Tuesday, June 29, 2021

13-19 June 2021 Sis Hatfield Is Proselyting


Sunday, June 13th.  Today Sis Hatfield was in charge of nursery at church, and I was her assistant again.  The original thought was that I would be helping with an older primary boy that has some learning and social disabilities, but he hasn’t been here the last couple of weeks.  So, with a need in nursery, that’s where I have been too.  Sis Hatfield can come up with a lesson, story, song, or some other learning activity on a dime, so we play for a while and learn for a while, and then mix in some snacks too.  Annie Stewart was not feeling her best, so we did what we could to cheer her, and I gave her a priesthood blessing.  Then we were off to a Sunday afternoon at the office.  The missionaries departing St Louis tomorrow need to be checked into their flights and get boarding passes, and other departing materials.  While Sis Hatfield finished that work, I took the last of the baby things we borrowed for our family reunion back to Ashley Anne Fuller.  Let me just say, she has one sweet stroller.  If I were in the market, I get that one.  Then we headed to the mission home to gather luggage as the departing missionaries came in to stow it away for the night in the trailer for transport to the airport.  It has become a bit more of a problem at the airport, because lately, there is a cranky guard that won’t let us bring the trailer into the parking area like we used to.  So now we are forced to just go to the departure curb which makes timing difficult.  As has become our tradition on transfer Sunday, we had the housing elders to our house for dinner.  Elder Dailami has a kidney stone that is really hurting him.  His urologist appointment isn’t for another week.  We will see if he can make it that long.  In the evening, I start calling companionships to tell them we will be coming to rearrange beds and other things in apartments to accommodate the missionary movements on Wednesday.  It’s kind of funny, that the housing coordinator is the first communication letting missionaries know that something is happening in their area this transfer. 

Monday, June 14th starts with Sis Hatfield and Sis Everton going on a walk together.  Sis Hatfield and I are determined to get the most we can out of these last months of our mission, and that will include more time for Sis Hatfield out of the office for teaching, service, and other activities.  We’ll need the support of Sis Everton to help with staffing the office for a few hours a week to make this happen.  And we want to have greater society with the senior missionaries too, so Sis Hatfield is filling in Sis Everton on our aspirations.  She is supportive, in her own way.  Then we took Elder Pazos to the airport for his return flight to Mexico.  His flight time didn’t coincide with most of the departing missionaries that are headed to the mountain west.  Elder Pazos is a fine young man whose spirit will be missed.  It leaves a bit of a funny feeling knowing that as a Mexican, there is small chance we will ever see him again after seeing him often over the past 18+ months.  Then the housing assistants and me depart for the Springfield, Illinois zone to set up beds and study tables in Litchfield, two apartments in Springfield, and Jacksonville.  We also do some maintenance and deliveries, like taking the Jacksonville sisters their third vacuum in a month.  The first time they didn’t really need one, they just didn’t know that a hose had come unattached.  The second time, I suspect that there was a severe case of overloading in the dirt bin.  The third time may be a legitimate blown motor.  We shall see.  Or, this all may be a certain sister’s way of getting to see one of my housing assistants.  No names will be named. 

Tuesday, June 15th involved a trip to the washer repair shop to make room in the trailer for beds.  Then we were off to the Cape Girardeau zone and Farmington, Missouri.  I spoke to one of our landlords in Farmington about our continued vacancy at his duplex.  Pres Bell is having a hard time deciding to shut down the second area in the Farmington ward, even though we haven’t been occupying it for a couple of months now.  We did shut off the water so as to reduce anxiety about the possibility of an unnoticed leak in the apartment.  Back in St Louis, we had to abort two of our planned set ups because we had packed four left halves of bed frames.  Anyway, we were pushing up against the time we needed to be at the airport and we had set up the crucial beds that needed to be used tonight.  With 25 missionaries coming in on four flights at two different terminals almost simultaneously, we had to carefully stage an armada of cars, trucks, and the trailer to get them all.  In the end, our careful coordination was put to the test by a late flights.  Sis Hatfield had to take charge in one terminal while the Bells directed in the other, sending missionaries out to vehicles, while we carefully circled back and forth from the cell phone lot to the absolutely packed pick up zone.  In the end, Sis Hatfield and I brought three sisters late to the arrival dinner, and the Evertons brought the last sister two hours late, well after dinner was over.  But they are all here.

Wednesday, June 16th was the big day.  Big because it was transfer day, and because it was the anniversary of Elder and Sister Hatfield.  For me, it started with being run out of our apartment before 7 am to make room for six newly arrived sisters to shower and dress in our apartment to alleviate the congestion in the neighboring sisters’ apartment, which we were using well past bathroom capacity.  Then it was off to the Frontenac building to set up a row of 50+ pieces of new missionary luggage, the likes we have not seen since last summer when the COVID transfers started coming in scores.  The new missionary training meeting was live, in person, and unmasked, a gathering we haven’t had for new missionaries in 15 months or so.  What a relief.  Sis Hatfield and I had the chance to start getting acquainted with Sis Dansie, the adorable granddaughter of the Dansie family from Herriman, Utah, who we have known for 10 years or so.  They store our boat in their barn during the winter.  She is on scholarship at BYU for her musical talents, having grown up doing western wrangler shows with her family.  She is a spark if there ever was one.  We left Frontenac and Sis Hatfield joined me and the housing elders for burgers at Five Guys.  Gourmet burgers and fries would be our nod to our anniversary this day.  Lunch following the transfer meetings were only the start of it today.  We haven’t been able to get on top of the apartment preparation this time around like we try to, and there is a lot of apartments still to set up.  So, we head to the office to unpack from the transfers and repack for apartment work.  Before it was over, we had set up in Oak Valley in the Lake St Louis Stake, St Peters in the Hazelwood Stake, Rockwood 2nd and Parkway 1st in the St Louis Stake, and St Louis Hills East and Webster Groves North in the St Louis South Stake.  Fortunately, the work in the outlying stakes was done and didn’t change today.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield has learned that COVID tests have not been received in Salt Lake by the laboratory.  This is not good news for the missionaries departing for Guatemala tomorrow.  There is still a narrow chance that the tests could be delivered and processed before morning, but Sis Hatfield had to made the decision to arrange for local, emergency testing at $250 a test.  It’s worth it for many reasons, including the disruptive effects of moving missionaries back out to companionships and sending them in a couple of weeks if they don’t go now.  She is great with dealing with decision matrices under pressure. 

Thursday, June 17th was monumental for one important reason:  Sis Hatfield taught her very first missionary lesson.  She recently told the Pagedale elders that she was ready and available to help teach, and that very week, Elder Oviatt and his brand new missionary companion, Elder Anderson asked for Sis Hatfield to help teach Brenda, a middle aged single woman.  They planned the discussion ahead of time, with Sis Hatfield having her part.  At the appointed time in the afternoon, I watched the office phones while she drove to meet the elders at Brenda’s house in St Louis.  We will be praying for Brenda!  That evening we attended the farewell dinner at the mission home for Bud and Rose Vela, the member leadership support couple that have served faithfully in the Fairmont City Spanish Ward in the O’Fallon zone.  They are the salt of the earth.  He has served as elder’s quorum president for almost two years now.  They are from south Texas, and their Spanish language skills, testimony, and maturity have been so useful here in the MSLM.  Also attending the dinner was Rafael Morris and his wife.  These good folks that have made it their personal mission to reclaim the Greenwood cemetery, neglected and overgrown for a century, but the final resting place of about 50,000 black St Louisans from the post Civil War period to the very early 20th century.  They estimate that they are about half way through the 30,000+ acre jungle, tenderly finding long lost memorial stones.  Dozens of missionaries give service at the cemetery every week, so we have a special love for Rafael and connection to his work.  Rafael told the story of a miracle.  He was mowing when a cable laying in the long grass wound around his mower blade.  Trying to extricate it, he was shocked, literally, and later learned it was a downed high power electric line.  He should have been electrocuted, but he says he has known that he has a mission to fulfill, and knows that he was protected by angels knowing that he is not done with his work on earth yet.  After dinner, Sis Hatfield and I drove to O’Fallon, Illinois to meet two elders who are having crazy phone problems.  It almost never happens that both companions cannot connect with a SIM card to the local wireless network.  And strangely, other phones tested do connect.  Sis Hatfield went armed with three mission phones and substitute SIM cards, and the phone number of the AT&T representative, Grant Monson, who so often helps us through connectivity problems when no one else can.  In the end, it was determined that both phones were programed to work only with cell carriers we don’t use.  One of the phones was purchased from Verizon, so it is not surprising that it was locked and wouldn’t work.  But the other one was purchased by the missionary weeks earlier from the church’s approved vendor, but was also locked and unavailable.  And as it turned out, the phones that Sis Hatfield brought would not restart with the SIM card either.  We will need to do more work on a mission loaner phone and deliver it out tomorrow.  So frustrating. 

Friday, June 18th started early at the office, with Sis Hatfield working on getting a mission loaner phone to work for the O’Fallon missionaries.  She is one determined servant of the Lord.  We had it out to them before noon so that they could get on with their missionary purpose.  Today, the temperature reached 100 degrees, which was sweltering indeed with the humidity.  The heat index was about 110.  Fortunately, Pres and Sis Bell had surprised us early today asking if we could take a group of missionaries to the temple in the afternoon for proxy baptisms.  We jumped at the chance.  In the late afternoon heat afterwards taking a group picture in front of the temple, we wanted very much to invite them all to go out for ice cream, but we were not sure if Pres Bell would have approved, so we let the opportunity go by.  It felt later like maybe it was a bit Pharisaic to not have done so, but we were not sure.  We drove home and settled on Chinese takeout for dinner, which we took to the office, and ended up sharing with the APs, Elder Lambson and Elder Aspinall who were there doing companionship planning.  Sis Hatfield took the opportunity to try and deconstruct baptismal reporting with them, a perpetual, weekly problem that rarely seems to be right or easy the first time.

Saturday, June 19th was notable because we awoke in the wee hours of the morning sweating in bed.  The power was out.  It stayed out for 18 hours, until 7 pm Saturday night.  Life is not the same without electricity.  Sis Hatfield went to the community gym to work out and shower.  We both went to the office where the AC was on and so we spent most of the day working in the office.  That is until Sis Bell invited us to go swimming at the home of temple president and matron Thomas, where the Bells and their boys are regular swimmers.  The Thomases are generous in inviting friends to use the pool, and today, we bared our white skin and swam for the first time in two years, since the summer of 2019.  It has been since my first mission in Thailand since I have gone so long without swimming. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

5 – 12 June 2021 Ministering In a Kitchen

Saturday, June 5th.  On Saturday, June 5th, Elder Nielsen and Elder Dailami stopped by my apartment to pick me up.  It was time to try to install the refurbished range that we had found for her.  We stopped on our way down Page Avenue at the Home Depot to get some pipe compound.  I warned the elders that we might be back if the existing fittings didn’t work on the new range.  When we arrived, Annie was happy to see us, but a bit concerned about what to do with her old stove.  I told her we would take it with us and she didn’t need to worry.  Having had access to trucks for most of my life, I am frequently surprised with the concerns people have about moving something large, and then disposing of it.  I helped the elders get the truck and trailer parked along North and South Road near Annie’s gate and side yard, the most direct access to her back kitchen door.  We were able to get the gas off, disconnected, and the old stove out the back door.  The next step was to clean the floors and walls in the range space.  We found a broom, but never could find a dust pan.  A piece of cardboard did the job.  For cleaner, I found a bottle of vinegar and went to work.  There are some places that don’t see the light of day very often so when they do, you need to take the opportunity to clean them.  It sounds like a yucky job, and it sort of is, but I imagined all the home cooked, southern meals Annie and her family had prepared in this space over the years.  Now was the moment of truth:  would the old gas line fittings work on the new range?  They did, and after purging the lines for a minute, the stove fired right up.  Annie, who had been supervising from her kitchen chair, clapped and shrieked with glee.  I heard her warn her greatgrandchildren live ins, Jordan and Jasmine, that they had better keep it clean.  I took a short video of Annie and her new stove to share with President Fingal of the Branch so he could see her gratitude for the church’s assistance.  I asked the elders to drop me back at my apartment before they went on to drop the old stove at the back of Delwood Washer, where Mike has a recycler come by to pick up unwanted appliances.  Having played a role in our little welfare project, Mike has been asking how the installation went.  When he drives up his alley on Monday and sees the old stove, he will know.

Sunday, June 6th started with a surprise.  Elder Jacob texted us saying he had some steaks and potatoes, and he would bring them for dinner.  We assumed he meant that he and Sis Jacob would come to our place, but text messages can be ambiguous.  We carefully worded our reply of acceptance, noting we had planned on grilling vegetables and had a gooey butter cake in the works and would love to have them join us.  His agreement clarified things, and we had a Sunday dinner with friends to look forward to.  But first, we had to get through church, which for us was team teaching nursery.  Sis Hatfield looked after the true Sunbeams, while the one year old red-headed daughter of the Primary President, Sarah Gardner, became my charge.  I seem to get along with redheads pretty well.  She especially liked the oversized farm animals puzzle, with all the lifelike animal sounds it elicited from me.  Stake President Bunderson had come to the Pagedale Branch, and he had brought food with him.  Sis Hatfield said it was left over from a stake youth activity.  We took some and went to visit our ministering sisters.  Dee Marche was just home from the hospital when we arrived, having taken a fall earlier in the week and broken some bones that required surgery.  We did not stay long but felt good about how we were instruments to provide a meal to Dee and her husband right when it was needed.  Annie was glad to see us, feeling frustrated about the lack of help she was getting from her great grandchildren, especially Jordan, who was being paid by the Veterans Administration to provide some part time care three days a week.  I agreed to try to call the VA supervisor to see if they could help Jordan see his responsibilities clearly, or if not, get someone outside the family to help.  This is a delicate situation.  Anyway, she is still going on about her “new” stove, which I am not sure she will be in condition to use much at all.  Then it was to the office so Sis Hatfield could circulate invitations for the new missionaries zoom meeting we will be holding on Friday afternoon.  After a delightful dinner with the Jacobs, we watched the departing missionaries bear their testimonies over zoom to the entire mission.  They were powerful.  Maybe best of all, Pres Bell decided there was no reason that the parents of the departing missionaries shouldn’t participate and witness the son’s or daughter’s final testimony. 

On Monday, June 7th, I had Elder Jacob prepare a rent check for an apartment in south St Louis that has been on the look out with us for the check from the church in Salt Lake City.  By now, we are a full week late, but because we have been such a steady payor and I have been proactively communicating, the manager has graciously been waiving late fees.  I didn’t want to push the goodwill any further today, so I hand delivered a replacement check.  It has been a full two weeks since the church mailed the checks.  The once reliable US Postal Service is letting us down. 

Tuesday, June 8th was a field work day.  The elders and I left by 10 am, with our first stop in Litchfield, Illinois.  The missionaries had complained that their kitchen sink disposal was stuck.  Some time ago, I tried to coach them through some self help by using a hex key to get it going.  They said they couldn’t figure it out.  Mildly annoyed, I put them on the trip schedule to help them out and today was the day.  I was quickly eating crow when I took a look and to my amazement, there was not only no hex key, but there was no port to insert the key and free the mechanism.  What?  Who ever heard of that?  I googled the model and sure enough, the manual suggested you put a broom handle down the throat of the sink drain to try to free a stuck disposal.  Now that is crazy engineering!  All disposals get stuck sooner or later.  I worked a hammer handle down the disposal and with some effort, got the mechanism working again.  Lessons learned:  1) don’t buy your disposal at Walmart, and 2) don’t be too quick to judge the missionaries when they can’t get it fixed.  We made a stop in Springfield, and then on to Decatur, where we replaced a bedroom window blind, the couch, a desk chair, and a kitchen table.  Notable about the table was that it had been taken from the church, along with a couple of classroom tables, without permission, I learned.  I had the residents help us load the church’s tables into the trailer and take them back to the church and emphasized that if they needed something, let me know, don’t help themselves to things from the church.  We drove on to Champaign-Urbana to deliver a cell phone and other mail.  We always make getting phones delivered a priority, because without modern electronic communication, the work of the mission does not move.  We headed south and stopped in Tuscola to make some towel rack and wall repairs.  Elder Lamb invited me to swap my tie for one of his collection.  He is making a souvenir collection out of swapped ties.  That seemed a bit odd, because these missionaries were not wearing ties and were heading to dinner with ward members.  I asked Elders Nielsen and Dailami about that, and learned that missionaries assigned to Spanish speaking areas were not required to wear ties while proselyting.  Apparently the rule has been stretched to include meetings with members.  I’m thinking I want to be a Spanish housing coordinator.  After heading east to Paris, on the border of Indiana to deliver mail and supplies, we headed home.  We made it by 11 pm.  Oops.  Curfew broken after a 13 hour trip with very little fooling around.

Wednesday, June 9th included a friendly discussion by Sis Hatfield and me with Pres Bell about the socially isolating patterns we have established during the Pandemic.  He encouraged us to break out of some of these patterns.  We will try to have Sis Hatfield get out of the office a bit more, where she has stood vigil for hours on end 6-7 days a week, for 18 months.  For example, we think we will look into joining with one of the local missionary districts to participate in their meetings, teaching, and activities.  That afternoon, I paid by credit card a second apartment that hasn’t received its rent check.  What’s worse, this is the second month in a row the check has not come.  Frustrating.  I am going to ask them again about an electronic transfer of funds each month where the church deposits directly into the landlord’s account.  I’ve tried before, but it is time to try again.  Sis Hatfield’s missionary name tag was noticed today.  She was invited by the checker at the fabric store to join a missionary meeting at her church.  They traded phone numbers.  We’ll see.

I began Thursday, June 10th hanging “floating” decorative shelves in the office.  It is one of the final touches to the office remodel.  Honestly, I am not wild about them because they will only collect useless decorative items and dust.  But, they are part of the vision, so I’m getting it done.  The housing elders are helping me, and they have gotten one shelf noticeably crooked.  I’ll need to fix it, but not right now.  We needed to go to the Lindell South sisters’ apartment, where the air conditioner is broken.  On inspection, the unit service door is not shutting tight enough to depress the safety switch.  A little sheet metal work solves the problem.  On our way to Sandy Creek to patch holes in the walls and replace a vertical sliding door blind, we see the county rodeo is opening this weekend.  Elder Nielsen helpfully suggests I take Sis Hatfield for our anniversary.  To a sheep rancher, that sounds like a romantic date.  Working our way home, we stop at Target to buy 25 pillows for the incoming missionaries.  We looked a bit odd pushing our four carts stuffed to overflowing with pillows.  They completely pack the back seat of the truck, so that Elder Nielsen is in some danger of suffocation as we drive to Costco to buy departing missionary treats.  The out of office chores complete, I join Sis Hatfield in the office where she is working on the mission newsletter, without the usual assistance of our service missionary, and missionary travel.  I worked on reviewing a lease for the replacement apartment in Warrenton, Missouri we inspected during an afternoon of the family reunion, where we have received notice to vacate by the end of the month.  We left the office by 10:30 pm.

On Friday, June 11th we had a marathon staff meeting, focused on the 10 departing missionaries and 25 arriving missionaries next week.  This will be a big transfer and the logistics are impressive.  We will be sending armadas to the airport for the people and luggage.  Catching our breath for a few moments, we quickly jump into a Zoom meeting with the new missionaries.  We see Sis Dansie for the first time, the granddaughter of the lovely family in Herriman, Utah where we have stored our boat for the winter for years, and who have it in their barn for the entirety of our mission.  She is a dead wringer for her spunky grandmother.  The President is having a tough time making decisions about missionary placements for transfers.  I’m planning as best I can without complete information.  Sis Hatfield and I work on the transfer until 11 pm.  Yep, it feels like the week before transfers. 

Saturday, June 12th is a return trip to the Central West End of St Louis.  We had thought during our reunion that we would tour the Catholic basilica and walk the shops in the district.  With our focus on kid-centric activities, we did neither.  So Sis Hatfield and I went back.  The mosaic tile and glass walls and ceilings are beautiful, said to cover more square feet than any sanctuary outside of Russia.  It looks even more impressive when the lights come on, signaling the beginning of mass.  We hadn’t planned to, but when Saturday evening mass began, we found seats on the beautiful, if uncomfortable benches and took it all in, observing the faithful and their rituals.  One observation is that catholic priests sing better than LDS priesthood leaders.  On the other hand, LDS congregations sing better than catholic worshipers.  That may have more to do with the more esoteric music I heard in the mass than we sing in our often services.  Afterwards, we strolled down the beautiful quite streets to the trendy Euclid Avenue, lined with quirky shops and restaurants.  We stopped at a pizzeria and had yummy roasted vegetables and a “mashed scallion” pizza seated at an outside table in the middle of the blocked off street.  We had Fitz’s sodas to offset the surprisingly tasty vegetarian food, and of course topped it off with frozen custard as the sun went down on this warm, delightful day in St Louis.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

28 May – 4 June 2021 Family Reunion In St Louis

Friday, May 28th we get into the office early to get what office work done we can ahead of the staff meeting and in preparation for family arrivals.  By the afternoon, we are running well behind in things we feel like we need to get done.  Luckily we had misread Spencer and family’s flight arrival time, because we would have never made it on time to pick them up the hour before they actually arrived.  As it was a holiday weekend, and the first holiday since the near end of the strict Pandemic protocols, people were traveling in numbers like I have not seen in St Louis.  The airport was packed, and we circled the parking lots for a long time scavenging a space.  But we finally connected, and after long, sweet hugs, we headed off to our beautiful “Central West End” early Twentieth Century house we were renting for the next week.  Mal is still waiting on a jury verdict for a murder case she and her fellow prosecutors finished arguing earlier today.  We will see what the jury and the judge do to bring the case to a conclusion.

On Saturday, May 29th we take Spencer, Elisabeth, their kids, and Ancsi and Gareth to the apartment and to the office for a little tour of our living and working space.  Sis Hatfield needs to take some office time to prepare critical release documentation for our sick young sister missionary who has just this morning been released from the psychiatric unit at the hospital.  Sis Bell is accompanying her on the near-emergency trip back to Utah.  While at the office, the usually gregarious Abbi is somehow startled by Pres Bell and she won’t be in the same room with him afterwards.  While Sis Hatfield does her work, we go to the iconic White Castle Midwestern fast food restaurant, at Spencer’s request.  The women and children hate it and vow never to return.  But our consolation prize was a beautiful park in Maryland Heights where the kids hiked, ran, climbed, slid, and swung.  Little Millie cannot get enough of the swing.  She chirps happily and grins from ear to ear.  It almost made the grownups wonder how we have lost the feeling of simple pleasures for something like a swing in the park.  Hearing about her joy, Sis Hatfield immediately knows what Millie needs for her birthday and on the spot orders through Amazon a swingset for Millie.  She will have it next week when she is home for her birthday.  Amazing.  In the early afternoon, we meet up with Malory and AJ who meet us at our rented house.  We are too late for the famous Pappy’s barbeque, so I track down Salt and Smoke BBQ as a substitute.  It comes highly rated, is in the CWE neighborhood, and most importantly, open.  It’s pricey, but I’m happy to start the reunion off on the right barbeque foot.  Boy, am I disappointed.  The food did not live up to its price or reputation.  This is the first time I am let down by a St Louis BBQ.  Oh, well, there will be more.  After dinner, we take the kids out on the stroller and scooters and walk to the St Louis Basilica, which is two blocks from our house.  It’s architectural beauty seems like it should be in a European City, not Midwest America.  It was constructed between 1907 and 1914 with the generous support of the community.  It is a St Louis urban treasure, and received its high status as a basilica by Pope John Paul in 1997.  Its mosaics are among the largest and most elegant in the Western hemisphere.  Best of all, there is a play ground for the children. 

Sunday, May 30th.  Bro Morez of the branch presidency had asked several weeks ago for me and Sis Hatfield to speak in separate sacrament meetings.  I spoke last week, and RaDene was to speak this week.  I knew that although her speaking to the children and grandchildren would be a blessing, it would also put stress on this Sunday, and the few days leading up to it.  It did, but it was worth it.  RaDene gave a great address on our Heavenly Parents, reviewing the doctrine of Mother in Heaven.  It is an important topic for all of us, but especially for the women of the church to feel like they have an ultimate role model, a loving, caring partner to our Heavenly Father.  The entire congregation showed constant engagement and enlightenment by the spirit of Sis Hatfield’s talk.  Afterwards, we followed our five grandchildren down to primary, increasing the attendance of children by 50 percent.  Sis Hatfield had advised the primary president we were coming, and everyone seemed to enjoy the extra participation.  The Pagedale primary is small enough that there is a single class plus the nursery.  I stayed in class, and RaDene helped in the nursery.  It took Kennedy just a little bit of coaxing to stay engaged, but she did, and Abbi and Ezra enjoyed the new friends start to finish.  In fact, my major contribution was helping with an autistic boy named Silas, who for some reason was more comfortable with me than with the primary sisters.  That must be a first. 

After church meetings, we took everyone over to Annie Stewart’s house.  She had told us she would be interested in meeting our family, and she got a front room full.  Poor Abbi heard “Kami,” a favorite aunt, when we said we were visiting “Annie,” so Abbi marched right in the front door.  She was surprised and confused to be greeted by Annie, and it took a while for Abbi’s shock to wear off.  Kennedy gave Annie the sweetest hugs and kisses, somehow sensing that Annie is special and deserving of love.  Maybe it had to do with the big pitbull wandering around Annie’s house (to her chagrin) that looks very much like Kennedy’s dog, making her feel right at home.  Back at our rented house, the APs stopped by for a simple lunch of sandwiches with us, and then Elders Lambson, Adams, and Aspinall gave the family a missionary lesson.  It was special for everyone to see, hear, and feel, the spirit of missionary work as they visited Nana and Papa in their mission.  After some brief children’s naps, we headed to the Gateway to the West, taking everyone up the capsules to the top of the St Louis Arch.  What an impressive visual, tangible symbol.

On Monday, May 31st we rose early to get to the zoo before the Memorial Day crush.  We were successful.  Although we saw many magnificent creatures, the bears were the stars.  In separate places, both the grizzly and the polar bear put on water shows behind massive glass panels.  The brown bear jumped up and down in his pool as if he was on a trampoline splashing water like waves in the North Sea.  The polar bear swam great circles in his pool, coming nose to nose with the little children with only the width of the glass separating them.  The St Louis Zoo is great.  That evening, we descended on the mission home and barbequed steaks and chicken with the Bells, the Evertons, and the Jacobs, and all of our tribe.  We played games on the lawn and felt the joy of being together, friends and family.

 Tuesday and Wednesday, June 1st and 2nd were devoted to the Magic House in Kirkwood, Missouri, a suburb of St Louis.  It is magical indeed.  We had so much fun on day one, that only the afternoon cries for food and naps tore us away, and we decided to go back for more on Wednesday to see exhibits we didn’t get to the day before.  I say exhibits, but that leaves an impression of a picture with a caption behind a railing.  The Magic House has no such things.  Everything is a full sensory exploration, delighting young minds and bodies.  First thing Wednesday morning, Spencer had to do some work and Sis Hatfield had to take care of some mission business, so they joined us as we came out of the Magic House to its giant sandbox, complete with water hoses, plastic buckets and shovels, and lawn chairs for parents.  We went for a late lunch on Wednesday at Fitz’s root beer bottling plant and had burgers and enormous ice cream soda floats of all imaginable flavor combinations.  After drinking and eating ourselves silly, it was past nap time.  I took Spencer and Gareth along with Millie and Ezra, who took naps, while we drove out to Warrenton to apartment hunt.  We have received a notice to terminate our month to month tenancy here (the owner wants to remodel) and I need a new place for the sisters to live.  I think the trip was successful, because we found a strong candidate almost across the street from the church building that should be available before the end of the month.  Later that evening, Sis Hatfield suggested we take the kids to the newly renovated playground in Forest Park, a short drive from our rental house.  In fact, the playground had reopened that very day, and I am sure we left some first foot and handprints in many places.  Besides Millie’s sheer delight with the swings, the highlight was the merry go round, which AJ and I pushed with all our might to the happy squeals of our young family members and a bunch of other kids of many cultures and colors. 

 Thursday, June 3rd started at Grant’s Farm in western St Louis, named after President and General Ulysses Grant, who at one time owned the property and kept a farm.  Early in the Twentieth Century, the Busch family acquired the ground for their family and built a country mansion, that took a full 8 hour buggy ride to reach from downtown.   Now it is a animal preserve on beautiful rolling hills, explored by tram.  It also has animal pens, exhibits, and shows, that Sis Hatfield thought were a bit cheesy.  So they were, but the grandchildren loved feeding bottles of milk to the baby goats.  Best of all, the northern part of Grant’s farm is the home of the Anheuser Busch Clydesdales.  These are impressive creatures that can be observed up close in their stalls and corrals.  The history is pretty interesting too.  The Clydesdales become icons of the Anheuser Busch enterprises when a young Busch gave his father Busch a brace of Clydesdales to celebrate the end of prohibition.  The horses delivered the first case of legal Budweiser to Pres Roosevelt in Washington, DC with great ceremony.  Okay, I may have enjoyed this more than the kids.  After naps, we took scooters to the Basilica playground, and took turns sneaking inside to see.  The mosaic tile and glass, celebrating bible scenes and some local St Louis heroes, is second to none, on any continent.  We feasted on Pappy’s Barbeque, the best around.  My family is becoming connoisseurs of smoked meats.  We finished the day with a treat for me.  Sis Hatfield had arranged for a young mother and her daughter to come babysit, and the adults went to Busch Stadium to watch the 11 time World Series champion St Louis Cardinals.  Parking and electronic tickets were a little nerve wracking, but the ballpark is a beauty, and the weather was perfect, even if it was a shame that the home team didn’t win tonight. 

 Friday, June 4th.  After the ballgame Sis Hatfield stayed up a little later decorating the kitchen so we could have a pre-birthday celebration for Millie.  RaDene baked muffins and everyone loved kissing Millie’s chubby cheeks.  Then, sadly, it was time to pack up and head out.  Abbi and Kennedy gave each other full on lip kisses in farewell.  Goodbyes are hard, but hopefully we will meet again in Provo in this same year.  To salve our loneliness, we accepted the invitation from the Bell’s to attend Dossan’s dance recital, which was awesome, and then went to Zander’s soccer game.  Afterwards, we went to Silky’s for frozen custard.  A memorable week, for sure.

Monday, June 7, 2021

23-27 May 2021 $43,000 Bill

Sunday, May 23rd.  I got myself up early to head into the office to finish my sacrament meeting talk.  When I got back to the apartment, Sis Hatfield said if I was giving a talk, I had to have my haircut first.  So we went out on the deck and she cut it.  That was the first full cut she has given me in 18 months or a little more.  Sis Hatfield hasn’t had a haircut to her satisfaction in about that same period of time, until recently, when someone in our office building recommended a short haircut specialist who did a great job.  Sadly, we decided it was best to cancel our appointments with the member who has been cutting our hair.  It is hard to take your business away from a friend.  Sis Hatfield learned from Pres Bell that our sick sister’s toxicity levels were coming down after her pill overdose yesterday.  We are all relieved.  All except the mother of the companion, who is demanding what steps be taken to help heal and protect her daughter.  She doesn’t seem to appreciate that she consulted with one of the church’s foremost missionary psychiatrists on the very afternoon of the incident, spent most of the day with Sis Hatfield processing, and has been paired since with some of our best sister missionaries since.  But is hard to be too upset with a concerned mother.  Meanwhile, an elder has had a meltdown and needs care and attention.  I knew from a couple of months ago when he was worried that there were dark forces in his apartment that he was fragile.  We had a pleasant dinner with Elders Lambson, Adams, and Aspinall, the assistants to the President, getting to know them even more personally.  We finished the eventful Sabbath with a Zoom fireside, featuring the talented church singer and songwriter Nik Day and Dallin Woodbury, a 15 year old family friend of the Bells with an amazing story of survival and resilience following a life threatening and ultimately maiming wilderness accident. 

Monday, May 24th started early with a Zoom yoga class led by Sister Driver, something we enjoy and like to support most Monday mornings.  I am almost too late already, but I finally took the time to get a St Louis vehicle emission inspection so that I could start the renewal process for my Utah licensed truck.  It was a hassle at the inspection station, and a hassle to fill out the required out of state inspection paperwork to submit to the Utah DMV. Then I went to help some elders with the mission carpet cleaner that they were struggling to use.  I always try to support missionaries that show a willingness to clean and care for their apartments.  It hadn’t been on my list of things to do, though, and I was a little frustrated that I could not also help a young family in the Pagedale Branch who were packing their U-Haul truck.  I apologized to the elders quorum president, Dan Thomas, who assured me that things went quickly and smoothly without me.  I guess I had made the right choice. 

Sis Hatfield has had her own frustrations trying to help Pres Bell standardize his missionary release letters.  He needs honorable release, medical release, personal choice release, and serious misconduct release letters, but the differences are nuanced and seem to require customization for almost every missionary anyway.  And there is a letter to the missionary and a letter to the stake president in each incidence, doubling the difficulty.  She is spending hours on the phone each day helping missionaries install an updated missionary protection software that wipes out apps and requires a long, only sometimes successful process of resetting the phone, installing the protection software, and installing other necessary missionary apps.  Even with smart, capable missionaries, the process can take a couple of hours.  We took the sick missionaries suit cases and bags we had packed for her on Saturday to the mission home tonight.  The Bells will give it to her when she is released from the hospital and sent home.  Standing in the garage passing off the bags, Pres Bell could hardly hold in his emotion as he shared a glimpse of the relentless burden he carries for the physical, spiritual, and emotional health of the missionaries, all while teaching and motivating them to do a difficult work.  He is a true and valiant soldier in the war for the souls of men and women, in and out of the church.  Back in my mundane sphere, the missionaries in the Missouri River South area have lost all power to their apartment.  I help them troubleshoot, and when the obvious fixes don’t help, call the electric utility and the apartment maintenance service for more help, and help arrange for members to keep the refrigerated food from spoiling.  By 11 pm power is restored and all is well again.  I arrive to our apartment to find a big box at our door.  It is a set of three Radio Flyer children’s scooters delivered by Amazon.  Sis Hatfield is in fine form preparing for our family reunion starting the end of the week.

Tuesday, May 25th included a trip to an apartment manager’s office to complain.  The mission has received monthly billings from the apartment’s billing service that included rent due of $43,564 for one unit, and other obvious errors.  My phone messages and emails have not been returned.  So, I decided I would pay the manager a visit in person.  Of course the bills were in error, and that was straightened out quickly.  In this day and age, no one actually looks at statements that a computer system kicks out to check for accuracy or even reasonableness.  And the billing service folks probably wouldn’t know much about what was accurate anyway.  When I came out of the office and walked across the complex parking lot, I saw some young men pushing and shoving each other, and in a few seconds, it was an all out fist fight.  The first I have seen in a while.  It was two on one, which didn’t seem fair.  But it didn’t seem wise to get into the middle of it, so I just watched and made sure it would end without serious injury, which it did.  That afternoon, I took the elders down to the Rockwood 2nd apartment to retrieve an internally leaking washer.  I was surprised when I found the leak after starting a washer load as a part of a cleaning project.  For some reason, the sisters living there had not noticed or reported the leak, which was significant.  That night, Sis Hatfield and I started some of the last work on the mission office remodel.  Sis Bell has chosen a beautiful, large canvas print illustrating a missionary companionship walking in a rural setting that looks very much like Missouri.  We took the picture to the hobby store for framing.  When it is done, it will hang on the wall behind the secretary’s desk, becoming the focal point for people coming into the office.

Wednesday, May 26th began with a trip to Dellwood Washer Supply to drop off a washer for repair.  While there, I told Mike that the widow’s broken stove I had called him about some time ago was indeed too old as he had feared and so parts would likely be impossible to find.  As an alternative, I asked him if he knew where I could get a good used stove.  To my surprise, he happened to have two in his shop.  The gas one, which Annie needed, was gleaming clean, fully refurbished, and a real bargain at $200.  I made a quick call to Pres Fingal of the Pagedale Branch, got his approval, and bought the stove.  Now I just need to get it installed, which will be a bit challenging over the next week or so.  Then we were off to Tuscola to deliver fans in support of flagging air conditioning.  We headed towards Decatur, and because cell coverage was not consistent, we stopped on the side of a cornfield so I could have a conference call with Mom and her aftercare counselor.  The elders sat by patiently as Mom and I conducted a little family business, not knowing where I would be when I set the appointment the week before.  In Decatur, we took measurements for broken blinds, took down an extra bedroom, and inventoried other needs, including a kitchen table so that the missionaries would return the table they had taken without permission from the local church building. 

On the return trip to St Louis, I got a call from Pres Melby of the mission presidency.  He wanted to know if I knew Elder and Sister Jacob, a missionary couple that the missionary department asked him to contact about extending their mission.  Did I know the Jacobs!  They are my office mates and dear friends.  He pays the mission bills and she creates convert baptism records.  We will miss them as much as anyone when this is all over.  Naturally, I agreed to call Elder Jacob and confirm his length of service intentions.  I also persuaded Elder Jacob to extend by 30 days to the end of September so that we could have time for St Louis Stake Pres Bunderson to find a replacement for the Jacobs and so they could be trained before the Jacobs departed.  I reported back to Pres Bell and Pres Melby, who liked our plan.  Pres Melby can now report to the missionary department, and Pres Bunderson can get to work on replacements.  We hustled back home so that the housing assistants could get to evening teaching appointments, and so I could join Sis Hatfield in hosting Sisters Miller, Peterson, and Abbott for dinner.  Sis Hatfield wanted to connect with Sis Abbott after her harrowing weekend, starting on Saturday morning when her companion went missing.  I’m no expert, but she does seem disconnected from her missionary work, which is to be expected, I suppose.  But she is with two bright, spirited young sisters who can hopefully pull her back on track.  After spending the evening shift at the office, Sis Hatfield and I headed to the mission home to hand off mail and supplies to Pres Bell for his delivery tomorrow as a part of his mission tour.  I was a little surprised when Pres Bell lamented that he was not Superman, trying to respond to the needs of all his missionaries, including the mother of one involved in the disappearance this weekend.  She had a list of things for Pres Bell to do to assist her missionary, only some of which are even possible, to say nothing of what is feasible.  We were happy to lend listening ears and offer support.  He is Superman in my book. 

On Thursday, May 27th I received a 7:30 am text from Pres Bell communicating an alternate plan.  The companion of the sick sister would return to her apartment tomorrow.  Pres Bell is bringing in a new sister and sending them back to their apartment in Eureka, Missouri.  Instead of having three weeks to get the apartment ready for missionaries, now I had 24 hours.  I quickly got into the office, signed and delivered two leases that needed my attention, got a contractor going at an apartment, picked up a carpet cleaner, picked up the repaired Eureka washer, and headed out there.  Lucky for me, Sis Jeanette Mahaffey of the mission presidency and her sister agreed to meet us and help with the cleaning.  I turned them loose on the kitchen and stuffed closets, which I worked more on the vomit-stained carpet and bathrooms.  We took out 12 garbage sacks full of donations for the thrift store and an equal number for the dumpster.  Missionaries have so little, they just can’t bring themselves to discard even what they don’t need.  But we are ready.  That is, the apartment is ready for the sisters to move in tomorrow.  Back at home that evening, Sis Hatfield and I worked on paring down the list of possible activities for our family reunion.  There are so many family friendly alternatives in St Louis.  Sis Hatfield has created colorful calendar pages for each day of our reunion and activity cards for us to select and post on our calendar.  It is a charming touch.