Kevin Duke was a proud father of a newly-licensed 16-year-old. To celebrate the occasion, he wanted to give his daughter her very first car and made sure that it was in perfect condition for her to be safe on the road. While cleaning it out, Duke made a discovery that stopped him dead in his tracks. What Duke found revealed that the wheels he just bought for his daughter were more than just a car…
And it was enough to make them reconsider keeping it!
When a kid turns 16 years old, they are finally able to get their driver’s license. As a result, many lucky kids often receive a car for their 16th birthday. Jada Duke was one of those kids.
Her father Kevin bought a used car a few weeks ahead of her birthday, checking if it ran properly and fixing it up before he gave it to her. That’s when he encountered something unexpected.
In January 2015, Kevin Duke began searching for a car for his daughter Jada, who would be turning 16 the following March. After he mentioned it, a customer at his construction job told him about a car that was for sale.
"She told me that she had seen a car that would be a perfect starter car for my daughter," he told CNHI News. The car in question was a used silver Ford Fusion.
"The brakes squeaked a little bit, but it was a good car," Duke said after taking it for a test drive. A few days later, he bought the car and took it home for some maintenance to make sure the car was safe for his daughter.
He'd gone through every nook and cranny of the car at least five times but still felt the need to check again.
In the top glove compartment, he finally found something he overlooked.
Kevin Duke opened the top-dash compartment for the sixth time. He recalled, "This time I noticed that the cover on the bottom was removable. I thought it might be dirty so I popped the cover loose; and when I did I saw the corner of the envelope."
Curious, Duke sat in the car and opened the envelope. "I sat right there and read it, and bawled like a baby," he recalled.
The envelope was addressed to "New Car Owner" and also noted "Important Info Inside." Duke likely thought that it might detail any maintenance concerns he should have about the car but once he read the envelope's contents, he was immediately flabbergasted.
The envelope contained a hand-written letter that turned out to reveal the car's colored past. As Duke poured over the letter, he could not believe what he was reading.
"This car holds a lot of special memories for me. My home and everything in it is gone, this car is all that I had left to touch," the letter read. When it comes to used vehicles, most people are often only concerned with how much longer it will last under their ownership.
But as Duke continued to read the letter, he got a real glimpse into the life that his daughter's car had before he bought it.
The car had a past life and it even had a name, as you're about to learn.
"My family filled this car with lots of love and other sticky things. We took two road trips, blasted '80s and country music and rolled the windows down. I've changed more diapers in the backseat than I can count. There's probably a sucker stick or a crayon hidden somewhere that belonged to my baby," the letter stated.
In reading the letter, Kevin Duke also came to learn why the car was no longer with this person who obviously loved it so much.
Indeed, the person who wrote the letter did take a moment to mention some kinks that came with the car. "The dent on the rear drivers side fender and the dent in the passenger side door are where my daughter learned to ride... and crash... her bike," the letter read.
It's plausible that Duke thought back to when he taught his own daughter how to ride a bike and didn't mind so much about the dents on her first car.
The car also had a name: Sylvia. "The very first day Mom got this car, we all rode around and Dr. Hook's 'Sylvia's Mother' came on the radio. The name kind of just stuck when... my daughter said that's what we should name the car. So please don't change her name," the letter said.
As he kept reading, Duke would learn more about Sylvia and the memories she made with this unknown family.
And he would come to know the tragedy that eventually brought the car into his hands...
"I just wanted to let you know what a special vehicle you've bought. This car belonged to my mom. She passed away Feb. 25, 2015 in a house fire along with my 6-year-old daughter and my aunt. The last time my mom drove this car was the day she left us," the letter read.
Kevin was floored to learn that the car was connected to such a tragedy. He wondered why the car was given up if it had so much meaning.
The letter was written by a woman named Sabrina Archey. Archey was at work when her family home burst into flames and took her mom, daughter, and aunt along with it. Not only did Archey have to deal with the grief of losing some of the most important people of her life but she also was faced with the repercussions of the tragedy.
Suddenly homeless, Archey also still had to care for her other surviving daughter, who was not at home during the fire.
After the fire, all Archey had left was her mother's car and a backpack her late daughter had left inside of it. Despite what had happened, the car was still repossessed.
"There was a mix up with paperwork and that's caused the car to not be paid off by insurance. It's very upsetting that I have lost my family, my home and now I'm losing this last link I have with my mom and child through no fault of my own," Archey wrote.
Archey wasn't bitter, as you'll soon learn, but she did have a special request.
Despite a supportive community that came together to help her with funeral costs, Archey was still left with a whole plethora of financial burdens to take care of on her own. Even though the company that financed the car tried to help Archey as best they could, in the end they had to take it off her hands.
Before the car was picked up, Archey went through the car one last time to find anything that was left behind.
While searching the car one last time, Archey noticed a faint imprint of a child-sized shoe on the dashboard where her late daughter used to sit. The moment she saw it, a flood of memories and tears suddenly came pouring out.
That was when Archey was moved to write the letter to whomever would turn out to be the new owner of her mother's Ford Fusion. Little did she know, the car wouldn't be going that far.
Despite having to give up her mother's car against her will, Archey expressed no hard feelings towards its new owner. In her letter, she clarified, "I'm not mad at you. I hope this car is the best car you've ever owned. I hope it runs for 100 more years. I hope the back seat is filled with kids and toys and random things."
At the end of her letter, Archey did make a plea.
She may not have been bitter but that didn't mean she didn't want the car back as you'll soon see...
She continued, "Life happened in this car. Love, joy, and adventure was had in this car. So now that it's yours, please remember it isn't just a car. It's a memory. This car with all its quirks is the last piece of my family. Be nice to it."
For Archey, her family's memory lived on in that car that was so hard to let go. But soon, things would come full circle
Archey was surely heartbroken to let the car go but she sincerely hoped its new owner would enjoy it the same way her family did. She even made this special suggestion: "Play it a country song, Big Green Tractor was my daughter's favorite song ever, or some Lynyrd Skynrd Freebird. That song meant so much to us that I played it at their funerals."
She really wanted to let the car's new owner know just how important it was.
Archey knew that Sylvia might not even stay with her new owner for long. In the letter, she added, "If you ever want to sell Sylvia, please try to find me. I just paid for 3 funerals, I can't afford to buy it right now, but hopefully I'll be in a better financial situation if you decide later that she's just not right for you anymore."
Reading that bit, Duke felt torn over the car he had just bought his daughter.
He decided to reach out to ask Archey for her blessing...
Archey was from Greenup, Kentucky and Kevin Duke lived only 15 minutes away in Flatwoods. After reading the letter, Duke was so filled with emotion that he knew he had to find Archey to let her know her mother's Ford was now in good hands.
Luckily, finding Archey wasn't too difficult. Because of how moved he was, Duke asked her permission to share her letter on Facebook. That's when things really took a turn.
After Duke shared the heartbreaking letter on Facebook it quickly went viral, especially after it was shared by the page Love What Matters where it accumulated 19,000 reactions from people as far as Australia.
Many people sympathized with Sabrina Archey's story and believed that Duke should return the car to her. That's when one citizen came across the story and decided to take matters into their own hands. Simply sharing the story wasn't enough for them.
More than 800 miles away in Kansas, Tammi Warrington was utterly moved by Archey's letter. When she read the letter, she was reportedly struck by how Archey wasn't bitter about giving up the car. "It devastated me on her behalf," Warrington told CJ Online.
Warrington remembered when her own father passed away and how she would feel if her 5-year-old son was gone too. She remembered thinking that Archey needed to have her car back.
And eventually, they found a way to make it all work out...
When she initially read the letter, Warrington didn't know who had originally written it. All she had to go off of was the person who shared it, which was Kevin Duke. Warrington decided to reach out to Duke to see what she could do to help him and help return the Ford Fusion to its previous owner.
She was surprised to find out that Duke had already been in touch with Archey.
Warrington worked with Duke to figure out how much it would cost to replace Duke's daughter's car so that they could return the Ford Fusion to Archey without her having to buy it back.
Altogether, they determined they would need to raise $12,000 to pay taxes to give the car back to Archey, take care of credit card processing fees, and to be able to replace the car that Duke intended to give to his daughter.
An online fundraising campaign was set up to raise money. At first, they only managed to raise a few hundred dollars until one day, it suddenly had $3,500. Warrington checked her email to see a barrage of messages. Apparently, an Australian television ran a story about the campaign.
Finally, TLC contacted Warrington to highlight Archey's new friendship with the Duke's on This Is Life Live. Kevin Duke only agreed to appear on TV if he got to personally return the keys to Archey.
For his part, Duke merely meant to share what he thought was an interesting story. "I didn't want to make any money from it. If I could have afforded to replace the car, then I would have just given in to her," he told CNHI News.
Eventually, Sylvia was returned to Archey, who felt so good to be able to feel where her mom used to hold the steering wheel. Kevin Duke was also still able to give his daughter a car. Fittingly, she named it Sylvia 2.