How a Convertible Became a Family Connection

His mother's green Cutlass was a sign from beyond.

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Posted in , Jul 25, 2022

A green convertible; Photo credit: John F. Berry

The email subject line grabbed my attention: “Still interested in the Cutlass?” Mom’s car. I took a deep breath, my finger hovering over the computer mouse.

Mom’s 1971 green Cutlass convertible was a timeless beauty. Some of my favorite childhood memories were of us riding in it, turning heads while we cruised down the main drag in our small Midwestern town. Mom always wore her big sunglasses, with a chiffon scarf tied carefully over her head to protect her salon-styled hair. I felt like I was riding with a Hollywood star. For an 11-year-old boy, it didn’t get any better than that.

Now, more than 30 years later, whenever I’d see a classic car drive by, those memories would come flooding back. Cherished moments, snapshots in time of her smiling broadly behind the wheel of her beloved car. These memories were all I had left of Mom. She’d died when I was only 15. And with all of the changes that came after, many of her things were given away or sold. The Cutlass had been bought by a collector in Michigan. After years of searching, I’d connected with him when I was in my early twenties, asking if he might ever be interested in selling. But he’d politely demurred, letting me know he was keeping the car garaged and in pristine condition. It was one of the jewels of his collection, and he wasn’t going to part with it.

I couldn’t blame him. A car like that didn’t come around every day. Still, I couldn’t let go of the idea of one day owning it, especially after I got married and became a father. With my daughter, Arden, now 11 and my son, Hudson, now 7, I wished my mom was there to see us all. Of course, I told my kids stories about their grandmother. About my memories of her in the Cutlass wearing those sunglasses. But a story wasn’t the same as a real connection. I’d often imagined that a ride in Mom’s car would change all of that. But it didn’t seem like I had a prayer of it actually coming true.

Now here was this email. I opened it. “I have several people who have asked to purchase that classic car,” it read. “It’s time to sell, but I wanted to give you the first option to buy if you’re still interested.”

Thank you, Lord. How many times had I imagined this exact scenario? Now it was really happening. “Absolutely!” I typed, then started working out the logistics of driving from Kentucky to Michigan to check out the car. Even as I was writing the email, I had some doubts. Would my kids really pick up any connection to Mom through a car? Would they enjoy riding in it as much as I had? Would it still seem magical, I wondered, even to me?

When the day of the trip finally arrived, I headed north to make the trek. The hours flew by, and before I knew it, I was driving up to the collector’s house. I spied the car instantly. It was sitting in the driveway, washed and waxed, its shine seeming to radiate down the block.

I parked and hurried over to greet the collector. He shook my hand, then went into the house to grab the documents for the car. I opened the door of the Cutlass with a smooth click and eased into the driver’s seat. The smell of the seats tickled my nose, just like when I was a kid. I felt pure joy as I thought of the thrill driving this car had given both Mom and me more than 50 years ago. As if I was reliving those days. I couldn’t wait to get the car home and show my wife and kids.

The collector returned carrying a small bag. I handed him the check. “I found these in the glove box when I was cleaning the car a few days ago,” he said, passing me the bag. “Don’t know how I missed them all these years.”

I opened the bag. “Mom’s sunglasses!” I cried. There they were, perfectly preserved, as if they’d been held for just this moment.

There were anxious days waiting for the Cutlass to be delivered via enclosed transport to my house. When the car finally arrived, the emotions were truly overwhelming. My wife took pictures of the “first ride” as the kids climbed in—and sat where I myself had sat so many years ago with my mom behind the wheel.

I’d brought Mom’s glasses into the car with me. Having them there felt as if Mom was witnessing it all, smiling her gorgeous smile, beckoning us to feel the wind in our hair.

“Can I wear them?” Arden asked, as I turned the key in the ignition.

“You bet,” I said.

I knew Mom loved that. Now every time the family goes for a drive in the Cutlass, I know that Mom’s watching over us all.

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