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





In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 85


I found another story my dad wrote in 9th grade, which would have been in about 1939.

It must have been an assignment because there are little notes in the margins and some words have been crossed out and replaced with corrected spellings, ect…

I was amazed at how he must have really thought about what he was writing; the thought pattern he took to make his point was well beyond his years. “What the American Flag Means to Me,” reads like it was written by someone much older and wiser.

Reading his essay makes me think about my own views on our flag, and our country, in general.  Looking at this time in history, what he must have felt as he was writing this; it makes me a bit sad to think so many people have seem to forgotten what the American Flag stands for.

What the American Flag Means to Me
By Thomas P. Meis

By defining the phrase, “What the American Flag Means to Me,” I am not going to relate its glorious history of the past. Every red-blooded American knows that. Nor am I going to tell its adventures in reference to past wars or our fortunate evasion of the present foreign conflict. The former os the past. The latter is nothing in which we should interfere.
Every American flag, which has seven red stripes and six white ones, and 48 stars on a field of blue, represents liberty, equality, and justice; honors respected by the American government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
But something is there is the flag of the free that is not quoted in the government manuscripts or speeches. It need not be there. It cannot be there, because every individual American carries it within his heart. It is love-love of the flag that flies from the vast dome of our Capitol, to the humblest outpost of American civilization. Every American citizen cherishes this love that death itself cannot part.
The dearest spot on the American flag is the 29th star. It represents Iowa, a state wealthy in agriculture. It is the “corn state.” Patriotic groups of renown have found their way to her heart.
Yes, I love the American flag and the country it so proudly waves over. One Nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all, who love the “land of the free,” and the “home of the brave.”


In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 84

Tom, Jody, Mary and Ben

My Aunt Jody passed away  Feb. 21. Her health had declined that last few years, and at 88 years old, she was finally called home. No doubt she was greeted by her loved ones, who had already passed; her husband Jack, her mother and father, and big brothers, James and Tom, and sister Mary and her husband Arthur, and her little brothers, Ben and Fran, among others.

I have so many fond memories of my aunt; the way her eyes sparkled, her beautiful smile, her hugs (which told you she was genuinely happy to see you), and the immense love she had for her family.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are connected to the family reunions we attended at their house in Rock Island. Jody and Jack opened their home to us all and always made us feel welcome. And there was so much for a kid to do! (It probably helped that she had 11 children of her own!)  These are memories that will stay in my heart forever.

As I was working on my dad’s book, I came across a passage in which he wrote about the day Bertha Joan (Jody) was born:

“The day my sister Bertha Joan was born was a red-letter day at 1620 E. Jody was born at home and I knew something big was happening, too big to take time to explain to a kid what the doctor AND gramma AND mama were so engrossed inside the house behind the drawn drapes.

So, I just fooled around on the sidewalk in front of the house waiting for word of whatever it was taking place. Finally, after waiting for what seemed like endless hours, Grandma Larson called me up on the porch. “Tom,” she said. “Go tell your sister, Mary, she has a new baby sister.”

I didn’t need to know anymore. I took off up the street, as fast as fat legs can preamble, over the railroad tracks, past Iowa Manufacturing, to the foot of Mound Farm where Mary’s friends lived.  Finally, after I stopped wheezing and began to make sense, we all headed home to welcome Bertha Joan.”


In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 83

The following is a story my dad wrote in school. It doesn’t say how old he was, but if I had to venture a guess (telling by his neat handwriting), I would have to say he was in junior high or early high school.

I was intrigued by the title, and as I went on to read it, I realized he never finished it, although he had what I would consider a very good start. He has a folder full of stories; some of them I can read, and some I can’t. But my mother, who is good at deciphering Dad’s handwriting, said she would help me read it.

I noticed his handwriting became worse as he got older. I’m so glad he had the good sense to type his life story. I can say that, because mine can be just as bad.

I Never Was A Boy
By Thomas Patrick

I’m a case – no kidding. When I should be completely satisfied with life, I go around day after day moonin’ like a sick calf. Some people might call it a complex, I mean, the “abused” attitude I take toward things; but no matter how old I live to be, I’ll always feel lonely.

I was born a Catholic of parents with good blood and was always treated with love and gentle care by them. I had a happy childhood, for the most part, but there were times when I had to stop, scratch my head, and really think about things.

When I was but 4 years old, death took my only playmate, a little neighbor boy, who had eaten some bread and milk from the feeding dish of “Rex,” the family dog. As I reflect back on the incident, I think about how unmoved and unconcerned I was toward the tragedy. I acted as a dog on the death of a fellow dog, quite puzzled by his silence and unmoving form; yet, interested enough for him to wake up and live.

So, I ventured across the alley to find another playmate, who was quite wicked in his vocabulary for such a tender age. The reason for this being a careless father, who used whatever form of profanity he desired, and didn’t care who heard him.

I think when we are little, we tend to see the world as it is, without discrimination, and take it as it comes.  It’s when we begin to grow up that we see how much we have to lose, and it scares us. It makes us vulnerable. But maybe that’s what God intended.

Chapter 84


In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 82

My memory is already fading. I’m going to be 55 soon and I’m afraid if I don’t write my memories down,  they’ll soon be figments of my imagination. “Is it real, or is it Memorex?”

(Sigh) … my dad’s humor, popping up when you least expect it.

I still have a great memory, but now and then I can see where old-ageitis is creeping in, robbing me of one of my most-prized attributes.

I posted a “This Day in History” post last week on Tribute, which stated that on that particular day, John Steinbeck published “Of Mice and Men.”

My dad was in that play, I thought, and made a mental note to ask my mom about it later. I remembered vaguely attending a production at the Long Branch supper club, a dinner theater, I think.

Mom thought Dad played the feeble-minded Lenny, but remembered his dentist calling him Candy, which was the role of an older man who’d lost an arm and had a dog.

“Oh! But I think you’re thinking of ‘The Sunshine Boys;’ your dad and Irv Hickey were the only ones in the play ….”

So, there you have it. I remember going to Long Branch. I remember the play, but I don’t really remember the play. And why do I remember “Of Mice and Men?” Maybe I did see it and don’t remember the details. I think I saw a picture of him one time while he was in character, but I can’t find it.

With that being said, I am currently editing my dad’s stories so I can publish it. I want my grandkids to know who Thomas Patrick Meis really was. He  spent so much time on his stories, he deserves to have it shared with the world. Maybe that wasn’t his intention when he wrote it, but I think others enjoy it as much as I do.

By publishing the book, it’s my hope that it will inspire others to write their stories, so future generations will know what life was like in the past, even if it’s just the recent past.

I think we become more interested in history when we have history ourselves. And as I search through my ancestry tree, I get names and dates,  and maybe where they were born, but not a lot of background. I wish I did.

It occurs to me that you can search your roots, but if there’s not a story to go along with it, there’s something missing. We can use our imaginations to fill in the gaps, but you don’t know for sure what our great-grandparents lives were really like. Not really.

First-hand accounts make it more real, solid, and might answer a few questions, such as, “Why am I the way I am?

Oh, yes, “I get my goofy sense of humor from my dad,” or  “I get my desire to own a business from my grandfather.”

But most of all, being able to read about someone’s life enables us to share in the experience, even if it’s after the fact. And if you have a great imagination and love to read, it’s true what they say – a story can take you to a different world, and then some.

“Books aren’t just filled words, you know … they’re also filled with places to visit & people to meet.”



In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 81

I saw a red cardinal the other day and I was immediately reminded of my dad. He loved birds, which is a theme of many of his stories. Some people believe a visit from a cardinal is a sign that someone who has passed is paying a visit.

My daughter, Holly, gave my mom a pretty glass cup for Christmas. It is beautifully painted, with a cardinal sitting in a tree, similar to the one above. She added a small string of lights to illuminate the beautiful red bird.

“Your dad would have loved it,” she told me with a smile. “Sometimes I feel like he’s still here.”

And he is, in spirit. And in his love for nature, another thing he has passed on to the rest of his family.

Spiritual joy is probably the most difficult to describe. First, because it’s one-on-one with Jesus, a private audience. It is so intensely personal, I just know the Holy Spirit never marked it down for the media.

Second. Who knows words to impart inexpressible joy? But I’ll try.

This moment, or these moments, entered unannounced. The setting in the sanctuary contributed to the beauty, I have no doubt. Sounds in the big church, even tapping a kneeler, while leaving, magnifies sound to something unsettling, to one who wants to feel alone with God.

The mood in the Sanctuary was absolute silence. I glanced over at my buddy; his gaze was fixed on the Corpus; not even a flinch! The quiet itself mesmerizes. Subconsciously I listened to the silence, half a decibel below a seashell.

Thus wrapped in prayer, I’m aware of being transported in the Presence of God. The inexpressible joy true saints talk about, impressed itself upon my soul. I heard music that moved me without notes; at least none remembered.

I truly believe the Joy of God’s presence reveals itself in the hearts of men and women in periods of peace of mind, quietly intermingling with happiness.

There’s no pattern, in my case at least; my next ecstasy was 40 years later, standing in the pulpit of IC–The Blessed Virgin’s side–leading the Glorious mysteries.

Maybe I should have, but I didn’t share the altar boy experience with anyone. I probably didn’t even realize what had happened until later. All I’m certain of, is that it happened to me. And if there’s an ounce of humility in a 12-year-old boy, I stood in its aura.

In fact, when the Rosary visitation possessed me, I failed to recall the first time; perhaps, because as an adult, tears welled behind my lids, although no tear drops fell.

I always attributed the paucity of water to the fact that I’d cried all of my tears when Ronnie Kelly drowned. “That’s all there is. There isn’t anymore.”

I’d always prayed to inspire people with deeper spirituality in leading the rosary. Occasionally, I’d have a lapse, forget the name of the fourth decade or such. So I got in the habit of jotting them down in high school. I had the pigeon bug, and wrote about a visitation by the Holy Spirit, in the form of a beautiful white pigeon, to a boy’s pigeon loft. A boy about my age.

Only recently, in the last decade or so one of my nun friends told me she knew I was going to be a writer after she’d read that story. I wished she hadn’t waited.

Tsk, that’s right. Communication hadn’t earned the respect it now enjoys, back in those days.

When the high school piece was published in the school paper, I think I learned something about inspiration. Sister Anotella: “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.”

I don’t think she said it first, but she said it the first time I heard it.

I admit—a writer—any big thinker—really has to get down and dig sometimes, to come up with something worth reading. But also to go along with that, a little divine inspiration couldn’t hurt!

The story I wrote in the Navy about being home for the holidays, “White Christmas,” had that little bit of inspiration that set it apart, made it memorable. Der Bingle had elevated it to a Christmas classic. It was timely; it transported troops without number, home for a moment of reverie.

There are a few things, besides being in the Navy and Rob Kelly, dying that have really affected my life, including my drinking.

I’m ashamed of my drinking; the way it robbed me of times, like holidays with the family, and the way it controlled me.

I don’t remember going batty over Bourbon until my Twenties. Oh, I used to hide a Picnic of beer—that’s roughly two liters, or maybe a Texas Fifth—in the trash outside the walk-in cooler; then empty it in the trash. And then come back later, retrieve it, and then drain it. I honestly don’t remember drinking it; probably a psychological hang-up because I didn’t pay for it. Not because I was a minor!

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

Another one 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.

One thing I have learned is that if something is going wrong in your life, whether it’s alcohol or some other irresistible fascination, help is available in programs like AA. And Jesus is waiting in the wings, no matter how long you’ve ignored Him, or how often you’ve offended him.

I know.

He’s had his arm around me.

Chapter 82


In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 80


There’s not a lot of resemblance between my dad and the newest edition to our family. But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t grow up to be a writer, photography, or actor.

Tyson Matthew Angsouvan was born this morning at 8 am to my youngest daughter, Lori and her husband, Johnny.

Our family just keeps growing! Mom and I counted the great-grandkids and determined Tyson is #25.  And we just found out that my nephew, Jake, and his girlfriend, are expecting, too.

Dad loved his family, especially the little ones. I think they reminded him what it was like to be little. It was easy to see the joy the kids brought to my Dad as they clamored around him to dip into is candy stash.

I imagine he is watching over us, beaming from ear to ear at the beautiful family he helped produce. He would be so proud.

Once I was attending Mass at the basilica in Dyersville. (What a reflection of the Divine Glory!) I thought about Holy communion; decided it was too close to home. But on most trips out-of-town, like Mother Mary of the Church when we visit Kris in Apple Valley; can’t wait to embrace the Eucharist!

Paul used a clever bit when the people of Corinth asked him who was Jesus. He pointed to a shrine dedicated to “an unknown God.” Suggested they were on the right track all along. In the same general tenor, I fee faith is so ethereal, so grounded in the depths of our souls … Any wonder words fail me?

Mrs. Thoennes used to ask me to lead the rosary at the evening liturgy; Sunday, I think. She was old school. Didn’t believe women should be on the altar, so she asked the men. Didn’t believe people could be Catholic AND charismatic. It was either/or.

One evening she came to our house while it was our week for a visit from the pilgrim virgin of Fatima. I mentioned the interest in our prayer meetings. She gasped. “That sounds like those Holy Rollers!”

End of conversation overture.

I’ve used the idea of spiritual ecstasy in what might be mistaken for personal presumption. What it is, is being on the receiving end of Divine Love, and being unable to describe it.

It’s a gas …

It’s easy when you’re sharing the vision with a roomful of saints – everyone about yay-feet off the ground. The songs of love and praise, petition and thanksgiving — you know–rising straight to the throne like incense.

You’d be surprised how great I sound, backed by 50 or so brothers and sisters; mostly sisters. The hard part is sustaining the Christ love, the giving and receiving, beyond prayer meeting.

About ecstasy experienced in the sanctuary at IC. Before I lived it again just beyond middle age, I’d known it only as an altar during 40 hours devotion. 

Once when kneeling before the Host ensconced in the sunburst of the ciborium, I repeated the litany of the blessed virgin Mary several times.

Thus involved in the incense silence of the vaulted sanctuary and with no apparent prelude, I was immersed in the Divine Presence. A sense of unsolicited joy approaching rapture, inexpressible happiness and peace possessed me. 

I took off my cassock and went home, but like the handsome lord in Song of songs, I knew i had peeked through the latticework and glimpsed the garden. 

Then in my 50s–Bob Whitters and I joined the Legion of Mary–met weekly in the Immaculate room with two, three others to say the prayers from Ireland and recite the rosary, taking turns leading a decade of the mysteries.

I think that’s when Irene Thoennes first asked me to lead the beads. I wasn’t certain of the Glorious mysteries so I wrote them down. And I did my best to make the rosary a truly spiritual experience; I prayed to that end. 

And He must have inspired me. One day a friend stopped e after church and complimented me for leading the prayers. “Well, he SHOULD do a good job,” Joan Marshall’s mother, Mrs. McGuire, said. “All those years he’s been in the theater!”

(Thanks a lot, Mrs. Mack.)

But I keep writing around the ecstasy.

Several times in leading the mysteries, the Holy Spirit led me near tears; usually in mysteries centered on the blessed mother. Once again, as on the occasion of earlier tears of happiness, I’d choke up, unable to continue. Then pause, to regain control before going on.

People probably thought I had forgotten the Hail Mary; but I remember the pauses. They were long enough for me to scan the congregation in panic; long enough for me to seeing them staring back. 

Chapter 80


In My Father’s Footsteps: Chapter 79

I’m getting close to finishing the posting of my dad’s stories. I’m a bit sad, because it was something I really enjoyed. I feel closer to him because of it, even though he’s been gone more than nine years, and the thought of ending, makes me wish it could go on forever.

It makes me realize more than ever that I didn’t know my dad. Not really. Not until now.

It’s true what they say. Everyone has a story, but chances are, not a lot of people know the real story.

I have been thinking about dreams lately; a couple of hum-dingers waylaid me while I was in the Navy. San Clemente Island was the setting. Actually, I was only stationed there a month, but a lot happened.

The best food fight I ever saw, was staged one lazy June noon in a chow hall, shared with a Seabee battalion.


As a matter of fact, the welcome sign was a Seabee and a sailor fighting over a somewhat disgruntled goat. The island claimed distinction as the most bombed island in the Pacific; one end reserved for target practice for all the services. planes towing targets passed overhead 9 as well as newly developed drones…a pretty expensive kill.

My contribution was a biblical quip I’d acquired on drives to Amana: “Life is short and death is sure, the hour of death remains obscure.”

I added my own cryptic closing, “Know your chaplain.” I hope some of those rednecks didn’t think I was referring to Charlie.

A few nights-two, I think-I’d run around the track singing don’t fence me in, at the top of my lungs, ’cause I knew all the words. The best remembered of these workouts in the key of G, also seared the first three letters of the alphabet forever in my psyche. 

I got deathly sick on ABC beer….or was it Ranier? And it wasn’t because I wasn’t used to drinking. So it must have been too green. Or too warm. Or too cold.

It was too much. Bottom line. The ABC left such revulsion, Coors is as far west as I venture, even today. (I qualify that; I might be tempted over the Great Divide by this enticement, 12 percent, or the word strong in bold letters; STRONG.)

I haven’t checked this out, but I’m pretty sure San Clemente is the sister island to Santa Catalina. Although I haven’t seen any Clemente swim suits, there are a few t-shirts around.

Part of our radar training was on an old converted WWI destroyer, the Moosehead; only time I slept in a hammock. We used to stand at the railing ad watch the porpoise glide along-side us, like kids playing.

The phosphorescence created was something out of Disney. At anchor in San Diego harbor, an occasional sea lion would lie there floating on its back, eyeing us as though we were some sort of vapid side-show.

The dreams. Yes. The order is unimportant; but both occurred within a span of several weeks. Background on dream one. I received a nice letter from Bill Jump in which he said, “Did you know Bob Hash died?”

He was in Great Lakes with Scarlet Fever when he contracted a second condition. What they prescribed for one prevented the appropriate treatment of the other malady. Bob simply died.

I didn’t cry out because Bob, a Franklin student, and his buddy, Craig Sweet, used to drive some of us IC kids to our basketball tournament in Dubuque; stole the heart of Ruth May Coats with his baby blue Ford convertible.

News of his unexpected death floored me because only days before the letter came, I dreamed a brief vignette about Bob Hash. Suddenly, he bolted up in bed, his face twist with pain and fear.

“I didn’t do it!” he screamed. “I didn’t do it.” End of dream, but the strange sequence of my experience involving, at the outside, a friend of a friend, continues to haunt. I don’t have that many dreams!

Our mother died last year. But 46 years earlier on San Clemente Island off the coast of California, Margaret Christine died in my arms in a dream. 

I think she smiled when I told her about it, but I was devastated at the time. We were traveling somewhere on a Greyhound bus. Conversation struggled to overcome the rumble of the diesel motor; words softened, like an image in a fogged reflection.

Suddenly, Mom just collapsed, and I knew she was gone. Knowledge of the nature of a dream doesn’t bring complete peace of mind. And I didn’t really know serenity till her next letter assured me, she’d survived the dream.

But I never recommended going by bus. When my brother, Ben, edits this, I bet his comment goes something like this: “You’re cheap, Meis! You didn’t go Greyhound with ou mother because you’re cheap!” 

So, what’s in a short-coming? We shall overcome.

Chapter 80