Sunday, May 31st was eventful. We took flowers and condolences to Sister Annie Stewart, our 94 year old widow. Her daughter had not only contracted COVID, she had died. Of course there was little we could do and the services were family only. We offered what comfort we could to a sweet lady now outliving her children.
Later, RaDene and I piled in the truck with the moving assistants to limit the traffic and stood in the front yard of the mission home to collect departing missionary luggage (me), distribute travel documents (Sister Hatfield), and say goodbye as best we could (both of us). COVID makes goodbyes much more sterile than they should be. And frankly, despite our urgings, these young people could not be restrained from final embraces with those they have served with, doing the hardest and most meaningful thing of their young lives.
We had invited the three housing assistants to our apartment for dinner. We knew it was a farewell dinner of sorts for Elder Schuerman, although he didn’t know it. I guess we were getting too hungry for barbeque, because we tried a honey glazed barbequed chicken recipe on the stove top grill. It was a miracle we did not have the fire department for dinner. By the time I had it all cooked, every door and window was open, with fans set through the kitchen. But I didn’t care, it tasted great. We are wondering how we can barbeque though. The apartment complex has a strict rule against open flame cooking, in or out of the apartment.
Just as we were about finished, the sisters who had traveled all the way from Columbia to drop off their departing companion knocked on the door, needing something from Sister Hatfield, and asking to use the bathroom. The elders and I hustled outside for our dessert, while Sister Hatfield fed a second round of dinner to the sisters. Funny we haven’t hosted anyone for months, and this night we had people over for dinner twice.
On Monday, May 1st I went to the Oak Valley YSA apartment in St Peters, MO. President Bell had decided that he wanted to move out the elders and put in sisters. I just had a hunch it wasn’t ready for the transition. Boy, was I inspired. It was a disaster. A kitchen drawer was broken, sitting on a counter, a hanging ceiling light was broken and dangling, one of the panes of the sliding glass door was shattered, abandoned shoes and clothes filled the closets, and on it went. I was actually pretty discouraged. I called the elders that were last there and told them (with the President’s encouragement (prodded by Sister Hatfield!)), that they needed to spend tomorrow, their P-day, working on the problem. Meanwhile, the Elders and I rolled up our sleeves and dove in for a first cut. I was pretty discouraged and on the edge of angry, but by now Elder Schuerman was well trained on cleaning and decluttering, and inspired us to action. We also took the weights set out and delivered them to some elders in nearby Dardenne Creek where they might get used, and certainly would make cleaning easier in Oak Valley.
Tuesday, May 1st was the day before transfers, and so there was plenty to do. We were opening up a new area of Spanish speaking missionaries, called San Carlos 2. We needed to move bunkbeds out into the spare bedroom so regular single beds would be available for the new companionship. It was frustrating that the rails and hardware were deficient to hold it together firmly. It needed some attention or to be thrown away. Later that afternoon, we went back out to Oak Valley YSA, holding our breath a bit, hoping that the elders had done some serious work for their P-day. To my relief, they had made a strong effort. With a couple more hours of cleaning and polishing, I would not feel embarrassed about sisters coming in tomorrow. So, I donned the rubber gloves (I’ve gone through several pairs by now) and the elders took my directions. After that, we stopped a burger place for one last meal with Elder Schuerman before transfers tomorrow. Back at the office, Sister Hatfield joined us for a planning meeting. There is never too much planning for a transfer.
On Wednesday, May 3rd we had our 4th transfer in 7 days. Mind you, these are only supposed to happen once every 6 weeks. But it is sunny today, verging on hot. I think we have proven out our COVID transfer process.
It was a wistful day for me though. I have grown really fond of Elder Riley Schuerman, but with all the changes in the mission, the President was in need of leadership, and Elder Schuerman was made a ZL and sent to Champaign today. He had about convinced himself that he had dodged the bullet for this transfer, mostly because he stayed through the regular transfer and it seemed unusual to make such a change on a special transfer. He has become an organized, forward thinking young man in the time he has been an assistant. And with his technical skills, he helped streamline several processes in the office that needed help, several of which will have long term benefits, like improving proselyting materials ordering. This, and he is just a happy, optimistic, hard working, humble young man, with style and good humor. Oh well, missions, like the rest of life, go on. Best of all, Elder Schuerman and Elder John had a baptism two weeks ago, so the transfer was a success by that measure.
In our post transfer efforts, the (now two) housing assistants and I went to the Frontenac sisters bunk room and repaired a broken rail. And by now I had bought some long screw fasteners which would hold the San Carlos 2 bunks firmly together by gosh. We also made a delivery to Rockwood 1st, and took down the tri in Rockwood 2nd. Sister Hatfield had reminded me that the senior companion in Rockwood 1st was made a district leader and trainer, after having served as a zone leader. To some, this might have seemed like a demotion. Sensitive like she is, Sister Hatfield urged us to encourage this young man when we saw him. As we drove down there, I mentioned the situation to the assistants. When we arrived, I was tickled that Elder John, the cowboy from Idaho, spoke with love and tenderness to the district leader, explaining how the President must trust him more than anyone else in the mission, having placed a new companion in his trust, assigned him district as leader, and designated the area for biking (meaning, no car for the hot summer months). I could tell that the encouragement was welcomed. We left with a prayer and saw smiles on the faces of the elders we left. The lessons we learn in our church service.
At Rockwood 2nd, of the sisters with COVID fame, we disassembled the set up for the third missionary, because one of the COVID survivor sisters had been transferred out. Sheepishly, one of the sisters showed me a patch of sheetrock in the bathroom where all of the paint, mud, and tape had deteriorated down to the green board. I took a little bit of a lick’n from the apartment manager when I reported the problem. But she was right. There is no reason why this should have gotten to this point without being reported sooner. It is just hard for the missionaries to treat their dwelling like more than extended hotel rooms to dip in and out of, with little ownership during their time living there.
On Friday, June 5th we made a follow up trip to Oak Valley YSA. We replaced the broken living room light fixture, changed the furnace filter, and refabricated the kitchen drawer rail. Not a bad place now, after considerable effort by many.
But this day was hard. Our daughter in law was being induced and we were completely out of position to help like a parent feels she or he should. Gratefully, extended family filled the breach. We also sorely missed not being able to be a part of the earthly greeting party, an opportunity that doesn’t happen very often in one’s lifetime. We had consoled ourselves in a long made plan to go home in July for a brief visit and a baby blessing, but even that is not practical given the COVID concerns of air travel. Broken hearts might be a little dramatic, but not much. But we will quit wallowing and instead rejoice. Little Amelia Rose is blessed to be in a family that loves her, and she is beautiful by any standard. Even the housing assistants, our near constant companions said so. Welcome Millie, as Abbey sweetly said, or Rose, as Ezra said, we love you too.
Saturday, June 6th was one of those rare days where I persuaded Sister Hatfield to leave the office and join us on a small trip to the O’Fallon zone. The Fairmont City Spanish elders had told us a few days before that their washer had quit working. Maybe it was karma—we replaced their dryer not more than two weeks ago. As we were leaving, the Fairmont elders warned me that maybe we should put off the trip because there were protests scheduled for that afternoon in their small town. Looking at the schedule, I could not see another window of opportunity for some days, so we said we would come anyway, being alert to our surroundings. Sure enough, the relatively small town of Collinsville, IL had streets blocked, a good size police presence, and people about looking like they were organizing for a march. We carefully avoided the crowds and went the back way.
After removing the broken washer and installing the replacement, consulting on a toilet leak, and delivering new missionary handbooks, we had a good visit. Elder Windmiller was special to us because we came to know him quite well in our branch before he had transferred out, and because Sister Hatfield had helped him a lot with phone problems. His companion, Elder Konold, turned out to be from the Grossmont Ward in San Diego—the very ward my family attended when I was in 9th and 10th grades. We enjoyed reminiscing on the community and ward. I had a rush of feelings as I thought about this formative time in my life so many years ago. So now I have a connection with Elder Konold. It seems there is something about every missionary that is special and relatable, once you know them.