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Because of a 1966 Chevrolet Impala

By Yvette VanDerBrinkJoel

Today was a sad day for my husband and me. We buried a young, fellow collector. The guy that everyone loved, who cooked for everyone, and most of all, a great friend. When my husband and I were dating an act of fate landed us a new friend. We were going to a wedding party and I went with my girls and left my new boyfriend, Mr. VanDerBrink, with the guys. Now, my husband didn’t really know anyone, but it was a 1966 Chevrolet Impala that introduced him to a new great friend. Steve saw the car and starting talking to Joel, the owner. They talked all night about cars, tractors, and the night’s activities. That car brought a group of guys together that would become longtime friends. That Impala led to antique tractor trips to Prairie Village in Madison, SD and a group of guys that all started to build their own collections. They would get together once a year for the threshing show, camp, and tell stories of tractors, cars, and of course the wild ol’ days. Pretty soon kids came along and they developed their parents’ love for old tractors and cars and added to the mix.

My kids were no exception. They would spend days getting the tractors and old cars ready to go to the show. The kids had a ball. They would drive B Farmalls, B John Deeres, and Allis Chalmers around the grounds. They plowed, threshed, and displayed gas engines and partook in the infamous hide-n-go-seek games at night. I can remember going up there and seeing the kids dirty from playing all day and eating sweet corn; we had a heck of a time getting them to bed in the camper at night. They wanted to stay up around the campfire with the “big kids.” Mr. VanDerBrink, Joel, and the guys had big stories of the good ol’ days driving fast, farming, and old tractors. Joel, would always cook for everyone and had that Allis that would pull the trailer for all us of to ride on to the tractor pull. He always had “the spot” to watch the tractor pull. We would get out the lawn chairs and sit on the Semi flatbed and watch the pull all night. My yard was rutted up for days from the lugs on the steel wheels of that Allis. So many years, so much fun. Our kids grew up and played together and still remain friends to this day.

Monday, Joel passed away in his sleep. 47 years old. Way too young, so much life left and so much more hobby to enjoy. For my husband, he had lost a great friend and a fellow collector. He could always be counted on for a great story and you can’t beat his cooking. The Impala had been parked in the shed, forgotten for years, but Tuesday night, the car came back to life. His son and nephews got the car out, got it running, and even posted snapchats of “burn outs” for Joel. His son was so proud because he knew what that car meant to his dad and now he was the keeper of those memories and the Impala. His son drove the Impala to the church today, even though it was 6 degrees out during a winter that just doesn’t seem to want to leave the Midwest. Many fellow collectors, friends, neighbors, and relatives walked past that car and remembered stories, memories, and most of all, Joel. We all lined up and buried him at a country cemetery right behind their home. His son and nephews felt so proud that they had the Impala there for him – one last ride for Joel.

It’s so true and I’ve said many times, whether it’s an antique tractor, motorcycle, or collector car, they all hold dear memories and meaning to their owners. It’s so important that those memories get passed on. That Impala, and the memories it holds, keeps Joel alive in the hearts of those who loved him. Joel was a dad, husband, uncle, and a friend. I know not all families can keep their collections. I also know that those collections will go on to build new memories for their new owners. When I look at an auction I also try and think of the man or lady that owned the cars, tractors, or collection. Every collection has a story to be told.

In the bible it says, “I have prepared a place for you in heaven.” I had a guy ask me once if I thought there were collector vehicles in Heaven. “Of course,” I said. I’m sure that Joel was met with a restored 1966 Impala. He’s driving streets of gold with his grandparents and maybe even a few saints. Sounds like St. Peter would have been up for a ride. I firmly believe that Joel isn’t sick anymore, his arm hanging out the window driving an Impala that won’t vapor lock or run out of gas, and probably cooking an Easter celebration for everyone. What a celebration it would be. He would cook smoked turkeys, sweet corn, and bar-b-que. I like to think that when I die, heaven would gather all my deceased cats, dogs, old cars, and relatives together and have them waiting for me to show me around. Gramma Nordstrom would be ready to squeeze me until I’m bruised. Grampa Nordstrom ready to talk politics and go fishing. Gramma Johnson with some scalloped potatoes and Grampa Johnson with a bunch of barn cats listening to his pocket watch in his Key overalls. Who knows, maybe there are car shows, salvage yards of 1930’s Fords, and threshing shows in heaven. Whatever is there, I’m sure it’s fabulous and perfect for all its new residents. In these hard times this helps me think of happy thoughts of friends, relatives, and Joel. For Mr. VanDerBrink, it was a 1966 Impala that started memories and many friendships. Joel was a fellow collector and friend that will be missed.

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