A lot of days, I feel like the luckiest person in the world. Thanks to my strange hobby, people send me stories about their own message in a bottle experiences that are downright delightful and heartening.
Not long ago, Norah Brown-Davis wrote from Northern Ireland to share her family’s fascinating and heartwarming story. It’s such a delight to hear it straight from Norah and her daughter Jenny, that I’m just going to turn it over to them.
The setting is Ireland in the 1980s.
“When the children were small, and we had lost our mainstay husband and father, I bought a caravan. My three children and I spent the summers on the north Donegal coast of Ireland, on a remote headland owned by a local farmer, who rented it out to trusted caravanners for very little. It was a beautiful area, with several different beaches, and the kids loved it.
One day, my daughter Jenny and some of her friends took a walk to the Boulder Beach–called that as there was very little sand, just varying sizes of stones and boulders.
While they were there, Jenny found a plastic bottle sealed with black tape. Examining it, and thinking it might have a letter in it, she opened it up. And yes, there was indeed a letter inside! It was from a ship’s captain from Newfoundland, and this is what he wrote:
The Person who picks up this plastic bottle, please Contact Tony Bennett in Trepassey phone number 438-2554 this was threw into the water on the S.E. South East side off the Sand Banks of Nfld, Canada by the Captain of the “Zory” T.B. Fishing Trawler March 14th 1984.
A reward of $20 is offered
Phone – 438-2554
Write – Tony Bennett
Back at the caravan, there was great excitement, as we wondered how far it had floated, and why it should have ended up on a beach in north Donegal! We had no internet access then (it was the mid-eighties), so it was not easy to check distances. But, when we recently checked, we found Trepassey is 2025 miles from Melmore Head where we were staying. Knowing the prevailing winds were from the West, and the Gulf Stream caused tides to flow from west to east, we knew it would not have taken long to arrive on a beach in Donegal.
We decided to write to the ship’s captain…”
From here, Jenny continues the story by sharing the letter she wrote to Captain Tony after finding his message in a bottle all those years ago:
“Dear Tony, we found your message in a plastic container, wrapped in black tape off the north coast of Donegal.
We, Jenny, Julie, Clare and Ingrid) went for a walk to what we call the ‘Bolder Beach’ and on the way back I (Jennie) found your bottle and inquisitive me started unwinding it. Clare helped me open it but Ingrid, who isn’t the imaginative type walked.
When the top at last came off, we were surprised to find your message inside. We quickly read it and called to Ingrid who didn’t believe us at first.
We ran to Clare’s grandad’s caravan because he’s the sort of person who knows about maps, degrees, etc., and Clare thinks he knows everything.
We photocopied your note for each of us and the enclosed map to show you where we found your bottle.
We were thrilled to read of your $20 reward and that you live right across the ocean so the bottle has travelled so far in only just over a year.”
And now, back to Norah:
“Captain Tony sent Jenny the $20, and he was pleased to hear from us. We corresponded with him and his family for several years, until a letter from his wife told us he had had a heart attack and died. His wife continued to write for a while, but she had a new baby, was coping with bereavement, and the letters stopped. Then one day out of the blue, a couple came to my door in Holywood, Northern Ireland, and the girl said she was the baby in the story! She is now a friend on Facebook.”
Just think of it: This one little message in a bottle united two families through some of the happiest moments of their lives, and some of the saddest. How can one little note spark something so big?
(As a sidenote, it’s pretty cool that Trepassey is in an area known as the “Irish Loop” in Newfoundland, due to the influx of Irish settlers to the area in the 19th century).
And think of Captain Tony’s daughter who must have grown up hearing about Norah and Jenny like real, important characters in her father’s life. After all that, she showed up on Norah’s doorstep out of the clear blue and kindled the next phase of the story. She didn’t know her father, as he passed away when she was a baby, so she turned to the next best thing: the people who knew him, even if only through letters.
I can’t help thinking of Laurence Reid, and Emily Crowhurst, and Margaret Harkins, and all the others who have been reunited with their deceased loved ones through messages in bottles. In all of these stories, the “reunion” is only possible thanks to the kindness of some stranger. As tempting as it may be to think the world is populated only by lunatics and monsters (certainly most news outlets want us to think this), these are powerful, if tiny, reminders that lots of people are actually kindhearted and well-meaning.
So this is my challenge to you, readers (and to myself): Next time you find yourself stuck in the vortex of someone’s griping about the decline of society, or a “kids these days” rant, tell them this story. Norah’s story. Or Laurence’s, or Emily’s, or Margaret’s, and remind them of the good-hearted people in the world. Maybe if enough of us learn these stories, we might begin to believe in a kinder world. And if we believe in a kinder world, we’re halfway to making it a reality.