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.