To the thieves, it’s probably just another car.
To its owner, it was the last link she had to a person who meant everything to her.
Had they checked the photos in the pendant hanging from the rear-view mirror, the thieves might have understood. Instead, they stole 18-year-old Jessica Meadows’ red 1993 Honda Civic DX hatchback with tinted windows and minor hail damage sometime Monday night from her house in southeast Wichita.
One photo in the pendant is of Meadows sitting in the car when she was 2 years old, hands on the steering wheel.
The other is of her when she was 10 years old at a golf course. She’s with her grandfather, Mickey Meadows, the man who bought the car 20 years ago, who drove her around in it on trips, and who willed it to her when he died three years ago at age 79 on the condition that she drive herself to college in it to become the family’s first college graduate.
So important was Mickey in her life that she named the car “Minnie.”
“He was the one person who really, really cared,” Meadows said. “He was always, always there for me. He never judged me as a person. He loved me no matter what I did. Just an incredible person to be around. Everyone loved him.”
She grew up in that car and learned to drive in that car. Inheriting it from her grandfather after he died inspired her to start classes at Butler Community College this summer after graduating from Derby High School in the spring. She also used it to drive herself to her two jobs.
The car has 250,000 miles on it. Over the years, the family spent more than the car was worth to keep it going.
Over the rear license plate – Sedgwick County tag 053-CUC – they placed a message: “In Loving Memory AZM”. The initials stand for Mickey’s real name, Albert Zane Meadows.
Mickey didn’t have much, and he didn’t leave much. He was a retired firefighter who spent most of the rest of his life as a hospital maintenance man. He lived in Kentucky until the family persuaded him to move to Wichita to be with them in his last years.
But he had that car, and he knew how important it was to his granddaughter. They took many trips together.
When they weren’t in the car, they were talking on the telephone.
Sometimes, they were on the phone not talking, just sharing silence, said Jessica’s father, Todd Meadows.
“When I was a kid growing up, he was kind of hard guy,” Todd Meadows said. “He raised me right, but he wasn’t a dad that took me to the baseball games or anything like that. But when she was born, he changed. I never in my life thought my father would be the grandfather that he was.”
“In his final months, he could hardly walk,” Todd Meadows said, “but somehow he could get in and out of that car to get around. I don’t know how he did it.”
Now, thieves have all of that history, if they haven’t yet stripped it for parts. Jessica drives her father’s truck to college, and co-workers drive her to her jobs.
Jessica knew the car was valued for its parts. A lot of younger guys have asked her over the years if they could buy it from her to get those parts.
When it was stolen, she said, “I knew almost right away there was very little chance I would get it back in one piece, or get it back at all.”
She asks this of whoever stole it: “How could you have the heart to take something? How would you feel if someone took something that meant that much to you, and then took it apart?”