Monday, November 16, 2020

1-7 Nov 2020 Our Own Near Tragedy


Sunday, November 1st started with long-distance video Primary with Abbi and Ezra.  To our delight, their new little sister has a great chair that holds her up and steady, and she sits on the counter in the background taking it all in, watching her sibs sing, talk, and listen to their Nana and Papa.  It is a new world:  Amelia is growing up with video conference just a normal and natural part of life.  We wished Sis Annie Stewart an early birthday, because on Thursday she says she is turning 94.  She is about as spunky as can be today.  I think her biggest worry is whether she will have too many great, great grandchildren running around her house making noise on her birthday.  We went home and fed our local sister missionaries, Sis Huffaker and Sis Jarman, our family favorite hamburger soup.  A couple of summers ago we went to Alaska and as a souvenir brought home some dry sour dough starter.  For some reason, we brought it on our mission and decided to activate it.  We made biscuits with that, but they were not very good.  It was disappointing.  That evening we had a crazy family video call to celebrate our son Spencer, daughter Malory, and niece Kristen Jensen’s birthdays this week.  Sis Hatfield had set up a zoom conference and had invited everyone in the extended Hatfield Jensen family, including my Mom and Dad in St George.  To her credit, Mom bravely tried to connect, and has had success on other occasions, but this time it was just not working.  Sis Hatfield patiently trouble shot for a good 30-45 minutes trying to get a phone or desktop to connect, but with no success.  Finally, it was time to blow out candles in Provo so we FaceTimed with Mom and Dad, and held the phone up to Sis Hatfield’s monitor.  Over the multiple video relays, sometimes the display was of people, but often off the wall or floor, or maybe a shot from the waste down, or sometimes too small to see.  And of course the singing was a cacophony of voices with various electronic timing.  Afterwards, we had a good laugh that we had even tried to connect everyone.  Still, it was fun to see and hear everyone, offer birthday wishes, and have a feel for how the party went—at our own house.  We worked late into the night cooking up 15 pounds of hamburger into taco meat for Mission Leadership Conference lunch tomorrow.  It was tricky getting rid of 2 quarts of liquid fat after the frying was over.

 Monday, November 2nd began with Mission Leadership Conference.  It’s hard to say that they are the best missionaries, but they generally are the most experienced and talented leaders.  They gather monthly for a half day or so to be taught and inspired one with another and with Pres and Sis Bell.  Our job is to bring mail and serve lunch, usually as planned by Sis Bell.  Sis Hatfield had taken various ingredients to be chopped and prepared around to the other senior missionary couples last night, and today is assembly of taco salads.  Easy, right?  I’m always amazed at how much time it takes to put on a single meal for 50+ missionaries and then clean it all up.  But we love doing it.  These are young people that thank us profusely for the smallest kindness.  It is fun to watch Sis Hatfield in her element.  She is so good at organizing the seniors, making sure we are ready to serve the rush efficiently and on time.  My job is to ladle taco meat and beans.  Don’t laugh, its not that easy!  You don’t want to have lots left over, but you need everyone to get some.  Rats, I run out of beans before the last missionaries are served, but luckily, I’m a little ahead on the meat so the last through the line get extra of that.

 That afternoon, Elder Smith and Elder Merrill and I load furniture and shop at Walmart for the St Peters Elders so that I don’t need to interfere with more preparation day than necessary tomorrow.  The housing assistants are good sports, though, often giving up all or part of their preparation day for missionary needs.  Back at the office, I am confirming that two new apartments that are late into the Church account payable system have received November rents in time to not incur late fees.  Whew, the USPS did not fail us this time.  Speaking of mail, I received a $300 bill for a large hole in the sheet rock at the bottom of some stairs from a landlord caused by roughhousing missionaries.  Yikes, I am obliged to get the bill paid and ask the missionaries for reimbursement.  It certainly was a bigger bill than I expected.  To round things out, I got a request from a missionary companionship to be reimbursed for sporting equipment (sorry!) and from another to move downstairs from other missionaries so they wouldn’t disturb downstairs neighbors with their morning exercises.  Not a bad idea—I’ll investigate the possibilities. 

 Tuesday, November 3rd was a triumph  We moved two elders who had been either in a hotel or out of area since August into a great apartment—finally.  I know, I know, I’ve already said this, but five applications to get a place in the St Peters Ward, really?  St Peters is a happening place!  But it all is in the rear view mirror now.  I’m not looking for a new area apartment for the first time in many months.  As we settled the elders in a bit, I took some time to learn a little about them.  One of the elders comes from a polygamist family in central Utah.  His mother is an earnest spiritual seeker of truth and encouraged him to be the same.  He attended seminary and knew that the Gospel as taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the truth.  It was not easy for him to come on a mission.  His largely estranged father is not supportive.  His mother is emotionally supportive it seems, but can’t do much else.  What a fine young man.

 Back in the office, Jim Otis, a partner in the real estate business that owns our building, came into the office.  I have spoken to him briefly a couple of times now, enough to confirm that he is indeed the son of Jim Otis a first team All-American running back at Ohio State Pro Bowler for the Kansas City Chiefs and St Louis Cardinals back in the 70s.  Jim the son was himself was a letterman football player at Ohio State, and here he is, managing the building and our office lease.  I knew that Mr. Otis and Pres Bell, himself a football All-American, would enjoy meeting each other, so I introduced them.  The bigger story is that our landlord would like us to move office space across the atrium in order to be able to join our space with an adjoining office, making the integrated space larger and more attractive to a potential tenant.  Jim had quite casually floated the idea to the MSLM office staff six weeks ago.  Sis Hatfield, the expert space designer and remodeler, started sketching out how we could configure the new space, if we moved.  The Church facilities representatives both here in the area and in Salt Lake seemed pretty apathetic, but RaDene finally got them scheduled on a conference call to move things along.  Our staff motivation is that our office, although a decent size, is poorly configured and sorely in need of paint, carpet, and updated furnishings.  Our new lease says that we are entitled to paint and carpet, but I have cautioned that moving once, much less twice to allow for painting and carpeting, would be a nightmare.  I’ve moved offices enough times to know that systems take months to get back on line and work right after moving.  More, the HVAC balancing is not right in our space.  Many of the senior missionaries are cold most of the time, and there doesn’t seem to be a fix.  So moving once across the atrium into a finished space might improve things.

 Otherwise, the day seemed to be about mice.  I think they are moving indoors for the winter season.  I bet I have coached six companionships on what to do.  They all react differently.  Some seem overwhelmed by the pests.  One set of elders treat it like a safari.  I get regular pictures of their trophy captures.  I hope the mice move on from their apartment soon.  Late that day, Sis Hatfield received a flight itinerary for a missionary traveling by himself, and arriving after transfers are complete.  That won’t work.  She’s busy reworking the travel schedule to make it fit our transfer process, which doesn’t tolerate people arriving haphazardly through the week.  We were able to wish our son Spencer happy birthday, but we missed not hugging him!

 Wednesday, November 4th.  Today I went to Alton, Illinois.  The elders there had a smoke alarm go off in the night, and following the instructions, called 911.  The firemen said that the alarm was defective.  I think that is a sound conclusion because it was the CO alarm that went off, and the apartment is all electric.  So we took them a new one.  These devices are supposed to last 10 years, but I don’t believe it!  While we were there we helped change some lights in hard-to-open ceiling fixtures and a few other odd things that take a tool they don’t have. 

 Alton is a beautiful and intriguing town.  It is located along the Mississippi River just below where the Illinois River joins the Mississippi, and just above the confluence with the Missouri River.  It has a waterfront area that looks like time forgot it for the last 50 years or more, complete with docks, silos, and railroad tracks built years ago to move the area’s grain and produce.  Above the waterfront are high limestone bluffs with rich architecture in the shops and houses and churches.  Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated in Alton in 1858 as part of their presidential campaigns.  During the Civil War, Alton was the penitentiary for up to 12,000 Confederate prisoners.  Alton also was a key Union outpost, with multiple skirmishes into the “neutral” state of Missouri, including the so called Camp Jackson Massacre of 1861 where Union forces foiled a Missouri state militia plan to raid the Union arsenal in St Louis, and killed at least 28 civilians in the process.  St Louis rioted for days afterwards, but the arsenal was successfully moved by Union forces to Alton.  US Senator Lyman Trumbull, from Alton, and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, co-wrote the Thirteenth Amendment permanently abolishing slavery in Alton with other Congressional representatives. 

 Thursday, November 5th continued our effort to catch up on housing needs before the big transfer push that comes next week, the week before transfers.  We distributed refurbished vacuums where needed, took a washer to the repair shop and installed blinds in Crystal City and in Sandy Creek, two wards/teaching areas south of St Louis where enthusiastic living has left windows bare.  Most important, Sis Hatfield and I wished our daughter Malory happy birthday.  We miss her!  One of my favorite parts of this mission is Malory helping her daughter Kennedy call Nana on the way to school a couple of times each week.  They sing nursery rhymes, discuss what letter is being taught this week, and identify what color clothes she and her little brother are wearing that day.  Precious.  It is on such calls that we learn things like, “Nana Sharon gives me clothes and toys, Nana ‘Dene gives me books.”  Its true.

 Friday, November 6th starts with a video zone conference for a few hours, part two of the in-person zone conferences earlier in the month.  It was my “off” session, so I didn’t need to worry about presenting this time so I could just soak up the teaching of the Spirit.  Pres Bell had conducted the meeting with an unusually high amount of missionary participation, so it was heart-felt.  Afterwards, we had a staff meeting.  I gave a spiritual thought based on what I learned in Mormon 6-9 about just how trying the lives were of Mormon and his son Moroni.  Yet no less an important work than the creation of the Book of Mormon came out of all that adversity and uncertainty.  We can be assured that our modern adversity and uncertainty bound up in Pandemic, political, economic, and racial unrest, and so many other adverse forces, can still yield good works if we have faith in God’s Plan.

 We had a near tragedy this day.  While working late in the office (surprise!), my sister Terri called on Face Time, something unusual.  It only took seconds to realize why.  She was standing outside her house and showing us a fire racing up the hillside across the street from her straight towards the our and our neighbors houses.  The fire exploded every time it reached a clump of scrub oak or another tree, and it seemed for a moment that destruction was inevitable.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  Firetrucks were racing in from who knows how many firestations, it must have been most of Provo and Orem.  The storm front winds were fanning the flames and pushing the fire hard.  But somehow, the brave firefighters got into place and stopped the fire mere feet from the Roney’s house, our immediate next door neighbor.  When it was over, we could hardly sleep, staring at the ceiling from bed.  It seemed our mission had come within minutes of ending.  Had the call to the firemen come just 5 minutes later, the outcome would have been very different.  COVID hasn’t ended our mission prematurely, and wildfire hasn’t either.  Angels are helping us stay in our assignment in St Louis.

 Saturday, November 7th was a fantastic change of pace.  We had homemade sour dough pancakes.  We haven’t had pancakes since Malory and her family were here for the Fourth of July.  Afterwards, we borrowed some currently unused mission bikes and rode around Creve Coeur Lake and across the Missouri River bridge.  The weather was delightful, so delightful in fact, that we rode too far.  Our un-calloused posteriors were sore for days.  Afterwards, we shopped for mission Christmas craft materials for the planned Sisters’ Conference and bought our own groceries.  I took some of that sour dough starter we have been feeding like a baby all week and mixed my very first batch of sour bread dough to rise for the night.  All the while, RaDene and I continued to muse on the close call of last night’s fire.  It’s hard to put that thought out of your mind quickly.

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