I was in my 20s at the time, in need of a new car, preferably a small foreign stick shift. But no, I quickly learned, what I needed was a replacement for my dying car, never mind the wish list. So it was that I inherited my mother’s powder blue Chevy Impala, as she properly went out and bought a new sedan. With savings like those, I would gladly suffer the indignity of driving a mother-car with its quintessential uncoolness.

The bigger deal was my mother’s lament: “I gave my name to your father, I’m giving my license plate to you, I have nothing left of my own,” she said in mock-grievance. It was the 1970s. Women were hyphenating their names in marriage to avoid the exact plight my mother bemoaned. Truth is, she was so secure in her roles that we laughed at the obvious joke she was making about the times we lived in.

Yet that license plate was more than a sheet of metal. It was her first plate, issued when she was a teenager, and set between the huge rounded fenders of her first car. Forty years later, that plate would be transferred to me, along with the Impala she was handing off.

There were no requests or promises made, but I’ve always felt a certain duty to maintain my mother’s car registration and plate. And every time I renew them, I’m reminded that nostalgia has its price: A vanity plate costs more than a basic license plate. Not that my mother’s number signified some noteworthy date or sequence; it was simply hers. Back in the 1930s, the state had assigned her a number that gained longevity and turned vintage over time. Since the days of the powder blue Impala, that small emblem of my mother has continued to designate the car that I drive. These days, that happens to be a small foreign stick shift.

On the one hand, my mother was a frugal New Englander who disapproved of foolish expenditures. One wonders what she’d have thought of recurrent payments, with a surcharge for sentiment. That’s what it is, really, when you consider the absence of any practical reason.

Surely she would have deemed it nuts. Of course a randomly assigned license plate would do the job equal well. And yet, my mother would doubtless have done the identical thing, had it been her own mother’s license plate. It’s what one does. It’s part of the elusive bond between parents and children that transcends a lifetime, defies logic and needs no defense.

With my mother gone for many years now, it’s like the necklace, coat or silverware that survives her. My car may lack the grandeur of the Buick she first drove as a teen, but I’m certain my mother would love the fact that she continues to go along for the ride.