I have so many journal entries lamenting my abilities as house manager. I encountered challenges completely new to me. First there was group cohesion to think about. Although every single sister was wonderful and was dedicated to giving her all, we had glaring differences. One sister had only brothers, one had only sisters (so they were companions of course). One was the youngest in her family, a couple of sisters were the oldest in their families; one sister had lived away from home for years, and others were very homesick living away from home for the first time. We had sisters who came with special health needs and a sister who developed a serious health problem during our service. The main thing aside from the gospel that we all had in common was our involvement in music and theater. So the stage was set for infusing the ordinary with an extra measure of drama.
The other main challenges to my job as house manager were smaller, furrier, big-eared and long-tailed. The David Yearsley home sat next to a huge, open field. So naturally, we were in a full-on raging war with mice from the minute we set foot in the place.
Because we had a rodent problem, our rules for cleanliness in the Yearsley home had to be strict and precisely followed. We had mice trying to live in our clothing, eat our food and surprise us in the restroom. That’s not the kind of surprise most sisters enjoyed.
As house manager, I tried a few tactics to combat the mice. I bought a sound machine that was supposed to put out a frequency to drive the mice far from the house. Instead, I think the mice had a nightly dance party to the sound. We tried to keep crumbs swept, our garbage tied up and our laundry un-smellable. A very unsettled sister started ranting about a mouse-sighting one night. I was fed up with the little invaders. I dressed up as a mice-fighting superhero, sporting a spontaneous costume of headache-gel-mask, flyswatter, gloves and a scarf, and tried to intimidate the critters as I ran around up and down the stairs and in and out of rooms. I really showed them who was boss.
We had to be very vigilant about cleanliness, particularly with food, in order to avoid disease and a constant gross-out factor. We had spaces allotted for each companionship’s goods in the kitchen cupboards, and everyone was supposed to keep her food well contained in either that space or our one small fridge. (There really was only one fridge for eight sisters. And we only got to shop once a week. On the same day. Not exactly a pioneer hardship, but nearly.)
My companion and I had the only lower cupboard space, so we knew that hoards of the lazier mice would try to snack on our Mini-Wheats. One mouse kept breaking into our cracker box, so we finally taped it shut at night to be safe. In the morning, we woke up and went to our cupboard, eager to gloat and glory in our victory. What did we find? A personal message from the little guy! He left his droppings squarely on top of our securely taped box. It’s hard to say who won that battle.
These fractious conditions set the stage for one of the most difficult experiences I had as house manager. Because of busy mission work and P-days spent seeing the historic sites, we had reached a point where the house was more than untidy. All of us had food out of place in the kitchen. The whole house was turning into a clutter swamp and there could be no more. On the morning of the following preparation day I announced we’d have a group clean-up.
I ran around to every room and requested with the subtlety of an alarm clock that everyone needed to come, now, to the kitchen and clean. After a few minutes most everyone had gathered and sisters began straightening and wiping and eliminating. Progress! I was washing dishes vigorously when to my dismay, I suddenly noticed that one of the sisters was not cleaning. She was sitting, sitting, in the living room. Didn’t she hear me say it was time to clean? Didn’t she know that we were waiting on her to remove her stuff from the cupboard counter?! How could she sit calmly in the eye of this disinfecting whirlwind and do nothing?! I took a deep breath.
“Sister Miles,” I sweetly called. “We’re having a group cleanup, just letting you know.” I felt it my duty to gently correct her. After all it was my responsibility to lead, especially in situations like this!
“OK, thanks for letting me know,” she said with a dismissive lilt, not making eye contact. I tried not to react. I washed more dishes. I watched peripherally as sisters came and went with clutter from their rooms, organized their cupboards and pulled moldy cauliflower from the fridge drawer.
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