Every summer my family went to Florida for two weeks. My grandfather left my mother his house down there so we always had a place to stay. The average age of everyone who lived on the block was a hundred and five so there weren’t a lot of kids for me to hang out with. The year I was eight we left the day after school let out so I’d miss the start of summer with my friends in Nashville. Maybe that was what gave me the idea to put a letter in a bottle. Or maybe I just got the idea from something I read or saw. The message in a bottle, or even just the floating message, has been around for thousands of years, a floating idea. I’m not sure where I picked it up; probably from cartoons or comics where someone stranded on an island writes “Send help!” on a piece of paper, puts it in a bottle, and throws it out to sea. I always wondered about that. Where’d they get the paper and ink? For that matter where’d they get the bottles? I’d heard about milkmen who’d leave glass bottles of milk on the doorstep and even though there weren’t any in my neighborhood, and it would be a few years before there’d be Dead Milkmen, I heard there were still places where people got their milk delivered. I thought maybe that’s where lonely island castaways got the bottles. So each day they’d put a plea for rescue in one bottle and a note that said “No more cheese!” in the other. And there were even more questions. How’d they seal the bottles? And how would they make sure the bottles would make it past the waves and not just be washed back up on the shore? And perhaps most puzzling, how would anyone who found a bottle with a message in it know where it came from? If you’re stranded on a desert island chances are you don’t know where it is and if the milkman hasn’t offered to give you a lift he’s probably too surly to give directions too, or maybe no castaways ever got up early enough to meet the milkman on his rounds, which is understandable since living on a desert island must be pretty exhausting.
Anyway I got this idea that it would be fun to put a message in a bottle and see where it went. I wrote a note asking whoever found it to write to me and tell me where they found it and about themselves. I included my home address in Nashville which I thought might make whoever found it wonder how it got from a landlocked state to the sea. I also didn’t know anything about ocean currents so it never occurred to me that since we were in St. Petersburg where the beach faces west right into the Gulf of Mexico it was unlikely the bottle would go somewhere really distant like New Zealand or Poughkeepsie, but I still hoped it would find its way to a distant shore and be picked up by someone interesting and we’d become steady penpals and maybe someday meet and have a series of wacky adventures. Or at least exchange postcards.
My father gave me an empty plastic Coke bottle, and even though I had some qualms about throwing trash into the sea I thought a plastic bottle would be better than a plastic one since it would float better and be less likely to break. We always went to a stretch of beach known as Treasure Island which is less of an island and more of an overgrown sandbar. I walked down to the John’s Pass Bridge and threw it into the water. And then as I was walking back to the spot my parents had staked out on the beach I saw a kid carrying a plastic Coke bottle and I was annoyed not just that my message had been found so soon and so close to where I’d sent it on its way but he looked a lot like me, only a few years younger, and I was hoping for someone, well, not like me—someone whose perspective on the world would be different. Then the kid poured water out of the bottle into a moat of a sandcastle he’d built and I realized it wasn’t the one I’d released, so my bottle, and its note were waiting to be picked up.
It never was picked up, or if it was whoever found it didn’t answer the message. Even though plastic lasts a really long time it still breaks down, gets broken up, sinks. In the end it’s just an idea I had that’s still out there floating.
I’m just glad you float your ideas here, Chris. Here’s a musical message:
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Thank you so much for that musical message. You and Sting are both great singers who do an excellent job of passing on messages musically.
Your thought process is an interesting, yet hilarious one Christopher! And maybe this will give you some more thoughts to ponder, the oldest known message in a bottle
I also wanted to let you know that I’m not able to comment on your posts via the WordPress reader posts, oh well.
That’s kind of funny that the sailors were using the bottle to study ocean currents and threw it off the ship off the coast of Australia and it was found…in Australia. From the headline I was hoping it was thrown overboard in another part of the world and had floated a long way.
Also I don’t know what’s going on with the WordPress reader. I appreciate your comments and I’m sorry they get regularly stuck in moderation. It seems to be a thing that’s happened with a recent upgrade and I hope the next upgrade will correct it.
You are not alone. I’ve actually thrown multiple bottles with notes in the ocean and also tied them to helium filled balloons (notes, not the bottles). Nary a response from any of them. 🙁 Good thing Al Gore invented the interweb so I could cast my electronic notes out there.
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I received this one!
I’ve done the helium-filled balloon thing too–although I like to think a bottle with a note inside would travel farther, given the right ocean currents. The internet has been a wonderful invention for connecting people.
I remember having milk delivered as a child, and even remember Mel Flake, our milkman. His wife, whose name escapes me, was my mom’s best friend. Their daughter, Karen, was my age so we became friends as children and though we didn’t remain close in school we went through grade school together. Her older brother, Kevin, was my brother’s age and they were close friends for a while. Why can’t I remember mom’s name? Heidi? No, that’s not right. Pam. I think it was Pam.
Still, I don’t know what became of Mel the Milkman after milk delivery faded in the 70s. Maybe he became the potato chip guy that goes to stores to make sure those aisles are full. Or maybe he went into long-distance trucking. Or maybe, just maybe, he became the captain of a cruise ship and went on to collect bottles thrown to sea, and your very message sits on his wall today. Wouldn’t that be the smallest world?
That’s amazing that you remember milk delivery. I didn’t realize it continued on into the ’70’s in some places. I don’t remember ever seeing a Charles Chip delivery truck either although I’ve heard about them, and had completely forgotten them until you mentioned that. My grandmother had a big Charles Chips container, and it’s weird to me to think that anyone got home delivery of potato chips.
I do hope that Mel The Milkman became a sea captain and sailed the world picking up messages in bottles and that he didn’t move to Arizona and open a diner.
I wish I’d known you when we were kids–we would have had so much fun, you with your bottles and me looking for hobbits in the forest by my house. Coincidentally, my family stayed in Treasure Island once, at a hotel that I was sure was called Long John Silver’s, but I can’t find it listed anywhere. Maybe it was another pirate name:-) Anyhow, I’m glad we’re “penpals” now.
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It would have been so much fun to help you look for hobbits. And I think I remember a hotel there called Long John Silver’s, so even if it’s not still around it’s very likely it was there once. There were a lot of funny little hotels and motels on that “island” back in the day, and a miniature golf place. It’s been a long time since I went back there but so much of it seems to have changed.
I bet there are still hobbits in the forests of Canada, though.
Lmao! The latter is far more likely. 😉