Death is an illusion

It’s my dad’s birthday today.

tom scout

Tom Meis, Boy Scout

Thomas Patrick Meis was born Dec. 9, 1925 in the upstairs bedroom of a little white house on Court Street in Marengo, Iowa.

The title of my blog might suggest that I don’t believe in death. That’s not the case.

I know death is inevitable. But most people think that death is the end of person who has passed away. To me, that’s just not true.

Memories keep those we love alive.

My dad lived a pretty good life. He had good parents who taught him well. His dad, Herman, was a grocer, and his mother, Margaret, stayed home and took care of nine children they procreated.

Tom had an older sister, Mary Margaret, and in time, they greeted seven other siblings; Bertha, Francis, Herman, Jr., Therese, John, Otto, and Virginia.

The family moved to Beloit, Wisc. when Dad was 2, and then to Cedar Rapids a year later.

Tom attended Immaculate Conception Catholic School until he graduated and made plans to attend Loras College in Dubuque. The US Armed Forces had other plans for him and he joined the US Navy.

He was lucky; World War II had just ended and he and his fellow sailors toured the Pacific in peacetime, and made their presence known, just in case there were enemy stragglers who didn’t know the war was over.

Dad returned home and attended college, majoring in English, with a minor in journalism. He married Gloria and they had two children; Tim and Robert.

Tom and Gloria had a tumultuous marriage and it ended after only a few years. They decided to split the two boys up, so Dad took Tim, and Gloria took Robert, the baby.

Dad and Tim moved in with his folks and got a job as a copywriter at Ambro Ad Agency in Cedar Rapids. That’s where he met a pretty, young, single mother named Betty Myers. Betty was a receptionist and Tom was smitten with her right away.

Betty was divorced, with three children, (Stephen, Patrick, and Susan) and lived with her mom and dad on Daniels Street.

Dad’s most famous pickup line?

“Do you like music? If you have a record player, I could bring over my Jackie Gleason records.”

It must have worked, because he and Betty were married five years later.

Tom and Betty went on to have five more children; James, Julia, Kristine, Cynthia and Thomas Michael. With nine children to feed, Tom worked a couple jobs, while Betty took a job at Collins Radio.

The growing family blended well together, until Tom was in a horrible accident in 1967 that nearly claimed his life. He hit a truck head-on and took the steering wheel in his chest, breaking all his ribs. He broke his leg and it was so damaged, he walked with a limp the rest of his life.

Tom was off work for a year and had a hard time finding a job when he was finally able. He took a job as a meat cutter at Daniel Food, where he stayed for a number of years. The family struggled financially until Tom got his big break and was hired at Quaker Oats as a security guard.

Tom retired from Quaker in 1988, the same year his mother went to join his dad, who died in 1970. (And the same year Betty’s son, Pat died in a car accident in California.)

Tom enjoyed retirement, but enjoyed it even more when Betty retired. The couple took trips they had always dreamed of; a cruise to the Bahamas and a trip to Hawaii with their friends, trips to see their many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Tom’s health began to fade after the death of his son, Tim, in 2004. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and had to be on oxygen. He passed away at home Sept. 6, 2008.

His death was hard on the entire family, but particularly Betty, who commented they would have celebrated their 50 year anniversary in 2009.

It’s hard to describe my dad because I didn’t get to know him until after he died. I found the life story he wrote a few years after he died, in a box in Mom’s storage room, and as I read it, I realized that he may have been my dad, but I never got to know the man.

He was kind and caring and generous, to a fault. He taught me that kindness matters, and to take pride in everything I do.

He wasn’t perfect, though I think I expected him to be. It took me a long time to see that he was only human.

Could I have seen that while he was alive? Probably not. Everything happens for a reason. I’m just glad I was able to finally get to know him.

Happy Birthday, Dad.






A belated Father’s Day gift

My dad was a good father. He worked hard to take care of his family. He overcame obstacles in life that might have turned an ordinary person into a cynical disaster.

My father, Tom Meis, who died in September 2008.

My father, Tom Meis, who died in September 2008.

But my dad was not ordinary. He was exceptional. And he spent his entire life proving it.

Like most fathers, my dad taught me many lessons about life. He taught me to treat others as I would like to be treated, to try to see the good in people, and to take good care of my car.

But most of all, he taught me how to love.

My dad was my hero. He was quiet, friendly, and funny. He was dedicated, loyal, and a little stubborn. He didn’t care what others thought of him, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because everyone who met him, loved him.

We didn’t have much money and life in our house was always chaotic, but my dad was a firm believer in Faith, in Hope, and in “keeping peace in the family.”

My dad always encouraged me to do my best. Whether it was being a good parent, doing my best at work, or just dealing with people, he shared his wisdom without preaching.

I inherited a few of his traits and talents, and the lessons he taught me only enhanced what was already there. His talent for writing, his compassion, his desire to help others; these are all a part of him, at the very core of who he was.

Several months ago, I wrote about a manuscript I found that belonged to my dad. The hundreds of pages aren’t in any specific order and it’s been difficult trying to make time to read it.

I later found out that the manuscript was therapy for my dad. He had his knee replaced in the ’90s and spent his hours typing up his life story. I was thrilled that I was able to find most of the pieces of this puzzle but a little ashamed that I haven’t picked it up and looked at it since.

There is always the “I’ll do it tomorrow, this weekend, next month….”

As I pulled the box out of the closet this morning, it occurred to me that the best gift I could give my father this year would be to finish what he started, to be able to show the world the hidden talent my father possessed.

The following is an excerpt from my dad’s manuscript, a scene he remembers from his childhood:

“Another sound recorded on my relatively unblemished memory was the old Jewish junk man who made frequent trips down our alley with his horse and wagon in the summertime. His horse wore an old hat with holes cut out for its ears.

Long before I could hear the creak of groaning wheels and soft clomp-clump of hooves in soft alley ashes, the warm summer air carried to me Mr. Golad’s sad, low litany of monotony:

‘Rags? Old rags,’ Old Golad intoned. ‘Rags…old rags…’

And I waited for the magnificent parade to lurch slowly past our place.

Sometimes the trio paused-horse, wagon, and Mr. Golad-and I could see both horse and human were in state of semi-siesta. The junk man comfortable in the shade of the umbrella; horse content to occasionally startle a fly with that fantastic control of its skin muscles. Until the old man clucked gently and the wagon creaked along down the alley toward 16th Street; until the warm summer air covered up his unforgettable song:

‘Rags.  Rags? Old raaa-a-a-a-ags….’

I would listen for a long time before it would evaporate into silence. Or perhaps it would simply blend with the burr of a bee and my attention would turn to this busy bug invading some unsuspecting blossom.”

This just might be the greatest gift I could ever give my father.

Well, that, and the love only a daughter could give.

A new chapter (Happy Birthday Dad)–Week 27

The end is in sight. In a week I’ll be done with finals, and with college.  I’m ready to begin a new chapter in my life.

Mount Mercy University 2010, before they took the road out

It’s the last day of my classes, but I’m thinking about my father, who died Sept. 6, 2008, while I was in my first year of college. He would have been 86 today.

Born Dec. 9, 1925, my father graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Iowa but never used it to its full potential. He left an unfinished manuscript of his life that I hope to finish someday. When I told him that I was thinking about going into journalism after I finished high school, both he and my mother told me that I should rethink it, that journalists do not make much money. (At this point, my dad was a security guard at Quaker Oats.) So I got married instead.

When my children were nearly grown, I thought that owning a restaurant was something I wanted to do, but my dad told me, “Go back to school, write.”

What caused his change of heart? Over the years, I never stopped writing. It began when I was 8 and never stopped. But I lacked the confidence to actually do anything with it. My dad gave me the encouragement I needed to go back to school and expose my writing talent.

Now look at me. Graduating and getting ready to publish a newspaper. Wow.

He would be so proud. Not only because I decided to pursue a journalism career but because I never gave up.  The times that I was at the end of my rope, he reminded me that things would get better but that I needed to keep going. I’m glad I listened to him.

My dad, Tom Meis, and my nephew, 1995

As a tribute to my father, I formed the company, Meis Communications, LLC. My father was never able to use his talents the way he wanted, so he did the next best thing; he passed it on to me. He must have known somehow I would succeed, even if he wasn’t able to. But in his eyes, I’m sure he felt that he had.

Happy Birthday, Dad. You’ll always be just a thought away.

Hiawatha Advocate