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In My Father’s Footsteps: An Introduction

“The goal isn’t to live forever. The goal is to create something that will.”

​My father was a great teacher. He taught me how to tie my shoes and how to climb a tree. He taught me the words to some of his favorite songs, and how to savor the last bite of ice cream in bottom of the bowl.

And while I am grateful for the lessons, what I cherish most, are the stories he left behind.

My dad died Sept. 6, 2008, and donated his body to the University of Iowa Hospitals, his way of paying them back for saving his life after a car accident in 1967.

He went peacefully, but unexpected, and we all grieved in our own way. I kept busy, helping my mom go through his things and decide what to give to Goodwill.

As I was cleaning the storage room out one day, I opened a box full of computer paper. As I started reading it, I realize it was his life story. He started writing it when he had his knee replaced in 1991 and became obsessed with it.

“I think it was really good therapy for him,” my mom told me later. “Unfortunately, he never finished it.”

I thumbed through the pages, stopping on a memory 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.”

As I read the words, I envisioned myself there with him, experiencing the sounds and smell of the glorious summer day. I read the next page, and the next, and before I knew it, an hour had passed.

His story was too good to just leave in a box. It needed to be shared, if only with his family.  I gathered up all the pages I could find and took them upstairs.

My mother told me my brother had more of Dad’s story, and once he brought them over, I began the task of transcribing them onto my computer, so it would be easier to share with my family.

As I typed, I read his story, and I soon realized I was experiencing my father’s life as he lived it, from his point of view; his innermost thoughts, his dreams and aspirations, and even his darkest fears. Some of the stories were familiar, but many I was reading about for the first time.

My father made a few mistakes during his lifetime, but he was honest, sincere, and genuine. And when he said he was going to do something, you could be certain he’d do it. He was a true friend to anyone who needed one.  He did his best to be a good person, and taught his children good values.

Like most children, I didn’t always appreciate my father, and suddenly it was too late. But I have been given a great gift. I was able to know my father as a man, and to appreciate him for who he was.

Chapter 1

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In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 71

I can’t imagine my dad being a bully, but I suppose it all depends on how you look at it. In the following story, Dad writes about a trick he played on a classmate. I think I would have been a little upset if someone had done what he had done, even if it was all in fun.

And while I don’t blame her for getting mad, it sounds like Dad learned a lot from that lesson. After all, they were still friends 50 years later, so she couldn’t have been that mad.

I sometimes wonder if Dad’s intentions for writing these stories was to teach his children, grandchildren, and everyone else he loved, what he learned, let us do what we want with it and maybe learn something in the process.

He was never the preachy type. Well …. mostly.

Gertrude Jacobs Kohrs is here visiting her sister, Marge Raher. I’d plumb forgotten about personalizing her mother’s chickens one Thanksgiving. But “plumb” pretty well describes the procedure while you’re depriving the bird of its vitals.

Gert reminded me, my initials grew like Topsy on the chicken’s skin, while it roasted.

Gertrude’s Upset Mother to Gertrude:  “What in the world is that supposed to be?”

I honestly thought it gave it a romantic touch. And certainly didn’t intend to make everyone at that table uncomfortable, with the feeling all through the family meal that a pair of uninvited initials was watching them eat!

A monogram Mrs. J. hadn’t ordered.

Gertie reminded me of the story–my details are going to be sketchy–about old John falling asleep on the couch and waking up to surprise a burglar. The way I heard it, he was standing behind the intruder, and asked him flat-out what he was doing in his house.

I bet the surprised guy is still thanking his lucky stars Mr. Jacobs didn’t have a gun. And he probably still jumps a mile when anyone surprises him from behind!

I hope he’s still not victimizing good people.

Did I tell you I work at this keyboard an hour, on Betty’s kitchen timer. For awhile, this IBM Junior was overheating; I didn’t know setting the terminal on top the computer proper was a no-no. So now, to keep everything go, I limit working at it to one hour.

This also gives my cells a chance to re-charge. I’ll never ever have the audacity to deny, I’m chuck full of soil rejuvenator.

Well, darn it, the alarm went off on my hour; but I’ll take time to tell about Gert absolutely losing her cool and popping me one across the face.

Reflex.

The 11th grade boys thought it was so cute to reach over to a girl classmate–arms full of books and notebooks between classes–and dump them unceremoniously on the hall floor.  Hideous laughter follows this.

Well, I misjudged, or miscalculated … I done wrong. I crooked a finger at Gert that said, “Come here, I have something to tell you.”

Well, Gert hurried over and bent an ear. And I gleefully scattered her books and papers all over the hall.

Did you know, girls don’t have to ask themselves whether or not something’s the right thing to do? They just do it!

Gert did it. And she said it: “Tommie Meis, I hate you!” Now, I’m generally a slow learned, and I don’t know which came first; the shame or the apology. But being a junior in high school is growing-up time.  And I realized, this was a kid’s trick.

Vengeance is Mine, maybe the Lord’s; but Gertrude Jacobs gave me my Comeuppance a little later. She said, “I’ve got one for you, Tom. Point to your forehead and say your initials backwards.”

“M.T.”

Haha ya’self. She got Mike Thomas with the same joke, but he didn’t have to say his initials backwards, of course. 

Ah me, Tommy.

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In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 70

“When someone you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure.”
My dad would have been 92 today.
And in honor of his birthday, my family and I are dedicating this chapter to honor him. I have asked them to share their favorite memories, starting with my brother, Jamie, my mom, Betty, my sister Kris, and then my daughters, Lori, Holly, and Caryn.
Born Dec. 9, 1925 to Margaret and Herman Meis, Thomas Patrick was born at home, in the upstairs bedroom of a house on Court Street in Marengo, Iowa. He was a bouncing baby, weighing in at over 10 pounds.
Being a mother myself, I can’t imagine, first, having that big of a baby, and second, delivering him at home! After I learned this bit of trivia, I gained a new respect for Margaret. I knew she was a strong woman, but this proves it. (She went on to have seven more children, too!)

Family is Everything – By Jim Meis

This composition is my time machine, and I’m grateful to Cindy for all her love and hard work to make this story possible. To honor the anniversary of his birth, I will share just a couple of my treasured memories. Never knew anyone with a greater joy for life. He always encouraged those he loved.
After a tough day in 3rd grade, I complained that no one liked me. Trying to cheer me up, he said,  “That can’t be true! Not everyone has met you.”
The only regret that he ever shared with me, was that he wished he could have served The Church in a greater capacity. He loved The Church.
The two of us explored Seattle in 1996, a city he had missed since 1945. As soon as we had arrived, he found a phone book and looked up a girlfriend’s number. It startled me that he found it , and I was flooded with relief that it had been recently disconnected.
We traveled together on many occasions, and he was fun because he saw everything in a different scope than most.
Dad never actually said it, but he taught me something very important about life. “You HAVE to love your family.” We’re still trying, Taj.
Adventures with Tom – By Betty Meis
Tom and I attended I.C.’s all-classes reunion, and he saw John Grady, an old friend of his, and his wife, Pat. John and Pat went on and on about their travels and suggested Tom and I join them on their trip to Hawaii. That was a lot of fun. We got to go to a luau and take tours. While we were there, they started talking about their next trip; a cruise to the Bahamas. That was a lot of fun, too. We had a chance to go off the ship and explore the islands a little.  I doubt we would have gone if it hadn’t been for the Grady’s though. Tom liked adventure.
Fun with Dad – By Kris Smith
When we were little, Dad would say our prayers with us before bed…..but he wouldn’t say the ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ prayer like regular people….he would say it with jazz and add a beat to it. He loved to make us laugh.
Another memory I have is when Dad would take us to Bever Park after it snowed, to the tennis courts, and play the Fox and the Hound. I miss him.
Grandpa, the Hero – By Lori Angsouvan
I was about 7 or 8 and my sister, Caryn, and I were at my grandma and grandpa’s. We were bored and walked up to HandiMart to buy some chalk so we could draw on the sidewalk. On the way home, some older kids started harassing us, saying we stole the chalk.
We ran crying to Grandpa and told him what happened. He called up to HandiMart and make sure we really did buy it, and they said, “Oh, yeah, we remember them. They bought some chalk.”  It’s not that he didn’t believe us. I think it was his way of trying to make us feel better, but I was a little embarrassed that we went crying to him.
Dad’s Help in Making a Dream Come True – By Cindy Petersen
 I bought a horse when I was 11. I went to a horse auction with a friend’s family who lived on a farm, and I bid on a young colt, mostly for fun. (Imagine my surprise when the auctioneer claimed I was the winning bid!) My friend’s mom paid the $27 and we managed to get Star to his new home.
There were no cell phones back then, so I couldn’t call to ask if it was okay to buy the horse. I figured my parents would be able to see that I got an awesome deal; I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by. They did, eventually, and soon they were helping me take care of him.
Though I had to do most of the work (shoveling manure, grooming, etc.), Mom and Dad took time out of their day to drive me out to the Thompson’s farm on County Home Road every weekend and every Wednesday after school, and I couldn’t have done it without them. Dad would pick me up from Johnson Elementary and drive out to get mom at Collins, and then we’d go on to the farm.
One of my favorite memories about this experience, is the fact that Dad always brought me a snack to eat after school; a piece of cake, crackers, fruit, or something that would get me by until dinner. I’m not sure why I remember that part of it so vividly; maybe because it showed me that he really put some thought into it.
This is my favorite picture of him. Dad carrying a boom box.-Tom M. Meis
Grandpa Had a Sweet Tooth – By Caryn Wellendorf
One of my favorite memories is
coming to Grandma and Grandpa’s because Grandpa would ALWAYS have candy in his tin and he’d open it up and let us help ourselves.
Another great memory I have is when my son, Thomas, was a baby. When Grandpa would hold him and he’d get fussy, he’d sing, “Bye, Bye the baby” to him to calm him down.
Grandpa Loved to Look for Deer – By Holly Hartkemeyer

One of the best memories I have of Grandpa is going to look for deer and turkeys with him and Grandma. He’d get so excited when he saw them!

Tom Through the Years

In My Father’s Footsteps; Chapter 69

Gary Herman

“The mystery of life isn’t a problem to be solved, but a reality to experience.” – Frank Herbert

I remember meeting my dad’s friend, Gary Herman, and his wife, Norma that day they came to our apartment at Cedarwood Hills. And I remember Gary coming over to talk to Dad several times after she left. Dad must have told me what was going on, because the following story sounds familiar, although some of the details are sketchy.

The thought that went through my mind, even then was, first of all, what kind of person would trick another person into marrying them, and second, disappear after things go sour? I think I just answered my second question with my first.

Gary seemed like a genuinely nice guy. He and his wife seemed to get along fine. But when Dad told me about how jealous the guy was, I had to wonder if it was because he loved her so much, or that he didn’t trust her.  Maybe both.

And though Gary appeared a little slow (after reading Dad’s stories, I understand now), he really liked Dad and respected him. I could tell by the way Gary leaned forward when he was talking to him, hanging on Dad’s every word.  He was respectful to everyone when he visited, too, which to me, says a lot about a person.

Gary met his wife, Norma, in Cost Rica. Gary told me it wasn’t uncommon for large destitute families to send teenage children into homes of well-off Costa Ricans to work for room and board. Girls-apparently an accepted condition-became virtual love slaves, subject to every whim of their benefactor.

When Norma learned of Gary’s condition, she took off with his son, Dallas. My gut guess is this; when the blockbuster hit, and she was told her immediate future was widowhood with small child before the age of 21, and a shaky grasp of the language, Norma plain panicked at being cast adrift.

I suspect she entertained certain predispositions to male admiration, being a lovely child in the first place, and born into Costa Rican poverty; both strong and motivating forces, in any society.

I suspect, too, that Gary was an exacting husband. I’m speculating when I suggest he felt Norma Herman beholden to him, for rescuing her to America teaching her the language and helping her find a job at General Mills. But that’s more than likely.

Being best friends doesn’t give me the right to criticize, I know; but I can see both sides. She, vulnerable, and him, with tendencies to tyranny.

The day he brought his new wife to meet us at our Cedarwood Hills apartment on the NE side of town, off 380, Norma was so anxious to please Gary’s friends, she softly reached over and laid her hand on my knee, looking into my eyes with real affection.

I looked quickly at Gary, uncertain what the new husband’s reaction would be; he made no response whatsoever.

he must have explained American men to her when they were alone, though, because no more pleasantly shocking experiences were ever forthcoming.

I can’t remember her boyfriend’s name, but thought what a crummy trick to play on a terminal husband, even a super-strict one. It may have been Gary’s jealous nature that made him suspicious of her; all those hours of all those days of all those weeks, he lay helpless.

He was a fighter.

Gary exhausted every avenue to physical salvation; Mercy and St. Luke’s hospitals, University of Iowa hospitals and Vet’s hospital in Iowa City. Somehow he even set up surgery at the hands of a specialist in Hartford , Connecticut.

Always a God-fearing man, Gary Herman described the peace he experienced when a black lady read passages from the Bible and prayed over him before surgery, she and a black attendant, I believe. And my friend recounted a dream during the hospital stay back East, filled with spiritual symbolism, in which he was afloat in a raging sea with many barrels.

His Norma and their small son, Dallas, were safe in barrels, Gary related, and Jesus the safe harbor, was the overpowering presence in the dream. I was so happy knowing Gary found solace in the Savior; never dreaming, or even hoping against hope, of the events that were to take place in his life and the lives of those he loves.

Because it was obvious during my infrequent visits to Americana nursing home, that my friend’s condition was deteriorating, my prayers became more urgent, leaning toward a miracle or, God Love him, a peaceful departure.

Gary and I are both born-again Christians. And I really and truly want to believe the age of miracles is still with us; unfortunately, my faith stands at the door and hopes for the best.

As if a jaded old fart the Lord took pity on and hauled in by the scruff isn’t proof enough of the modern miracle!

Well, Gary’s sisters and mom, Emma, took turns sitting with the dying boy; I think the cost for a special nurse around the clock was prohibitive. One day I visited his room, dreading, because it was all downhill now.

“Well, my dear friend,” I said to myself, standing at the foot of his bed, looking at the motionless form. “This is probably the last time I will see you alive. I pray that Jesus welcomes you with open arms.”

I watched the obituaries. Nothing. A week passed; still nothing. So I dropped in at Americana, expecting to find an empty bed. I was greeted by a smiling Bohemie who informed me, “I had a miracle.”

He had paralysis in one arm; I can’t whether it was the original problem at Wilson & Co. This bad arm still persists to some degree. He lives at a home for Vietnamese in Arizona; how he swung that improbable hostel, only Gary can tell.

Probably simple economics!

The miracle most likely occurred when Ruth Redman and Sally Satler,  two Holy women from the Cedar Rapids Deanery, accompanied Father Joe Heineman, himself an object of God’s healing, to pray over the semi-conscious man.

Sad to say, I wasn’t witness to their prayers; but having been there before, all three of these Christians, so devoted to Jesus, so humble, so loving, probably laid healing hands on his head–in the afflicted area–and asked God to render the growth harmless.

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

“So be it.”

And I would guess, Father Heineman anointed all of his faculties, Gary’s eyes and ears and tongue and hands and feet and I don’t know; I’m just guessing.

So I spent a considerable part of the next six weeks about six inches off the ground, praising God for miracles. And especially for Gary’s miracle.

Unfortunately, Gary’s celebration suffered under the weight of his wife and little boy’s disappearance from the face of the earth. I think he forgot to be grateful for his life. He may have forgotten to turn the new lease over to God’s will.

I’m afraid ingratitude may have a downer effect on a person’s complete healing. Another of Gary’s defects, a too-eager penchant for suing people–doctors, hospitals, staff–who were, no doubt, responsible for helping him to survive to the threshold of the miracle!

Somehow, forgiveness must enter into the joy of the miracle; bitterness stems the flow of God’s healing love, isolating itself in a kind of abscess.

So, this is where our friendship stands at the moment, It has meant much; even the generous payment for the things Gary Herman has asked me to write down. I still think he could have prepared them himself; I merely put them down, like a court stenographer or a personal secretary. 

But he’ll never be convinced that it wasn’t my writing skills and dedication during those long hours toward dawn, that kept him out of the slammer. He still wants me to write his story, and it’s a Lulu! I still might do it, if I get hungry enough.

It is so incredibly incredulous, so help me, I must subscribe to the absolute certainty, at the onset, of having been privy to the reveries of this Soldier of Fortune. They appear, to me, at least, to swing to and fro between reality and fantasy. With a type of Twilight Zone, a marshalling yard, if you will, in between. 

It was my fault, as much as Gary’s. As I’ve alluded, my shorthand is a grab and a scribble. Now, slow it down; because I have to squint, unsure of what I’ve written. Gary’s problem was his insistence on recording every little thing running through his mind concerning an incident, my trying to keep up with it.

Things took a beautiful upsweep when I finally got through to the big lug. Such directions as: It’s important to you, Gary, but it doesn’t build our case.” Or, “We simply can’t go into that sort of nit-picking detail. We’ll lose it because we lost the listener.

“Gary. I know you want them to know these facts, but if we attempt to include all of the day-by-day developments, we’ll still be sitting here this time next year.”

For example, one of his complaints was that Immigration’s charge of his making a false (written) statement was one that should have been made by his Costa Rican wife! But it’s difficult to convince a man whose very freedom the next 20 years is on the line, that what he is saying isn’t important to the case.

My mind was a mish-mash of facts, of charges, and of counter-charges. And overlaying the confusion was Gary’s statement that the wedding ceremony itself was a farce. He maintains he was drugged. and when the fog lifted, he was a married man.

So the real culprit wasn’t Yogi, it was the wife conspiring to use Papa Bear’s citizenship to enter the promised land. Need I tell you the next episode? 

Once here, Esmerelda dropped daddy like a hot patootie. In fact, the scenario included an injunction preventing Gary Herman from attempting to talk to our newest citizen!

Sure, Tom. Once upon a time., they loved happily ever after. Tell me another story, daddy.”

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In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 68

 

“To get something you never got, you have to do something you never did.”

I never asked my dad why he drank. Maybe I did and I just don’t remember. I do recall thinking it was a horrible thing for my dad to do ; to drink until he passed out, every weekend and on the holidays. It’s no wonder I felt like I didn’t know him. He wasn’t what I would call “present.”

I drank my first beer with a friend of mine when I was 11. We swiped it from the fridge and took turns chugging it. I remember feeling a little dizzy, but nothing more. Of course, we compared notes, and waited for the drunk feeling everyone talked about, but it didn’t happen. We both agreed it tasted horrible.

My brother, Tim, bought my first pint of vodka when I was 14. It was my birthday and I had a few friends spend the night. I don’t think anyone got drunk really, but I felt a little ashamed when my mom came home and found us still awake and outside causing trouble at one in the morning.

It’s true what they say; alcoholism runs in the family. And though not everyone in the family is stuck with the gene, everyone is affected by it.

I was confused about my feelings for my dad for a long time. I loved him, but I was angry at him because I thought he could control his drinking. Now, having been down that same path, I know it’s not that easy.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. I decided I didn’t want to die an alcoholic and made the decision to change my life. I stopped drinking and did what I had to do to resolve the pain I held onto for so long.

And though I sometimes wondered why my dad couldn’t quit, I’ve accepted that it doesn’t really matter; he did the best he could. And that’s all anyone should expect from their fathers.

I’ve written about my first recollection of drinking right after Prohibition was abolished. Dad and Tom McGiverin drove downtown with me int he back seat and double-parked in front of a Pabst Blue Ribbon tavern on First Street by the river. I remember they ran into the newly legalized grog shop like a couple of kids.

I experienced, somehow, a feeling of guilt about being there. Maybe it was my first subconscious warning that I was an alcoholic. I don’t know. 

But at 4 or 5 years old? 

It’s pretty far-fetched. Maybe Mom lighting into Grampa Clems when he came home snockered, the night she was expecting company, made me afraid of it. Or maybe perhaps I remembered Dad worried about Tom McGiverin buying bootleg 100-proof by the gallon.

Can’t especially remember the first time I drank. It may have been int he basement of 520, Meis Food. Taking a warm brown bottle of Meister Brau–Chicago beer, wasn’t it?–and popping the cap on a rusty nail.

By the way, before the Holy Spirit urged me to shape up for eternity, I’d been introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous. So I knew what to do to bring Demon Rum to heel; I was just loathe to turn my problems “Over to the will of God as I understood Him.” 

But the periods of staying sober coinciding with singing God’s praises rise to an understanding that is beyond description.

You have to experience that Love personally. If you’re open to it, and if you ask Him to be a part of your life and your family’s life and your friend’s lives, He will.

And you’ll know it in your soul; He is the I Am.

But as much as God has changed the course of my life, I am ashamed of how I have let alcohol affect my life. I’m ashamed of the drinking, the way it robbed me of times, like holidays with my family. the way it controlled me, an obstinate person who resented anyone or anything trying to make me the subject of their will and tell me what to do. 

But, if things seem to be going wrong in your life, whether it’s alcohol or some other irresistible fascination, help is available in programs like A.A. And Jesus is waiting in the wings, no matter how long you have ignored Him, or how often you have offended Him.

I know.

He’s had his arm around me. 

I don’t remember going batty over bourbon until I was in my 20s. Of, I used to hide a Picnic of beer — that’s roughly two liter, or maybe a Texas Fifth — in the trash outside the walk-in cooler, then empty the trash.

And come back later and retrieve it, and draining it. Honestly, I don’t remember drinking it; probably a psychological hangup because I hadn’t paid for it. Certainly not because I was a minor!

I was married and divorced before I realized alcohol wasn’t an aphrodisiac! I told Betty about my idea and she said, “Save your money. That doesn’t turn girls on!”

Another of Meis’s pet theories blown out of the water …

So, it impairs judgement, but what do I know about judgement? That’s never been one of my strong points. 

Chapter 69

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In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 67

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.”

I stopped by Immaculate Conception this evening for its open house. They recently completed renovations on the 103-year-old church. A parishioner told me the roof was replaced, the carpet was torn up, the plaster was redone, the pews were sent out to be refinished, and the lighting and sound system was overhauled.

It looked really good; a lot like I remembered it. Only it is now a lot brighter. The stained glass windows and the paintings on the walls looked like they had been redone, too, but maybe just retouched.

A brochure handed out by the volunteers told the story of how the church was built and designed in 1914, after moving from its original location on 3rd Avenue and 7th Street SE. (It is now located on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 10th Street SE in Cedar Rapids.)

Emmanuel L. Masqueray, a French Architect from St. Paul, Minnesota, designed the building, while Angelo Gherardi designed the interior.

“The Stations of the Cross, positioned all around the nave, are original designs made by Gherardi. The designs were executed on canvas in colors blending with the walls; the Stations portray the Passion and the death of Christ.

“The mural on the ceiling of the sanctuary is a depiction of God the Father against a blue deep background, filled with sparkling stars of all sizes.

“The stain-glass windows, secured by Monsignor John Toomey, adorn the church on every side, representing stories from the Bible, Mysteries of the Rosary, various Saints, and of course, the Immaculate Conception.”

Dad loved that church and as we have read, many memories surrounding it. It’s a blessing that so many people call it home, even by those who haven’t visited in a while.

I think it was a bad judgement call to beg Mom to let me begin Kindergarten when I was only 4 1/2. But I was sincerely anxious to get on with it. Unfortunately, my thinking exposed an embarrassing gap when it failed to counter with:

“Get on with what?”

So, I tell people I flunked First Grade and it was all downhill from there. Not true. A full year of review can’t help but bring everything into focus. I realized a magnificent  lift of self-confidence, that no mail-order quick fix could ever guarantee!

But I’m sincere when I say, somewhere along the line between the Input -the lectures and the reading assignments-and the Memory mechanism-the storing and the retrieving-I had some crossed wiring in my learning process.

It was embarrassing. And it was discouraging. Because those earlier years everything seemed so logical and clear as I listened; only to receive back my grades and to find out I wasn’t hearing it right. Or storing it correctly. Or possibly, not understanding the question …

I often justified those poor performances with excuses like, “I think my teachers are trying to trick me.”

Later on, of course, I gave the impression of being a lazy student, who only wanted to entertain the class. My confidence waned all the way to the wind-down; I just wanted to get it over with.

I also tried to compensate by being nice.

But the reference to being nice, is in the position of being a whisper away from sarcasm. I don’t mean to suggest a person be themselves and be rude to everyone who doesn’t take their coffee black.

What I mean is to treat others as you would like to be treated, and if they still want to be asses, just chalk it up to experience. What’s that saying? An eye for an eye makes everyone blind …. 

People won’t always be nice, but you can’t let it make you cynical. I learned that as a kid; another throwback from the store days. I was taught to be kind and courteous to the customers, no matter how nasty they were. And believe me, some of the customers were not nice. Some were downright mean. I think they came in to the store just to torment me.

It became a challenge. How nice can I be to them before I drive them crazy?

Jesus taught us about kindness. And maybe it didn’t hurt that Mom and Dad had good hearts, which they passed along to their kids and their kids and so on. ‘Course you’re gonna have one or two bad apples, but it doesn’t mean you abandon ’em. You just love them and hope they follow your example.

Chapter 68

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In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 66

“A beautiful life does not just happen; it is built daily by prayer, humility, sacrifice, and hard work.”

Long before I started school at Mount Mercy University (formerly, college), I rode with my dad up to see the sisters at the Sacred Heart Convent, where a group of retired sisters lived. The convent was located behind the college, and my dad dropped me off at the gym, where they had balls and bicycles and jump ropes, which he said I could play with while he talked with Sister Mary Raymond, an old music teacher of his.

Little did I know I would be attending the college there one day.

I understand how my dad felt when he wrote that he felt a closeness to the nuns at Mount Mercy. Although I only met a few of the sisters and the residing priest when I attended Mount Mercy, I felt a closeness to them, and felt we shared something special, being Catholic and all. And even though I don’t practice Catholicism today, I think I will always feel that way.

Some of my memories have distinct smells.

I remember the smell of the Lilies of the Valley beside the house. The aroma of the cedar chips from the furniture factory across the tracks. The Sulphur odor of chemical barrels stacked for shipment beside Shores-Mueller.  The smell of sawdust on the floor of Dad’s Central Park Meat Market.

I’ve described the funky good earth aroma of the trenches carved across the parking in front of our house. We used to crawl through the sections of sewer tile scattered along, waiting to be lowered into the clay cavern.

Gail Lightner lived across the street. Her dad was the contractor on the beautiful Grotto nestled on the north slope, at the foot of Mound Farm. I was still fairly fresh when I heard my folks talk about the nuns going to sue the builders. I was too young to understand the story even if I’d heard it. But I know I felt guilty just in knowing our big shot neighbor and feeling a special kinship with the Sisters of Mercy.

Only vestiges remain of that ornate place to meditate. The grotto lay between the Old Green Mansion and the main building with its domed cupola; the former long gone; the latter a landmark, with its slight elevation.

I think May at the Mound was my favorite season there; maybe it was because it was Mary’s one of two months of remembrance; the other being October. Or maybe the Violets and Lilies of the Valley and apple blossoms from the orchard, always adorning the Blessed Mother’s figure in the classrooms at St. Matthew’s, made me smile.

One of my teachers would weave a little crown of the little lilies, to make Mary truly queen of the May. I remember, too, the scads of Bridle Wreath near the bottom of the northeast slope. Like the stately Hollyhock, I couldn’t figure out why the beautiful and delicate Bridle Wreath didn’t flaunt a fragrance to match.

What do Lilies have going for them that these sniffless flowers don’t?

There are times I think too much about the little things, I know. But if I don’t ask these questions, how will I learn anything? It’s in these pondering moments when I can truly see the magnificence of our Father come to life.

Many times during my life  I took myself too seriously and ended up wallowing in a pool of self-pity. And as you know, I don’t swim very well.

So when Dad asked, “Thomas, did I drop you on your head?” I laughed. But do you suppose the good man was trying to tell me something?

Call it Confession Time or “leveling of the progeny;” doesn’t matter, just give it a name.  Gentle people call it, “Not playing with a full deck.” (No wonder I used to lose every hand of Go Fish!)

If I were a writer examining my life, with its several soft spots, he would probably conclude something like this:

“The kid has definitely used a few words where the G is silent.”

(What else is gnu?)

Chapter 67

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In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 65

“There is always something to be grateful for.”

With all the bad luck my dad and mom had throughout the years, I sometimes wondered how Dad could be so positive about life.

And now I know why.

I might have said this before in an earlier post, but my dad found the secret to living  a happy life.

People talk about the “pursuit of happiness,” and, honestly, who doesn’t want to be happy? That’s the goal of everyone on this planet. But most people look for it in all the wrong places. It can’t be found in possessions or people. Happiness is a choice. And it comes in the form of gratitude.

And as we all know, you can’t be grateful and miserable at the same time. It’s just not possible.

My dad chose to be happy because he practiced gratitude on a daily basis. He knew there was always something to be grateful for, which is a good lesson for all of us.

You caught me between thoughts. I’ve exhausted the subject of Father Rowan, wondering, where do I go from there? And it occurred to me, why not list all the things I love about life.

Stuff that turns me off will have to wait until I hit a dry spell!

First of all, I’m in love with life. 

In fact, I’m practically ecstatic about surviving to old age. I love my wife most of all. Maybe it’s because Betty still plays coquette, keeping love elusively out of reach.

“Old Man! You must be out of your cotton-pickin’ mind! You’ll die!”

Any wonder I worship the ground?

Then, of course, I love our sons and daughters and their wives and husbands and their children. 

And the pebble in the pool pushes the unbroken ring of love ever outward to embrace mein brothers and sisters and their families, our parents, and all those fantastic ancestors who lives carried them forward to us. From creation. Through the centuries.

Creation reminded me, I left out God. And all other friends who stood by me through thick and thin; Sweethearts and pals. School. Jobs. Church. AA. Theater.

This morning, Father White said, “It’s easy to be thankful. The hard part is to say ‘Thank you’.”

I am grateful.

And I love people.

I also love music. It’s been with me all my life. Part of the attraction, I’m sure, is the instant flashback to a particular time in my life, even when someone only hums a few bars. Picking one out of the middle, “You Keep Coming Back Like a Song,” comes back periodically. I like it because I know all the words. And I can’t help but return to the high school years, when I hung around the ice cream shop on First Avenue, same block as the Times Theater. 

I love to laugh and enjoy making people laugh. But not everyone appreciates my sense of humor.  

My brother, Ben, has dedicated the rest of his life to two things: showering perfect love on his wife, Bonnie; and weaning his brother, Tom, away from a Lose-Lose situation. Which is, hopeless fixation with unfunny puns.

Example: I think this joke could rise to the crest of national acceptance, given the proper media exposure, etc.

Game Captain: Men, it’s fourth down. Anyone have a suggestion?

Meis: Fourth down? Pun!

Dad didn’t think so, either, and told me one time not to tell people I got my sense of humor from him. “Son, I don’t think you’re a bit funny…”

You probably don’t remember when Dan Kruidenier was Chief of Police. But I’m sure you do remember that our dad was death on pointed things; weapons, dangerous toys … anything that could put your eye put. Gives me pause, to wonder why he would put out good money for all those fire crackers and other fireworks, when Mary and I were little.

Well, those two interests clashed violently one summer above 17th Street on E Avenue. The police chief’s son, Bastian, took an arrow in the eye, and Herman’s warning became an object lesson. 

Dad’s fears compassed sling shots, BB guns, swords, pointed sticks, bow and arrows, rocks, pocket knives, spears, and those porous reeds that grew tall beside Stinky Crick.

I told you a little about how Dad lost his eye and the history of his glass eye. And forgive me if I am repeating the same old tale, but one night, Dad thought he’d have some fun with me.

He’d taken the artificial eye out; then he moved his teeth and placed them in another cup. The, he turned, like some horrible, grinning, toothless cyclops, and went “Blather! Blather! Blather!” right in my face.

It cured me, for all time, of making Herman Ant’ny feel uncomfortable having some snot-nose staring at the privacy of a father taking his face apart before hitting the sack., and plunking a pretty substantial part of it in a couple of cups!

I really loved the guy, like we all did, and the loss of his eye-though long gone by the time I remember, was a source of personal loss to each of us kids.

God, he had those terrible headaches. Migraines, so bad they made him groan. He’d stifle it an impatient groan, as if to say, “good God, isn’t it enough to lose an eye?”

A fella from German came every year or so Dad could order extra eyes, in case he dropped and broke one. He’d measure, to see if there was a change in the size of the socket. I think he did great to match the color of the good eye, too. 

Maybe the headaches came when an eye didn’t fit so well, because I don’t recall headaches sending him to bed in the later years. Unless, they were the reason for his famous afternoon naps.

Nothing punny about that ….

Chapter 66

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