Some of John Berry’s fondest memories of his late mother are of her cruising in a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, wearing oversized aviator sunglasses and a scarf loosely tied around her head. The top of the lime green car was almost always down.
“She would make it an event to go to the supermarket,” Berry told The Washington Post. “My mom really loved that car.”
Berry’s mother, Janis Berry, died unexpectedly at just 43; Berry was 15. “We never got to say goodbye. It was devastating for all of us,” said Berry, who has an older brother and younger sister. “It was a sense of loss that’s hard to describe.”
Berry’s parents were divorced at the time of her passing, and her things were sold in an estate sale — nothing was left behind. The convertible was the only thing that was kept, but not for long. The car was still in Berry’s father’s name, and he decided to sell it a few years after his ex-wife died, to a car collector from Defiance, Ohio.
Years passed, and in the early 1990s, it hit Berry just how much that car meant to him. “As I grew older, I just longed for her to be in my life,” said Berry. “So I began my quest to hunt down the car.”
After several years of searching, Berry finally found the new owner of the car, Mike Hamilton, though he was not interested in selling it. Berry was disappointed but happy to know where it was. He continued to follow up every six months for over 20 years, explaining to Hamilton the significance of the car.
“It’s a perfect car,” Hamilton said of the Oldsmobile. “Over the years, several people have asked me if I was interested in selling.” The car became just as special for Hamilton — he enjoyed taking his granddaughters for rides and driving it to church in the summertime.
Hamilton has 28 cars in his collection at one point, but he recently decided to begin slowly selling some of them, so he sent Berry the message he had long been waiting for: “I am ready to sell the Olds,” Hamilton wrote in an email Sept. 10. “I have another person that would like to purchase the car but have not encouraged him at all because of your longtime desire.”
Berry drove six hours from his home in Union, Kentucky to Rapid City, Michigan, where Hamilton moved in 2000. “I had not seen it since 1980,” said Berry. “It was exactly as I remembered it.”
“It was like somebody turned the key, not just on the engine, but on a flood of memories,” Berry said. “It was really powerful.
“To be able to sit in that car and put my hands on the same steering wheel she put her hands on and open the door with the same handle she used and sit in the same seat she sat in — it’s a real connection,” he said.
A few of his mother’s belongings were still in the car, including a pair of her aviator sunglasses, a stamp from 1972, a map with handwritten notes, and a pair of her mother’s silver hoop earrings.
“It came full circle,” Berry said. “It was an emotional journey.
“When I walk by that car, I talk to it like it’s my mom,” he said, pausing to wipe a tear. “In a way, it feels like she is with me again.”
Image source: The Washington Post
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