There’s a lot more to my life story than what I am about to write. The long version would fill countless pages and take more than a couple of days to write, but I think I can give readers a fair synopsis of what it’s like to be me in 1,500 or less.
I was born April 8, 1963, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Tom and Betty Meis. I was the youngest of eight kids, until my little brother came along unexpectedly two years after me, and then there were nine.
My first memory was when I was 2. We lived on 31st Street SE, a dead-end street, behind Bever Park. There was an elderly woman who lived on the corner and take a walk every day at 3 o’clock. As soon as we’d see her start walking up the street, I’d run out to walk with her. She was a nice lady and invited us to her house for cookies afterwards.
We moved in October 1965, but only a few blocks to the south. We were still close to Bever Park, where my brothers, sisters, and I spent most of our days. It had a playground with swings, slides, and a fire truck with a real firepole you could slide down. A small creek (or crick, if you’re from the Midwest) ran through the park, complete with fish and frogs, with a small waterfall at the end that emptied into a drain. A huge rock, leftover from the Glacier period (but my brother had me convinced it was a meteor) sat on the bank below the concession stand that we’d play on and dare each other to jump off.
Bever Park was home to a variety of animals, including a lion, bears, peacocks, and monkeys. As I lay in bed on hot summer nights with the windows open trying to catch a cool breeze, I could hear the roar of lion echo through the neighborhood. The peacocks joined in and added to the beautiful melody.
The park had a cement wading pool that was filled every morning with water so cold it took your breath away. The concession stand sold everything from candy buttons and taffy, to Popsicle and banana fudge bombs. The park was always packed with kids and families enjoying the summer days. But about 20 years ago, the popularity dwindled as the animals were taken away and people became busy with other things. Bever became just another park.
I met Jenny in first grade. She had about a hundred cats and there were always kittens running around. They had a willow tree in their backyard with a swing that hung off it and a cement swimming pool. She told me one time they buried their poodle in the back under the tree and I was afraid to step where it was buried.
Jenny and I had a lot of fun together and had great imaginations. One of our favorite games was pretending we were orphans and had to take care of ourselves. (I think it was because one of our favorite book series was The Boxcar Children).
Jenny moved to a farm when I was 8 and we lost touch for a few years. One day she called me out of the blue and invited me to come to their farm. Amazingly, though I had lived in Iowa for 10 years, I had never been to a farm.
I had a great time. We played with the cows and goats, and ran after the ponies in the pasture. Once in a while we caught one of the slow ones and jumped up on its back. They would buck or run into things to try to get us off, but we held on to their manes for dear life! Only once I fell off, but I got right back on.
One night when I was 11, Jenny asked me to go to an auction in Walker, a town north of Cedar Rapids. I had never been to an auction but Jenny told me how it worked. We walked up and down the stalls looking at all the horses, choosing which ones we wanted to bid on. When a scared colt came up for bidding, I felt so sorry for him. I wanted to bid on him so when the bidding started at $5, my hand went up. I looked at Jenny’s mom, who nodded and encouraged me to keep going. The farmer bidding against me must have had a soft heart because pretty soon he stopped bidding and the colt was declared mine…for $27.
I was thrilled, of course, as any horse-loving kid would be, but panic set in once I realized I still had to pay for it and figure out how to get it home. Luckily, Jenny’s mom had a soft heart, too, and told me she would pay for it and I could pay her back. We didn’t have a horse trailer, either, so it was decided that Jenny’s older brother could hold the horse still while they transported it home in their pickup. ‘
I named him Star because he reminded me of the colt in Marguerite Henry’s, Sea Star. I adored Star, and spent most of my weekends and time off school with him. He was only a year old and not trained yet. Jenny and I worked with him as he grew and the day came when I could finally ride him. I loved riding him in the huge fields and woods next to Jenny’s farm.
But, as I got older, other interests caused me to lose focus on Star and it was apparent he wasn’t getting the attention he deserved. After a lot of thought, I sold him to Jenny’s little sister.
I graduated from Kennedy High School in 1981, where I was active on the school newspaper. I met Bruce and we dated our entire senior year. We had planned on going on to college, but decided to get married instead.
July 3, 1982 was a hot and humid day. Morning showers gave way to a sticky 93-degree afternoon, but I was oblivious to it. The frosting melted on our wedding cake, my make-up ran, and my hair fell because of the humidity, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was that moment, and I was marrying the man of my dreams, my best friend. No matter what happened, we would face it together, because we could do anything as long as we were together.
That sentiment lasted about 6 years.
The year our youngest daughter was born, it was apparent our marriage wasn’t working. I filed for divorce, thinking life would be better for everyone, but the only thing I found was heartache and another child.
Two years after Sean was born, I got married again, but that too, ended in divorce. And just when I thought I would die alone, I met someone I thought would change it all.
Have you ever heard the old saying, third times a charm? Well, it’s not.
I took a good look at my life. I wasn’t happy with what I saw, but I didn’t know how to change it. In April 2005, something wonderful happened. I became a grandmother.
At that time, I was a heavy smoker, smoking two packs a day or more. I drank a lot, too. I was depressed and lonely and kind of a mess.
But having a grandchild changed it all. I wanted to be a part of my grandchildren’s lives and watch them grow up. But the way I was going, I didn’t think I would even see 50.
I made the decision to change my life. I wanted to feel better. To be better. But I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
So I took the first step on my new path and quit smoking and drinking. I went to therapy and confronted my demons. I learned how to meditate. And I wrote. A lot. I filled eight 5-subject notebooks with notes and affirmations that reminded me why I chose to undertake this massive task. Before long, I started to see the changes, not only in my life, but in myself.
I went back to college and graduated with honors from Mount Mercy University with a degree in Journalism. I started a newspaper in Hiawatha, a town north of Cedar Rapids, and though it lasted less than a year, doors began to open for me.
Along the way, I met someone who changed my life even more. He showed me that I could do anything I set my mind to and gave me the confidence I needed to keep going. And I wasn’t alone anymore, even though now I know I never really was.
I have to stop here, but there is so much more to this story, so much more to tell. But someday I will finish it … and then you’ll know the rest of the story (Thank you, Paul Harvey.)