Sunday, July 26th, hooray, its RaDene’s birthday! There is no one I’d rather celebrate. The trick is doing it by myself, when she is such a people person, and parties are verboten. Well, that didn’t take long to get fixed. The darling sisters in our neighborhood were knocking on our door at 7:30 a.m. and, er, we were still lounging in bed. I think I embarrassed them to death when I answered in my bathrobe. They blushed, backed away, and apologized all the way off the porch. I pulled it together and made an omelet for breakfast, and off we went to Pagedale to sacrament meeting. We went from church to the office so boarding passes could be printed for a few missionaries departing for home the next day, along with travel treats, copies of mission letters, and other instructions and papers to be assembled. Blessedly, Patty and Paul Hintze invited us to dinner, our first in someone else’s house (besides the mission home) in many months. They are such good people, and good cooks! Patty had graciously given RaDene a gift earlier in the week and now blessed her with gooey cake, a St Louis tradition, and a berry pie from a local vendor that now goes on our repeat list. Paul, in addition to being a area authority seventy, is a leading physician at Mercy Hospital. His job presently is to discharge COVID patients when all CDC protocols and milestones are satisfied. We learned a lot about the sickness. Then as if on cue, at 9:30 p.m., four of the neighborhood elders dropped in with homemade cookies for Sis Hatfield. Fortunately, we were not yet in our jammies. But being aroused and practically put to bed by young missionaries on RaDene’s birthday was symbolic. We love, and are loved by, these beautiful young people who have sacrificed all for the cause of the Lord. She received scores of birthday wishes from the missionaries all day long on the MSLM Facebook page she administers. The society I could not provide our mission family supplied in abundance.
Monday, July 27th we wished farewell to two sisters who were headed home a few weeks early for school (at least that was the original plan; who knows if that will actually happen for them). Each one of them takes a little piece of your heart with them as they go. Then, more sadly, later that afternoon we saw a young elder leave very prematurely. For some, the mission is just too much. I certainly can empathize. It is hard. Then we buckled down to finalize tranfers for tomorrow for the five elders arriving that afternoon. Originally, this group was supposed to be 10, but five have dropped out. Some I know got cold feet, after serving and then being at home for months. This is a very hard time to be a missionary. I made a reservation at a Super 8 hotel in Washington—my option of last resort after the Missionary Department chains could not help us. This is our first, but probably not our last hotel arrangement for a mission bursting at the seams with missionaries but still slated to receive 35 more in August. Monday night was my housing coordinator nightmare: Sister Liddle was moved to Springfield, Illinois and I had missed the late breaking news about it on the President’s transfer board. So there she was, in a tri with no bed, and at 9 p.m. at night, there wasn’t much I could do about it. Fortunately, the Springfield sisters had an air mattress. That would just have to do until we could get there with a bed. This is the first time in eight months I failed someone. But I’ve learned, missionaries are resourceful and resilient. Sis Liddle will be okay until we get there.
Tuesday, July 28th is transfer day. We modify the usual plan a bit by setting up shop in the mission office parking lot. We had thought we might actually conduct the transfers from the office itself, but Pres Bell wisely and carefully asked everyone to stay socially distant, outside, and masked up. In some ways it is remarkable that we have managed to get hundreds of young people through the COVID months with only one companionship suspected of contracting the sickness (although never confirmed by test). My job was to take Elder Hobert and Elder Bingham to Washington and check them into the Super 8 hotel. I have only a few shaky leads on an apartment—Washington, Missouri has very few rental vacancies of any sort. They followed me out with their mission assigned car (a rental, and a soccer mom minivan at that—even rental car companies are having a hard time getting new cars because of manufacturing shutdowns). I took them to lunch and we checked in for 10 nights, and I asked that the cable be removed from the back of the TV. The hotel obliged, sending their housekeeper to do the job. At least they have a couple of big beds, a microwave, and a minifridge. I encouraged them to get cozy with the mission leader in the ward, get keys to the building, and make a few meals in the church kitchen, and maybe study there a few hours a day to get out of the cramped hotel space. I said a prayer with them and left, very motivated to find something for them as soon as possible. Like Sister Liddle, yesterday, Elders Hobert and Bingham are well adjusted, confident, and have no unmet expectations. They will be fine for a while. This is certainly an expensive way to house missionaries, however. I am amazed at the resources the Quorum of the Twelve are dedicating to the continuation and regrowth of missionary work.
Meanwhile, while I went West to Washington, I had sent the housing assistants east across the Mississippi to set up other bedrooms. Now we rendezvoused in Farmington, Missouri, first to take down a tri where sisters beds had to be set up without room to pass between, and move that bed to the elders in a tri, also in Farmington. We moved the furniture into the Elders’ apartment, when I needed to call Sis Hatfield about something back in the office. In the course of the conversation with her, I felt to ask, “now, there is a Tri in Farmington, right?” She agreed there was, and then said she would double check the board. Ugh, we had forgotten to take into account the elder that had left unexpectedly. The President had solved the departed missionary slot by removing the Farmington Tri. So while we were right a few days ago, were weren’t right today. So we quickly removed the extra furniture and made a bet on whether the elders, who had not been home while we had been there, would notice that some things had been moved around. We decided against the surprise, and gave them a call to let them know.
Wednesday, July 29th started with an intense effort of searching and calling for an apartment in Washington, Missouri, knowing full well that I had just put elders in a hotel room there. I am pretty discouraged about the whole thing. I announced to no one in particular in the office that it was time to pray more intently about the need. After reaching that conclusion, I actually felt more at peace about the situation than I had in weeks, even though there was no observable reason to feel better. I just let the Washington project go, and turned my attention to apartment applications for vacancies I had found in South St Louis (Oakville) and Lake St Louis (Missouri River). Some of these big landlords’ have very complex application processes that don’t reflect the realities of the mission very well. For example, criminal background checks, while understandable, are really hard when we don’t know who will be assigned to an area. We recruited the assistants to the president to subject themselves to a background check in Oakville so we would have real live persons to complete the application checklist. Each time I need to get a background check, it invariably requires some phone calls to parents to get help finding social security numbers and sometimes, driver’s license information. It is easy to forget that these young missionaries are still in a transition from youth to adulthood, and a mission helps them on their way.
We have information that the Church is going to try to help missionaries complete their endowments on a priority basis when temples reopen. Sis Hatfield has worked with the temple secretary here to identify 12 missionaries that have not received there endowment. It has been a very long time since the Church sent out missionaries without their endowment in any numbers. It feels a little like the story of Joseph F. Smith being sent to the Hawaiian Islands in the 1850s when he was 15, and unendowed. We had the Frontenac sisters over for dinner, first, because we haven’t had them over for a while, and second, we want to recruit them to water our flowers for the next five days while we go to Utah for Amelia Rose’s baby blessing. They are such dedicated, strong, sweet young women (currently, Sis Huffaker and Sis Jarman). Afterwards, we nervously begin to pack small travel bags. It is hard to be ready to go, or even want to, at some level, with important work that so many are depending on us to do. But on another level, we ache to see our families, even if briefly, and are so anxious to see our newest granddaughter.
On Friday, July 30th, we awoke to a strange text message indicating that Elisa and the children are not feeling well. We finish our morning preparations and head to the office. Late in the morning, I receive an unexpected call from a leasing agent in Washington. Yesterday, nothing was available. Today, she called to say something has changed, and would I be interested in taking a look? Would I ever! Except, of course, I can’t. I’m headed to Utah in a few hours. I simply can’t make it out there and back. It’s a good hour’s drive, one way. I make an appointment to see it anyway. Considering the alternatives, I wonder which elders might be up to the task of evaluating the situation. That would be risky. Then Sis Hatfield has the brilliant idea of sending the Evertons, who are on the case in minutes. I give them a mental checklist of what I need and what I would like, and send them with my check to make a deposit if the vacant apartment passes muster. They get to the appointment and call me. I’m excited to help them decide to put down the deposit and bring back the application.
But my excitement is suddenly stunted. Elisabeth is not feeling well at all. Some frantic calls are made to her parents in Arizona and us, and just that fast, the blessing is off for Sunday. RaDene jumps on the phone with Delta, and although we are too late to rebook in normal circumstances, the kind agent helps us play the COVID card and gets us our full cost back. But we are stunned. The anticipation had been so high, and now, just like that, we aren’t going. Disappointment doesn’t begin to describe the feelings. Sis Hatfield and I have worked so hard to clear the decks, and suddenly, we don’t have anything to do or anywhere to go. We drive 10 miles to a church parking lot to talk it out. It turns out to be a rather interesting experience in people watching. This particular church building, in the heart of Frontenac, is visited by missionaries, what looks to be a primary presidency, several sets of casual walkers, a police cruiser, and several others with unidentified purpose.
After coming to grips with our feelings, we did what anyone would do: we went for ice cream at Andy’s our favorite frozen custard. I don’t really know what that means—its just great ice cream, owned by a member. The gal that took our order saw my badge and asked if I wanted a box of mistakes. She said that two other sets of missionaries had been by already today to get some. I said no, I like mine fresh! We finished off the evening doing some service by visiting some sisters that needed a smoke detector, priesthood blessings, and some good advice from an a wise, skilled Sister Hatfield. These sisters have had some relationship problems, and RaDene helped them with some ideas and perspective. She is such a blessing to so many missionaries.
On Friday, July 31st we had to set our priorities because we didn’t think we would be in town doing our assignments. I had the luxury of spending found time on apartment applications. And at lunch time, I persuaded RaDene to take the short drive to our apartment so we could have lunch together. That was a first. I can’t figure out why—it seems like we ought to taking a break for lunch together often! Thinking about Spencer’s sick family, we thought about what we could do for them. The best we could come up with is order pizza for them, which we did. Having it on the brain, we got an itch for some good pizza ourselves. We called our resident consultant, Elder Jacob, who recommended Dewey’s. We ordered, and then went to pick it up to take home. I’m not sure why, but our order was much too slow, so we were a little miffed. But we got the pizza home and oh, my, it was good. We have identified our favorite St Louis pizza. I loved there veggie pizza, which is pretty much a singular experience.
After dinner, we went back to the office, and believe it or not, we worked late, even though we were not scheduled to be there at all. The project was to fill teaching supply orders for missionaries all over the mission. This consists of finding the order, going down the list and pulling the books and pamphlets and pictures and cards and whatever off the shelves, and then boxing them up and labeling them. The push was the Missionary Leadership Council being held tomorrow, where all the zone and sister training leaders from all over the mission will be together to train, counsel, and set goals. It also is a convenient time for the leadership to take supplies and mail from the office out to their various zones around the mission. So, we decided to get it done.
Which also determined our Saturday, August 1st. Sister Bell loves to feed the missionaries and had planned a wonderful lunch for 50, but had not recruited any help. Sister Hatfield realized this, and recruited the Evertons to go with us to the St Louis stake center to provide the bodies to make the lunch happen, as well as distribute the mail and supplies, which took the housing assistants to bring their trailer to get it all there. Instead of laying sod with my son Spencer in Utah as I had planned, I helped cook, serve, and clean up, which took almost all day. I honestly don’t know how Sister Bell had planned to pull this off without the office staff, but we were available, so we pitched in.
It was late in the afternoon, but I had the idea of renting bikes and riding around Forest Park, the pride of St Louis, boasting about twice the acres of New York’s Central Park. The problem was our service at MLC took so long, we couldn’t get bikes, take a ride, and get back before the shop was closed. But we decided to go anyway and see what was possible. We were discouraged when we found the shop, near the park, but found the customer line out the door and into the parking lot. Timing didn’t seem like it would work at all. But RaDene found the rental manager and arranged for us to get bikes and locks and we would leave them locked to the fence when we were done for the day. The manager was very helpful, more than fair, and confident that the bikes would be safe until he got there on Sunday morning. I was less confident, but finally was ready to take the risk—the bike ride was important to us. We headed off on our bikes the mile to the park and off we went. It was gloriously sunny, but only warm, not blazing hot, which was a miracle. We circumnavigated the entire park, which is filled with community goods, like the zoo, museum, sports courts and fields, ponds, creeks, and seemingly endless groves of trees and lawns. We got off our bikes and soaked in the landscapes from the World’s Fair Pavilion set on a stately hill at the center of the park. We grabbed some bad Mexican food on the way back to the bike shop and then locked the bikes to the fence, as instructed, leaving the keys on the appointed ledge. It felt sketchy, but we had no choice.
We thought we would make up for the bad dinner with some good ice cream at a local shop we had found. It was in a beautiful old neighborhood and looked charming, but the line was out the door and felt like we couldn’t wait. So we left. Our way back towards the freeway took us by the bike shop, and to our horror, the bikes were gone, and someone was crossing the lot with bikes that looked suspiciously like our rentals. I whipped the car around and cut off the would be thieves, only to be greeted by the shop owner who had safely stowed our bikes and was on his way home on his own bike that was like the ones we had used. All was well after all. Still tasting the bad Mexican, our trip home took us very near to Andy’s, so yes, we made our second stop in as many days for our favorite frozen custard. It didn’t make up for not meeting our new Amelia Rose, but it did satisfy some primal urge for cream and sugar.