By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom New Mexico
Mom called to tell me recently that Dad found an old set of my car keys.
Judging by her description, they didn’t sound familiar. She handed them to me a few days later, though, and memories reawakened.
“Here!” Mom handed me a set of rusty keys held on to a familiar black power lock box with worn out buttons, buttons that were notably fewer in number than my current car power lock device. The old car had power locks, but not power windows, unless you count the arm muscle required near the end of this car’s life as one had to manually adjust the window to get it all the way up.
My eyes fell to the once-gold-plated, but now-faded set of individual little metal tablets all linked together on the keychain. Each faded tablet held an inscription to one of the Ten Commandments.
“It’s missing one of the commandments,” Mom immediately informed me. “Probably the fourth commandment,” she said sarcastically, referring to the one about honoring thy father and mother.
She can be so subtle at times.
“Ha! Ha!” I laughed and started inspecting the little tablets, determined to prove her wrong. I could not, for the life of me, remember where I had gotten those little tablets in 1989, when I got my first brand new car, a cute little candy-apple red, four-door Ford Escort. I knew they were mine though. Perhaps they had been a gift.
When Mom described them on the phone a few days earlier, I knew they weren’t mine. But as soon as I spotted them and started fingering my way through them, sure enough, I was positive they had been a part of my life for many years, linked to the keys of the vehicle that took me around west Texas and eastern and northern New Mexico for more than 100,000 miles.
I quickly proved Mom wrong, spotting the Fourth Commandment on the key ring in a matter of seconds. But I must confess, it took my daughter Laura and I a couple of minutes to figure out which commandment was missing. It ending up being No. 9, which says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” I knew I had not broken that commandment, I assured Mom.
I know there’s more to that commandment, but I couldn’t think of any obvious reason as to why that was the missing tablet, except, perhaps due to the fact that I abused my car keys as much as I abused my first set of wheels.
I chased many ambulances in that car.
It got me from assignment to assignment as I worked as a reporter for the Odessa American, Portales News-Tribune, Muleshoe Journal and then the Hobbs Daily News-Sun before the transmission finally gave out.
I remember the day the transmission all but gave out. The car would only go forward and not in reverse. When I explained the problem to my former editor, Manny Marquez, and asked for an afternoon off to look for a new set of wheels, he sarcastically replied, “You don’t need reverse. All you need is to go forward!”
I told him I was going to Portales that weekend and didn’t feel comfortable taking that car, to which he stated, “You don’t need reverse to go to Portales. You just go straight through Lovington and Tatum!”
I went into labor in that candy-apple red Ford Escort in July of 1990, and a few days later, we brought my newborn daughter Laura home from the hospital. I took Laura to her first day of Head Start and kindergarten in that candy-apple red Ford Escort, too.
As I sat on the couch and rummaged through these faded, gold-plated tablets, I was amazed by the memories they unlocked; some good, some bad, many funny, but all part of a journey down Memory Lane that made me reflect on where that car has taken me in life.
Three cars later now, I’ve moved up to a four-door, white Ford Focus with power locks and — get this — power windows. Not exactly a symbol of progress by worldly standards, perhaps, but if you only knew the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen and had the opportunity to write about.
The real journey, I realized, was not taken behind the wheel of that candy-apple red Ford Escort. The real journey took place within me.