Saddened by having very few collectibles to remember his late mother by, a Kentucky man embarked on a quest to find, and buy back, her beloved 1971 convertible. Twenty years on, he finally succeeded, only to find a nostalgic surprise in the glove box.
“In the late summer of 1971, my father purchased a lime mist green Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible from our local Oldsmobile dealer, for my mother,” John Berry, 61, told The Epoch Times. “From what I recall, it was a complete surprise, and my mother cherished that car.
“She would take us kids, for rides with the top down and made every trip an adventure,” he recalled. “I remember thinking she looked like a movie star in the car with her big sunglasses on, and her hair wrapped in a coordinating scarf.”
When John’s mother, Janis, suddenly died in 1975, her husband, Lathrop, kept the car. However, a few years later in the 1980s, he sold the car to a local General Motors executive as a collector’s item.
A decade later, John began thinking a lot about the car. With only photos and recordings of his mother—a very talented singer—singing as keepsakes, he decided to track down the owner. With the help of his father and contacts at General Motors, he discovered that the then-owner of the car was Mike Hamilton, a retiree from Michigan.
This was before the internet became popular.
“I conducted some in-depth research to locate Mike, finally discovering an email address shortly before 2001,” said John. “I sent him an email asking about the car. He confirmed he was the owner, and said he was enjoying the car and taking care of it, but did not want to sell.”
John, who lives in Union, Kentucky, with his two kids and wife, Shannon, has stayed in contact with Mike for the past 20 years, emailing him twice or three times a year with the same cordial inquiry, never giving up hope.
Finally, in September 2021, the email he had been waiting for landed in his inbox.
“He was ready to sell the Cutlass,” said John. “I drove to his house in Rapid City, Michigan, with my brother … The Cutlass was exactly as I had remembered it; seeing it, sitting in it, and starting it up was a very emotional moment.”
John later opened the glove box only to find a Ziploc bag that Mike had held onto since buying the car. In it were some personal things from his mother such as an uncancelled stamp from 1973, a map, an earring, and the sunglasses Janis had worn while driving the car over 40 years ago.
“This was an extra special gift that was a powerful connection to her, above and beyond the experience of owning and driving the car,” said John.
The Michigan-born business owner said he always had a close bond with his mother, a Michigan State University graduate who met her future husband, Lathrop, as a teenager. John has two full-biological siblings, Doug and Susie, and two half sisters, Allison and Alexandra.
Lathrop, still living and 95 years of age, was a surgeon in Defiance, Ohio.
Recalling the special relationship John shared with his mother, he said that her kind and compassionate personality was a part of the “special bond” they shared.
“She taught me the importance of those traits, as well as pushed me to achieve, academically and spiritually,” John added.
However, when John was 13, his parents divorced and he went to live with his brother and father, whilst his sister lived with his mother.
“[Two years later], my sister was visiting with us for a couple weeks, and no one had had any contact with my mother for several days. A wellness check by police found her dead in her home.
“All of us kids struggled to come to grips with that terrible loss.”
But the impact of the tragedy on John and his sister was the most.
John, a classic car collector with three Corvettes to his name, had his mother’s car delivered to his warehouse and cleaned. He then took his own kids—Arden, 10, and Hudson, 7—for a ride with the top down, just like Janis used to do.
It was a “very powerful” moment he said. “For me, finding and finally owning my mother’s Cutlass has created a full circle event, tying together memories of the past with today, as well as the future.
“The car will always be part of my family, and is a treasure that will live on forever.”