send my own spaghetti-enriched spittle to the same lab to see what’s up. The results from my sister’s test show a smidgen of Japanese, and an Indian or two in the woodpile, but European DNA overwhelms the pie chart. We must have come from the forested areas since a great number of relatives were involved with harvesting timber, milling it, making furniture out of it, and marketing it. Alson White, the deceased biscuit eater, was no exception. He was born in Iowa and worked at a store until, at the age of 19, he moved to Hannibal, Missouri, where he secured a job as a bookkeeper for a lumber wholesaler. They were rafting logs down the Mississippi from Wisconsin and piling it at Hannibal. Mother says he had a photographic memory, a gift which helped him and the growing lumber company to prosper. He became a major stockholder and, after siring four children in Hannibal, moved to the company’s headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri as the company’s treasurer.
As a side note, one of the lumber yards operated by Badger Lumber Company was very close to where I grew up: a five-minute walk to the Standard State Bank at the end of our street, another five minutes on 24 Highway, up and over the railroad bridge to the lumber yard. There, I would rummage through the bins looking for suitable two by fours for a suicidal cart or the lathe strips needed to plank the ribs for a kayak. If the help there had known my great grandfather was a founder of the company they might have treated me with less disdain and suspicion as I destroyed their neatly stacked bins of lumber looking for that perfect knot free board.
Mother didn’t say a lot about her mother’s parents but she noted that Alson was a 33rd degree Mason. This is where Alson becomes infinitely more interesting. I find online a squib in the Kansas City Architect and Builder’s Journal noting his death. He had his fingers in a lot of pies, a vestryman at the Episcopal Church, member of the governing board of Southwestern Lumbermen, Councilman for the City of Independence, and a member of the utility board there. The real pay dirt comes with his fascination with secret societies, especially if there was a little fun to be had. He was a Knights Templar, a Shriner with the little red Egyptian hat and black tassel, and was awarded the ultimate 33rd Masonic Degree for meritorious service. It appears he travelled to Scotland to participate in a Scottish Rite that rewarded him with some special award for outstanding service and dedication to the Masonic Brotherhood. All of his pallbearers were Knights Templars.
All of this is interesting to me, but the article on Alson’s death, after all the above memberships, mentions--almost apologetically it seems--that he was one of the organizers of a secret society called “The Concatenated Order of Hoo Hoos.” What? I had never heard of the Hoo Hoos. It brought to mind an image of the Whos, the inhabitants of Dr. Seuss’ Whoville. Turns out, I wasn’t that far off. I found that the term “Hoo Hoo” originated from an alarming tuft of hair that grew on top of the otherwise bald head of one of the “Hoo Hoo” founders. He became “Hoo Hoo’s” first member and the group's first snark. I’m not making any of this up.
It appears this secret society originated in 1892 when five men, returning from a Yellow Pine Manufacturer’s meeting, were detained for seven hours at a rail station in Gurdon, Arkansas. To kill time, they sat on a pile of lumber and shared thoughts on forming a unified lumber fraternity. In a nutshell--and these men might have been the nuts inside the shell--they wanted to form a lumberman’s group that furthered the interest of the industry, and at the same time have a little fun at the expense of some of the more serious secret societies. Thumbing their noses at superstition, they chose a black cat as their mascot. One of the nuts, possibly liquored, suggested the number nine would receive importance and reverence in the Hoo-Hoo society. For the logo, the cat’s tail would curl into a figure-nine. Nine men would sit on the Board of Directors, and their annual meeting would meet on the ninth day of the ninth month beginning nine minutes after nine. The original initiation fee was $9.99 cents. Their officers would be the Supreme Nine, made up of the Snark, the Senior Hoo-Hoo, the Junior Hoo-Hoo, the Boojum, the Scrivenoter, the Jabberwock, the Cuctocacian, the Arcanoper, and the Gurdon. The overall leader was the Snark of the Universe, a title that trumps the Mason’s Exalted Ruler. In summation, despite the possibility that these lumbermen were infected by some obscure fungal or mold disease caught solely by foresters, the Hoo Hoo’s have promoted the interests of the lumber industry and the preservation of forests, and at the same time had a little fun parodying other secret societies. Along the way, the society has had such distinguished members as Theodore Roosevelt and William Harding.
I have filled out my application to be a member, and am hoping to visit soon the international headquarters in Gurdon, Arkansas. I hope with my membership I will get more information on the secret ritual of “The Embalming of the Snark.” I will also receive, in compensation for the $69.00 membership fee, a bow tie with a black cat imprinted on either side, it’s tail twisted into a figure-nine. I’m not sure which suit and which occasion will be appropriate for this accoutrement.
To become a member, you have to be somehow associated with forest products, however tenuous that might be. I ran across a picture of one of the Hoo Hoo groups, promoting wood products, that created the Society for the Preservation of Wooden Toilet Seats. For good measure, the group posed for a picture with the products hanging around their necks. My pitch on my application to the Hoo Hoo’s is that I made hundreds of faux banjo’s from the cast off center piece of a wooden toilet seat. In the eighties, Singer Manufacturing in Monett, Missouri, used a CNC (computer numerical control) router to make hundreds of oak toilet seats. I would drive over there in my truck and buy the cast off center piece for ten cents apiece. I would make a red oak handle from scrap wood obtained from a church friend’s sawmill, add frets and other faux banjo doo dads, then Sharon would string it and add a straw flower arrangement and a bow on the front. It was a hit at the Silver Dollar City Craft Shows and I will be using this banjo to worm my way into the Hoo Hoo’s.
I can find nothing not to love about the Hoo Hoo’s. My geat grandfather's part in the formation of such an illustrious organization has moved Alson Alexander White up a notch or two in my book--despite the fact that he might not have approved of his daughter’s marrying an Italian, and her giving birth to my mother, who was a tad too Italian-looking in his and Sadie’s estimation.