Meis Family Reunion Report

Written by Anthony Zilly

1995, August 09-16 Reunion Diary

When I was invited to write about one particular memorable event that happened involving my grandma and I, the first thing that I thought of was my first trip to Iowa and the Meis-Roerig family reunion.  What a long, strange, awe-inspiring and humbling pilgrimmage it was.  For one whole week, I was going to the Meis homestead and see my grandmother’s brothers and sisters for the first time.  Only God knew what was in store for me there.

The first day, Wednesday,  I stepped foot in South Sioux City, Nebraska, I knew I was right in the middle of the heartland.  My grandmother, her twin sister Joan and I, arrived from Denver airport at about noon.  While we were waiting at the baggage claim, a Channel 9 News reporter came up to me and asked me questions about airport security.  I looked around, the place looked pretty empty and orderly, but I answered the questions as honestly as I could while wondering to myself where my grandma and Joan went.  Neither one had any intention of getting close to that reporter.  They hid from the camera.  We would later see the taping the following day on TV.

After a short drive with Herb and Joanne Meis, my grandmother’s brother and sister-in-law, we visited the Queen of Peace museum.  Inside was a life-sized wood sculpture of the Last Supper.  Outside of the museum was a lovely garden and marble statue of St. Mary.  There were rosary sessions and a catholic book store nearby.  It was a beautiful sight to see, indeed.  I couldn’t help but be inspired by this display of devotion to Jesus and his Disciples.

The day ended nice and peaceful.  It was quite warm and humid that night, the catydids chirping  out their endless chatter.  Who would’ve known the following day would be a horrendous and frightful experience. 

We decided Thursday morning to take Herb’s car to LeMars, Iowa, a short trip so long as you knew where you were going (strike#1).  After going the wrong direction on old I-75 for about 20 minutes, we turned around to go the right direction.  At least we thought it was the right direction.  With Joan sitting in back and me in the front passenger seat, Grandma drove along this sleepy two-lane road (strike#2).  Did I say a highway?  Technically, it was an interstate highway.  Who would’ve known with nothing but miles of two-lane blacktop that stretched endlessly as far as you could see either way.  After driving another 30 minutes, we see a construction crew working on the road.  Grandma stops the car to ask for directions (strike#3) then BAM~!  Two kids in an old Chevy pickup truck nailed us from behind.  After a few hours of trying to explain to the police officer what happened, we went back to Herb and Joanne’s house to explain to them what happened.  Most of the day was spent calling the insurance company and resting.   Aunt Joan had some cuts from the shattered rear window, but was okay after going to the hospital to get patched up.

We received a ticket for stopping on the highway, so we had to show up in court on Friday.  We waited for what seemed like eternity for our name to be called on the roster.  Before the judge could finish announcing her name, Grandma jumped up and yelped “I did it.  It’s my fault.”  She was so bundled up with nerves that she didn’t know what to do.  The judged sentenced a $90 fine for stopping in traffic.  We paid the fine and left. 

That night, we gambled a bit at the Riverboat Belle Casino on the Missouri River.  All three of us were still sore from the previous day’s beating, but we enjoyed the time spent on the boat.  If there’s gambling available within 100 miles, the Meis blood will sniff it out and find it. 

In the morning, we visited the Flight 232 monument along the Missouri river.  This was the site of a horrible airplane crash.  There, I found a statue that depicts a fireman carrying a young child away from the rubble.  I had visions of twisted metal and flames, and the young hero jumping in to save the child.  Another reminder that life can be swept away at any moment.

Sunday was a time of revelation for me.  I had always thought of my family as a close-knit patchwork of kinfolk, but I hadn’t realized just how BIG our family was.  I had just become interested in the Meis family history but didn’t associated myself with being a part of it until this day.

We drove to LeMars, Iowa, this time with Herb driving.  It was a long drive to LeMars, the homestead and place of origin of the Meis family’s American Dream.  As we drove by the creek that Herb and Huck played in, it almost seemed as if nothing ever changed.  We parked next to a two-story weather-beaten house and the first thing Grandma said was “they added a fence around the front.”  We walked up and down the front of the house, unaware that someone actually was living there. 

We arrived in LeMars to a special mass in honor of the reunion at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.  The church has a long history with the Meis family, since 1870s when Father Hermann Joseph Meis was the first pastor and founder of the church and adjoining school.  Many of our ancestors are buried behind the church.  As I walked in, my eyes were fixed on the giant wood altar that adorned the far wall of the church.  I was in such awe of this blessed sight that I hardly noticed that everyone crossed their chest or bent on one knee.  I’m surprised I even realized where Grandma and Joan had sat.  I joined them on the pew and followed along with everyone else as they sang hymns, bent on knees, recited “Our Father”, sat up, and then got back on my knees again.  I suddenly realized how Grandma got in such good shape.  Near the end of the sermon, the preacher had started explaining about the different communion cups that he had accumulated throughout the years and how each one had a specific significance in the daily communion.  He added that quite ironically, no more than a week ago he had been cleaning the altar and in one of the alcoves he had found this gold chalice.  He explained that this gold cup had been inscribed in Latin, which I cannot remember at this moment what it said, but it was in commemoration of Father Hermann Joseph’s brother Hermann Meis’s son who died at 8 months old.  I couldn’t imagine that this cup had been hidden in this altar for over a hundred years.  We visited with the preacher after the mass and I took pictures of the cup.

After mass, we went over to the local VFW and ate lunch and visited with the many Meis family members.  There were three, sometimes four generations of Meis families present.  I noticed every one of them had the distinctive ears and nose combination.  They all spoke similar, sort of a side of the mouth approach.  I couldn’t help but laugh as each Meis that I spoke to pronounced “Washington” as “Warsh-ington” when Grandma told them where some of her children are. 

That night, we stayed at a motel in LeMars.  Grandma and I were not quite tired yet, so we walked to a small bowling alley nearby.  We bowled a few games at 50 cents a game.  I think the closest I got to Grandma’s score was 50 points.  I should’ve asked for a handicap.  She was getting so frustrated with the way I bowled that she started giving me pointers.  After that, at least I hit the pins.  I enjoyed the games, even if I couldn’t break 50 points, because I was spending time with just my Grandma and I.  After playing a few rounds, we returned to the motel room and slept.

On Monday, we drove to Ruth and Charlie’s house in Des Moines, Iowa.  After arriving, we spent time talking with Ruth and Charlie.

On Tuesday, we spent the day in Winterset, and visited the popular covered bridges of Madison County and the birthplace of John Wayne.  We ate lunch at a local diner in Winterset and I had my first pork fritter sandwich.  It was delicious.  That night, we went to a slot machine casino.  The Meis blood found another gambling hole.  I lost most of my money by the end of the night as usual.

Wednesday marked the last day of our day with Ruth and Charlie, and we were ready to go home.  I thought the adventure ended as we left Des Moines airport to Denver, but one last surprise was in store for us.  We arrived at Denver airport, a huge airport-mall-amusement park-convention center megaplex, and we arrived quite early.  When we landed, we went to the terminal and sat down.  I had to laugh overhearing Grandma and Aunt Joan looking at each passer-by and commenting on their appearance.  “Oh my!  Look at those shoes!”, Grandma would say.  “Oh no!  Look at that hair!”, Aunt Joan would say.  They would both say, “How could she go out in public like that?”  One would think they had just come out of a time warp from the 1940s.  Well, compared to Des Moines, Denver is a time warp.  We sat for about 20 minutes before realizing that our flight had not been announced yet.  Grandma looked at her watch and said that we were still early.  I noticed on the clock on the wall that we were late.  Apparently, Grandma changed her watch to California time before leaving Des Moines and didn’t realize that Denver was in Central time.  We had sat at the terminal throughout the boarding of the plane and did not notice our flight leaving the airport. 

Grandma and Joan both were a complete mess.  “How were we going to get home?”, they each asked.  We asked the boarding agent and they pointed us to the long line of people at the service desk waiting for alternate flights.  After a wait in line, we finally found an available flight to Los Angeles and found our way home.

This reunion, my first in Iowa, was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had.  I didn’t know if I would ever see any of the Meis family members again, but I will remember them for as long as I live.  I am glad I was able to meet Tillie on my first trip before she passed.  I was blessed and thankful to see Ed, El, and Charlie again before their passing.  I hope to continue to keep contact with our extensive Meis family members.  In spite of all the bad luck that we had, I had a great time.  It’s funny to see the common mannerisms and appearance of all the Meises.  I have noticed a lot of the same in myself.  I want to thank Grandma and Aunt Joan for taking me with them on this journey.  I love you both and always will.





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