Meis Family Reunion Report
Written by Anthony Zilly
1995, August 09-16 Reunion Diary
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.
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.
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.
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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