Sunday, January 17th was a reminder of what a small world it is. Elder Williams, serving in our Pagedale Branch were we attend, gave the sacrament meeting talk. He introduced himself as from Hooper, Utah, “like the Hatfields.” The first counselor in the branch presidency, Luke Shafer, was attending virtually from home with his wife, Rachel, and their newborn daughter. Hearing the introduction, Luke texted me and said, “you two are from Hooper?! my mom’s from Hooper.” It turns out that Kim Widdison, Luke’s mom, is a childhood friend of Sis Hatfield. They attended school together in Hooper. In fact, they learned to sew together. And they lost track of each other. All these years later, Sis Hatfield befriended Rachel, the daughter of the first counselor in the St Louis stake presidency. Knowing that she had a hard time keeping pregnancies, this past year’s conception and pregnancy was a tender time for the Shafer family. As the pregnancy progressed, Sis Hatfield decided to dust off her quilting skills and make Baby Shafer a quilt, which we delivered several weeks ago along with one of our family favorite meals. Frankly, I don’t know how RaDene found time to do it. And it was quite an effort to find a quilter, but another new friend, Patti Hintze, her self a quilter, helped arrange that. So now we realized, that Sis Hatfield had sewed a quilt for Kim Widdison Shafer’s granddaughter.
After church, the branch missionaries asked us to step into the relief society room. They needed help with a section of a video they were making on the virtues of hard work. Sis Hatfield certainly knows a thing or two about hard work—she may have learned them on a dairy farm, but she has applied them all her life, including in the Missouri St Louis Mission. We ended the day reading stories to our grandchildren over Zoom (or was it FaceTime?). It is a bit humorous for me to realize that the events I journaled about today all had their roots in a video event: virtual sacrament meeting, video recording, and remote story time.
Monday, January 18th, was my Mother’s birthday. I love her! I miss being in her presence, even though I can still hear her tender words from time to time. I was delighted that she was given video birthday greetings from her great-grandchildren, great-grand daughters more accurately, even though her small great-grandsons stood obediently, if somewhat blankly in the screen, not knowing the words nor how to sing. Precious.
At the office, Sis Hatfield continued as chief travel administrator, helping Sis Jarman with her almost incomprehensible South Korea visa application, and helping Sis Rowe thread the needle with her Chilean travel requirements, where the list is long, and the margin of error is small. Meanwhile, I helped Elder Everton ferry new cars from the Chevrolet dealership over the Missouri in St Charles to the mission office to replace some Toyotas that have reached their 40,000 mile limit. The church has figured out how to buy cars at a great discount and auction them off at low miles to break even or better!
On Tuesday, January 19th, Sis Hatfield was awakened by a strange scratching noise no more than about four feet from the floor in the wall of our apartment. We had heard it a little over the weekend, but this morning, it was pronounced. Over the months, we have heard pattering over our roof, and other interesting wildlife noises, but never deep into the walls of our apartment. This morning, I was awakened by Sis Hatfield’s excited playing of her recording, which was quite distinct and so long she had to re-record it to be short enough for transmission to the apartment manager. We’ll see what comes of this. At the office, Sis Hatfield received an ominous letter: AT&T was moving to an exclusively 4G and higher cell phone network. Any phones with operating systems less than 4G will not work beginning February 18th. As a fix, the missionary department says it will be sending T-Mobile SIM cards for missionaries whose phones won’t support 4G. Our immediate reaction is doubtful. We have had limited experience with T-Mobile, but its service and responsiveness has been lacking, to put it charitably. Porting phone numbers between network carriers is not easy, when it works at all, and changing missionary area phone numbers is not only an administrative nightmare, it depresses the work because members and investigators alike can’t “just use the number on the fridge.” T-Mobile also slows data use for missionaries much more quickly than AT&T, limiting their online connectivity. And as missionaries move around, there will be a constantly growing infestation of T-Mobile areas as missionaries without proper phones move from area to area. Hopefully this Y2K deja vu has the same harmless outcome. It doesn’t feel that way today.
Sis Hatfield did something today she rarely does: she took some sister missionaries to lunch. Sis Sampson and Sis Molina, the sister training leaders working in the Weldon Spring (St Charles) area, have long wanted to talk to her about life, and Sis Sampson is going home next transfer. So while Sis Hatfield shared life hacks, I manned the office phone. She has a difficult job. Luckily she came back, so Elder Jacob and I could go through our tedious monthly ritual of loading the rent payments into the system for our 102 missionary apartments. With that many units, there are some falling off, others being added, rent increases, credits, carried balances, and who knows what else to be managed every month. Its my job to give Elder Jacob the right information. It sounds like an Apollo mission control checkoff to launch. That night we received a call from a young elder sheepishly warning us that Sis Hatfield would soon be getting a disgruntled message from his 2nd cousin. Sure enough, she did. The man was very annoyed, despite the missionary’s apology, that he had sent a referral to the missionaries in the town of the cousin without asking his permission to do so. The poor young man had engaged his mom’s cousin in some brief email exchanges over the fall, probably believing he had built a relationship of sorts, but he was mistaken about the cousin’s readiness. He stated emphatically that the elder was deceitful, manipulative, and not fit to be a missionary. Sis Hatfield and I called the missionary to acknowledge the message and affirm our support for him. Personally, I took the message as a badge of honor. We’ll figure out how to respond in the morning.
Sis Jarman came in at 8 pm feeling good that her South Korea visa application was complete, asking Sis Hatfield to audit the responses. Working through the details, Sis Hatfield realized that if the Korean consulate did not receive the application in San Francisco tomorrow, Sis Jarman’s negative COVID test would be untimely, and the testing expense and time would be wasted, to say nothing of the extra delays in the submission. Being the shipper of the office, Sis Hatfield asked me how late the Fed Ex office was open. I had to respond that it closed at 8 pm, but worse, acceptance of shipments for the day ended at 5 pm. Reflecting for a moment, I though of all those times I raced to the Salt Lake Airport office of Fed Ex to get the last pickup time for the day, later than any other office. Did the same thing exist in St Louis? After some searching, I found an airport Fed Ex office for St Louis, and sure enough, they accepted deliveries for shipment until 9:30 pm. We raced to finish a shipping label and sent the sisters out the door. They made it, with 20 minutes to spare. Whew.
Wednesday, January 20th took me to the Parkway 2nd elders to deliver a birthday package that somehow had not made it to the missionary. We were on our way south anyway. Delivering mail is a meaningful part of what the housing team does. Next we went to the Rockwood 2nd sisters apartment to replace some reportedly missing blind slats. Wow, talk about not prepared. Not only were blind slats missing, but the head rail was broken and not repairable. And the shower rod wouldn’t stay up, the shower curtain and tub were moldy, the floor lamp was broken, and the entry carpet was badly stained and dirty. We came to fix one thing, failed, and added a fistful to our list. Some days are like that. On our way back, we stopped at the St Louis Hills apartment. Elder Petrucka had called me rather sheepishly a couple of weeks ago and confessed that before his last transfer to Illinois, he had put a hole in an interior door in St Louis Hills. I told him I’d take a look. Today we were in the area. We went in and the door had two holes in it, chest level. Apparently, Elder Petrucka had lost his temper and put two fists through the veneered six-panel door. I’ll try to fix it, but it won’t be easy, with lots of molding relief and grain texture. We’ll see. Otherwise, it’ll cost the missionary about $75-100, I estimate. Late that night we remember that we haven’t made sure the President has the missionary mail to take to his out of town interviews in Cape Girardeau. We go and office to get it, planning to run down to the mission home early in the morning.
Thursday, January 21st started different than we planned. Instead of simply dropping of the mail at the mission home, Sis Hatfield is going to stay for a couple hours to see Zander off to school so Sis Bell can accompany Pres Bell to Cape Girardeau. Sis Hatfield is an all purpose mission secretary. Pres Bell has asked me to prepare an update on COVID regulations so he can provide some new guidance for the missionaries, consistent with Church policy and local regulation. Last time I looked, both Illinois and Missouri had COVID restrictions that varied by county public health department. Illinois has now divided its state into regions, ordering regions to implement state health department restrictions based on infection rates. So my research is a matrix of mission zones, counties, and regions. And make no mistake about it, many concepts in the restrictions are vague. Coming up with understandable guidance for the missionaries from a patchwork of regulations will not be easy.
On Friday, January 22nd at staff meeting, Pres Bell announced that Bro Charlie Beach, newly baptized one week ago, is too weak to attend church and receive the priesthood. His health has taken a sharp turn for the worse. His wife is trying to nurse him back to strength—but it is clear to see that he made the choice to be baptized just in time. Pres Bell also told us that the church has finally responded that it believes it will be too costly to refit a new office, so we won’t be moving as we thought. This is a relief and a disappointment. Our office is shabby, charitably speaking. And we could’ve used new space with a layout that made better sense. The designed use of our existing space is dysfunctional. But moving would have been a major disruption to everyone, and my experience is that it takes months to get things working again. Darn technology. Even avoiding that, we still need to prepare for new carpet and paint, which is a daunting task, with all the built-in desks over top of the carpet, industrial shelves stuffed with supplies, and heavily cluttered walls. Oh, well. On the subject of phones, Pres Bell asked Sis Hatfield to communicate with missionaries and parents that many phones won’t work on the new 4G+ network. The mission department’s temporary fix is to change carriers as needed to T-Mobile, but that is a clunky band aid at best. Sis Hatfield worked until 10 pm preparing a survey for the missionaries to collect data on how many companionships will be in a pickle. I shared my findings on the patchwork of COVID regulations around the mission. At least we will be able to hold in person zone conferences in specifically selected stake centers.
After a run to Subway for sandwiches, I headed out with the moving assistants. We retrieved a carpet cleaner in Shiloh, Illinois from one set of sisters to deliver to another. Why is it that only sisters request use of the carpet cleaner? We drove by a place a member is offering to rent to the mission, but it fronts on a very busy state highway and backs onto a corn field. It doesn’t seem like a good idea, but it will be a bit awkward to tell the member no. In Belleville, we patched scars in the wall caused by careless use of a recliner, repaired and rehung a laundry closet sliding door, reattached a TP holder, and last, cleaned out the completely overstuffed and hair bound vacuum. Back in Missouri, we made up for last week’s failure in Rockwood 2nd and installed a new patio door vertical blind, put up a shower rod and curtain, sprayed the mold, and delivered the carpet cleaner. Take that, you apartment.
Saturday, January 23rd started with a run (RaDene) and walk (me). Just as we were meeting back at the apartment, Sis Bell called and invited us to Ducky Donuts. Somewhat tragically, one of our Assistants to the President has made a belated confession of a moral transgression and is heading home. We are having a bit of an outing to make a good memory of an otherwise painful time. This is a fine young man, we will miss him, and we admire that he is taken a difficult but crucial step. Oh, and those donuts. They small batch, fresh made, to your order, right in front of you, and to die for. Another St Louis foodie find. At the fabric store that afternoon, some people came and introduced themselves. They were members from Illinois. They had been eying us from a distance for a while, but finally made their way to us, and we introduced ourselves. They were relieved. They had suspected we were a sister missionary and an elder, alone, without our companions. They were not sure what to do. A close look at our nametags and my wrinkles cleared things up. It’s been a long time since anyone worried about Sis Hatfield and I being alone together. Back at the office, Sis Hatfield’s messages to the incoming and departing missionaries was interrupted by Pres Bell and the APs. They had the bright idea of passing out 250 bookmarks at zone conferences next week, fashioned with 2021 mission goals. Simple, right? We shall see. That night, it sounded like a giant African rain stick outside. It was raining ice crystals. We stared at it out our second story back deck door. It was magical.