On Sunday, November 22, we arose a little slowly. Illinois has imposed restrictions that effectively cancel church services across the river, and Missouri restrictions have tightened back up too, to 25 percent of building capacity. We have hovered around that number of attendees in our small Pagedale Branch since COVID started, but a couple of months ago we felt quite comfortable as restrictions were eased. Now, we don’t. We even said out loud this morning that maybe we should just stay away today, because after all, the mission now has two sets of young elders in the branch, and we don’t want to infringe on the members’ opportunity to attend. But, we had some groceries to give to Annie Stewart, who lives near the church, so we decided we would go make an appearance at the branch, judge the size of the congregation, and then be where we needed to be to see Annie. But all of this handwringing made us a bit late getting there. RaDene forgot her phone as we hurried out. As we walked in Sis Hatfield looked at the organist, manned by young executive secretary, and bolted for the front of the chapel. She had agreed to substitute at the organ for our regular organist who was away for the next two Sundays. Sis Hatfield had completely forgotten. Unable to persuade the executive secretary to continue, she asked what the hymns were, sat down at the organ, and started to play. But she was not prepared. I thought she was doing great, but she didn’t feel that way. She stopped for the beginning of the meeting, and thinking fast, motioned me to come up on the stand. She took my phone, since she forgot hers, and found the church hymn app, and when the opening song was announced, went to the podium and pushed the play button, holding the phone to the microphone. So far, so good. Now she had a few minutes to figure out how the auto play feature of the organ worked. She couldn’t find the selected sacrament hymn, so found an alternative, and ask Pres Fingel to reannounce the hymn. Progress. For the closing hymn, she found the announced song, and started the auto play on que. She did it. The good news was that Sis Hatfield had not stressed for one second this past week worrying about church hymns, she saved it all for the meeting itself. She is so resourceful.
After church we went to Annie’s house. We had taken the initiative to call her on Saturday to learn what she might need in order to avoid a repeat of shopping for her this Sunday. Yesterday, Jordan, her care giving great grandson, had cut the call short when the paramedics unexpectedly came to their door. When we went to their house today, we learned that Annie had been hospitalized. In a call with a neighbor yesterday, the neighbor concluded that Annie needed help, and called 911. Jordan was emotional about it all, recalling when his grandmother had been hospitalized in May and never made it home again, succumbing to COVID. He feared for Annie. We encouraged him as best we could from the front porch, suggesting that he take care of himself today while Annie was in the hospital. We helped Jordan call the hospital and then Annie’s doctor. The doctor sounded optimistic about her condition, and although gave no promises, he said they would evaluate her continued stay on a day to day basis. Jordan is humbled, and expressed gratitude for our interest and support. He is now accepting of our belief that Heavenly Father knows him and his great grandmother.
Monday, November 23rd was partly an extension of last week’s transfers. The three sisters in Belleville, Illinois are expecting another sister to complete the two companionships tomorrow. The delayed move was caused by a COVID quarantine. Happily, the sisters in Highland had offered their extra bed and desk for the project, something I had forgotten was in Highland. I’m starting to wonder how many things I have lost track of around the mission. I’ve organized placement of approximately 100 sets of missionary furniture since June. Back at the office, I signed the Decatur elders apartment lease renewal. New leases are challenging. Renewals usually are not, because the church has earned its reputation as a reliable tenant. But this Decatur renewal lease goes into the very difficult category. We’ve worked on the lease for two months, trying to produce the personal information the manager has demanded. Sis Hatfield has been with Sis Bell at the mission home most of the afternoon planning for the sister missionary conference scheduled for December 2nd. Sis Bell and Sis Hatfield have already purchased “table top” trees and decorating supplies. Now they are making prototypes and sorting supplies. They expect to make about 120 trees, coming out to about a tree and a half per sister. They also need to organize scissors, glue guns, and who knows what else. That will be an effort. I’m trying to make new file labels, key labels, apartment summaries, and so many other things that depend on area names now confused by ward renaming and realignments in the Springfield stake. Ugh. Before heading for home, I sort mail. There is a lot of deliveries coming these days. Going out of town tomorrow, I need to take what I can to the missionaries in the outlying areas.
Tuesday, November 24th was a trip north. The manager of the Rantoul townhouse complex wanted to inspect our unit in connection with a possible transfer to a place not so run down. With all the water damage, I could not afford to miss the inspection and let the manager draw the conclusion that we should be blamed for the substantial water damage to paint and wallboard. I have some concern about it though, because the missionaries have been either so accepting of the poor conditions or oblivious to them, we haven’t reported the problems as soon as we might have. As we walk the property, I point out the problems, carefully making the case as to why I believe the mission should not be responsible. I think I have been effective, and in the end I am willing to accept some responsibility, but the inspector, while friendly and nonaccusatory, is non committal. We shall see how this goes. The manager says three units are now available, and I can see them as soon as tomorrow. I think I will, because this project is not going to solve itself. For now, we are off to the southwest to Decatur to pick up some medical papers that the mission nurse needs from an elder there. The missionaries won’t be there, and we have made arrangements to let ourselves in. While at the apartment I notice something strange. One of the bedrooms and the bathroom have their doors removed. After some searching, I find the doors in another part of the apartment. I will be interested to hear the explanation.
In the all’s well that ends well category, when we are about 20 minutes from arriving in Decatur, Elder Buck, the new housing assistant, and new to the mission truck, hears a bell that the truck is low on fuel. Elder Smith and I assume we are down to 1/8th a tank, when we usually hear the bell. No, Elder Buck says, the truck says we have 3 miles to empty. I tell Elder Buck to slow down to improve mileage. A quick search says we are 6 miles from the nearest gas. Just about the time we are convinced we are in trouble, we see a blue highway sign that says this exit to gas. There doesn’t look like much out there, but we don’t have much to lose because we aren’t going to make it to Google’s suggestion. We take the off ramp and head down the road. After a few minutes, and when we figure we have just made it harder for a rescue party to find us, we round a corner into a small village, and sure enough, there is a station. We put 32 gallons into a 30 gallon tank.
For Wednesday, November 25th I have arranged to see three townhouses in Rantoul, where the mission had the greatest need for an alternative apartment. I’ll not take the housing assistants on this trip, so it will be 7 hours of driving on my own. Two of them have the old, foot square industrial tiles throughout. One has old very short piled carpet. None of them are beautiful, but all are in better shape than the dilapidated townhouse the missionaries are living in. I get pricing on all, and conclude the carpeted unit would be my choice. The manager will pull together an offer and email it to me later this week. I made it clear that my interest in a new lease is conditional on whether we can come to agreement on the damage in the townhouse we will leave. On the way home I stop in Champaign and see the zone leaders, delivering more mail. They are cheerfully working under difficult conditions. I admire them. After leaving at 8:30 this morning, I make it back to the office by 6 p.m., where Sis Hatfield is still hard at work.
Thursday, November 26th is Thanksgiving. We got our grown kids on a video call together and talked about our plans for the day and shared cooking ideas. Most of us participate in the call from our kitchens while we prepare our feasts in five different places. Malory is in Alabama cooking for her in-laws, Spencer has driven his family to Mesa to see Elisabeth’s family, Mitchell and Patric are in Seattle cooking a full Thanksgiving meal for two, and Ancsi and Gareth are cooking for themselves and Gareth’s sister. We were a bit shocked to see Ancsi in a cross-fit competition last weekend at her gym where the sponsors had taken no thought as to COVID precautions. In my estimation, the gym event was probably illegal, involving contestants and many fans shoulder to shoulder around the gym with no attempt to socially distance or wear masks. RaDene and I had called Ancsi later and we agreed that the exposure was too great to risk attending Thanksgiving with the Jensens as planned. It was very disappointing to Ancsi to realize the risks to old persons and healthcare workers in the Jensen family if she and Gareth celebrated with them. And the timing is such that testing won’t help. COVID is hard, but we must show respect for others even if we aren’t fearful of our own health.
To share with a nearby missionary district of 9, Sis Hatfield and I are cooking our traditional sweet potato and apple dish, which we have made since the early years of our marriage, and my Dad’s sausage and pecan stuffing. Naturally, RaDene had some tasteful table decorations and provided the mother’s touch that makes what is usually a family celebration feel right. The food was surprisingly good, even if mostly made by novices. Elder Dugan cooked a turkey in a mild jalapeno basting sauce that was delicious. I must say, it was a little freeing to send everyone home with their leftovers. Usually we are dealing with food for hours after the meal is over.
Friday, November 27th was notable for the guests at our mission office staff meeting. Pres Bell’s father and mother came to St Louis to visit for Thanksgiving. Today, they we had the chance to meet them. What a delight. They exude the love and spirit that Pres Bell shares around the mission every day. You feel like you are with best friends from the first minute you are with them. They are full of uplifting stories and quick to find common ground. The acorn doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
Saturday, November 28th is our preparation day, but there are a few things that need some attention if we are going avoid frenzy next week. Fortunately, the housing assistants are trustworthy and by now know enough to go out and retrieve, not one, not two, but three dryers that have gone on the fritz in the past few days. One is almost 3 hours away in Tuscola, Illinois. The other two are in the greater St Louis area, a bit south in Fenton, and west in O’Fallon, Missouri. Sis Hatfield and I have some special gifts to wrap and ship to family. This is an especially difficult time to be away from home. Christmas involves so many traditions that