By Eliza Murphy
It was a love story 51 years in the making.
When Dean Sparks, of Corydon, Ind., bought this old, rusted, blue 1959 Chevy Bel-Air at an auction in Nebraska, he had no idea the contents hidden inside would end up being worth so much more than he’d originally bargained for.
“For whatever reason, this car just stuck out to me,” Sparks, 43, told GoodMorningAmerica.com of the clunker with 92,000 miles on it.
Not normally one to bid on this type of car with no “stand-out” features, Sparks couldn’t explain what it was that attracted him so much to this particular vintage vehicle. But nonetheless, he purchased it and towed it all the way home—801 miles.
“I started taking things apart, and it still had a lot of old stuff in it,” he recalled.
Spare tires, antique glass juicers, an old pair of men’s patent leather shoes that had since weathered away, even an old child’s chair was still inside the trunk. But upon further digging, there was one item — far more delicate than the rest — that caught Sparks’ eye.
“I unbolted the front seat and drug it out,” he explained. “And when I looked back in under the driver seat, there was this letter. It was in an envelope with water damage.
“The front said, ‘To Ronnie Waterbury in Pierce, Nebraska,’ and ‘From Beverly,’ but I couldn’t read the last name because mice had eaten it.’”
Sparks carefully opened the delicate old contents which were “like tissue paper from age,” revealing a single sheet of lined paper dated Feb. 7, 1963.
“She starts out writing, ‘Miss you, wish you could write more, but I know you’re busy,’” said Sparks. “You could get the sense it was from someone in school or fresh out of school, saying how much she missed him.”
The last line, however, was the icing on the mysterious cake.
“It said, ‘Let’s get married.’ She had even underlined it,” Sparks explained.
The letter was signed by a young woman named Beverly Barber, a clue for Sparks to begin putting the puzzle pieces together to return the sentimental letter, which was miraculously found still intact despite driving 801 miles with rusted out floorboards, to its rightful owner.
Since the car didn’t come with a title when Sparks purchased it at the auction, he had to rely on the names on the letter, and his wife’s social media skills, to trace the letter’s history.
After a bit of internet research, Sparks and his wife ended up locating Wade Waterbury, the son of the couple from the handwritten love letter, through a YouTube video.
“I gave him a call and said, ‘I bought your dad’s car at a Pierce, Nebraska auction, but you’ll never believe what I found in the front seat,” Sparks recalled of their first conversation. “I found a letter from your mom to your dad before they got married.”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line.
“It was very, very emotional for me,” Waterbury, 48, of Wichita, Kan., explained of hearing Sparks’ shocking discovery. “I lost my parents and it brought back so many memories. It was just like a flash.”
The two men, complete strangers abruptly brought together by a single sheet of 51-year-old paper, got to talking. Sparks explained to Waterbury that even though he had purchased his father’s car, the letter was never his to keep and he very much wanted to return it to its home.
“I was floored,” said Waterbury. “Who else would even think about returning it to me? Everybody would just say, ‘Oh, here’s a letter, and throw it in the trash.”
Not only did Sparks return it, he shipped it priority mail in a big flat rate box with Styrofoam surrounding the delicate, tissue-like letter to protect it during its travels.
“When I got the box, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to even read the letter,” Waterbury explained. “I didn’t feel like I wanted to pry because I certainly wouldn’t have wanted my parents reading my letters from when I was 17.”
However, with a little coaxing from his coworkers, he eventually read his parents’ long lost love story.
“At the letter’s end, my mom wrote, ‘Let’s get married,’” Waterbury said. “And they did, a couple months later, right after high school.”
The funniest part?
“They eloped in the same car where Dean found the letter,” said Waterbury, explaining how this 1959 Chevrolet Bel-Air was his dad’s absolute pride and joy.
“You know,” he said, “You think about things after your parents pass, if you had one more day or one more minute with your parents, and Dean provided me with that. He gave me another look into their life.
“That’s a very important minute to get back.”
Waterbury is now planning to get his mom’s handwritten letter framed for his home. And as for Sparks, as soon as he’s done bringing the vintage vehicle back to life, he plans on paying Waterbury a visit so the sweethearts’ son can take it for one last spin.
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