Thursday, March 28, 2019

Turning the Key

At midnight, the phone rang. I stirred, half asleep. "Who's calling me? Nobody I know. Some damn robot." I didn't answer.

That morning I found the kitchen door locked. My housemate, Pakobsanh "Paco" Keopanya, hadn't slept at home. No big surprise. He often traveled  overnight on business. In 1984 he had immigrated from Laos but became a CEO in a Fremont, Nebraska, cleaning firm. It mostly cleans silos.

I went outdoors and fetched the newspaper, my resident's chore when he's home.

Then Paco, my friend for six years and housemate for four, wandered in grinning. I looked up from chopping strawberries. At forty, he'd lost his puppy fat and turned into a good looking man, beard and all.

"How ya' doing?" Paco's classic question. I'm happy to reply, "Great. And you?"

"You locked me out last night." 

"What?" I dropped my knife. "Where were your keys?" 

"I lost them. Don't you remember?"

I sort of recalled. "Well," I picked up a berry, "why didn't you call me?"

"I did."

"Oh! That was you?" I shifted toward him. 

Halfway across the kitchen, he turned. "You must have slept like a stuffed hog." He's smiling. "I stayed in a hotel last night." He seems to think that's funny.

I panic: Oh, my God. He's going to be furious. I grab his shirt sleeve. "This is your home, Paco. You shouldn't have to sleep in a hotel. I'll never lock the kitchen door again, not ever. You know I only do it because I'm afraid of the burglar who never shows up."

He bumped my shoulder. "Whatever it was is just what it was. Don't worry."

Well, at least I could make him new keys: two each for the kitchen, the garage, the basement, and the main door. I counted my current pile. Seven keys. I tested. A key for each lock except one in the garage. 

The Key Master buzzed new ones in no time.

"I don't have a key for my garage door," I eyed him. "Can you make me one?"

"You can bring the lock in here," he handed me the keys, "or I could go out there for $55 more." 

$55! I vowed to remove that lock myself.
At home, I dumped my shiny new keys on the counter. A single key turned the first kitchen lock, then, by accident, the second. What? One key turned both locks?

A vague memory surfaced. In 2004 when I made new locks for this house I'd just bought, I'd chosen one-key-fits-all style, hadn't I? 

Sure enough. That single key opened all my locks, even both garage door locks. 

After I laid the amazing key on Paco's desk, I mused:

I had locked him out, refused to answer the phone, made him sleep in a hotel—and he laughed. "It just was what it was."

Now there is a man who turns the key to my heart.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Mama’s Red Convertible

My dad, Tom Coffey, had a terrible time finding gifts that my mother, his wife, Zelma, liked.

When I still attended Alma's high school, Dad cut a deal and drove a brand new bright red Chevy convertible into our driveway for Mama.

My eyes widened, but Mama's did not. She took the car for a spin—with its top up. When she returned, she announced, "I can't stand the way people stare at me. What must they think that someone like me would drive a car like that."

Mama hated the Chevy, but I—now sixteen with a driver's license—loved it. Slowly it became mine.

I drove it up and down Main Street, rubbernecking.

I cruised on back roads trying to drive over hills like Dad did, so fast my stomach dropped on the other side.

And I played chicken.

Bub, a high school buddy, challenged me to the sport. He selected a long stretch of gravel road. We placed our cars at either end. Then we drove straight at each other. The first to swerve became a chicken.

Initially I veered so widely it embarrassed me to be such a coward. The second time I drove closer, but not by much. The third time I heard the uncomfortable crunch of metal.

I spun home, cooking up a plan. In our driveway, I grabbed the hose and washed the car. As I figured, Mama came out to check on me.

"Look at this, Mom." I pointed at the fender. "Must have gotten a parking lot scratch somewhere."

She looked but said nothing. I rejoiced.

Many years later after the little red Chevy had become history, my dad still tried to give Mama a gift that she'd like.

They stopped at an outdoor flea market in Arizona where Dad came running back hollering "Pete! Pete!" (He never called her Zelma.) "I've found the perfect gift for you." He took her to a large table filled with turquoise jewelry of all kinds. "I know you're going to love this because you're going to pick it out. Whatever you want."

She chose a stunning necklace featuring nine raw chunks of turquoise with the largest in the middle. He proved right. She loved it.

Quite a few years later I sat by her hospital bed. She turned to me. "Is there anything of mine that you would particularly like to have."

"Your turquoise necklace."

She told me where she kept it, and I slipped those huge turquoise hunks around my neck for her funeral.

I still love wearing it. Almost as much as I adored driving her red convertible.