A storyline that’s almost too hard to believe.
An adventurous boy slips away from his family, exploring the wooded beach of a nondescript lake island.
And what does he find but – of course! – a long-lost love letter, rolled inside a bottle, washed ashore who knows how many years ago.
And to whom was it addressed but – of course! – his own grandfather.
It’s just too coincidental, too strange, too perfect to be true. Right?
But it is.
Viki Garrick and her family took a fishing trip on Lake Murray last Saturday.
The kids growing antsy and bored, the family stopped the boat at a small island to run around and explore.
Nine-year-old Nolan, wandering off just a bit, came upon an old glass, screw-top bottle tucked near a log. Inside it he found a rolled-up letter.
“Some note from the pirates or something,” Nolan imagined. “I thought it was some weird, psycho treasure stuff.”
Wary of what the letter might say, Garrick and her husband opened the bottle and read it first, able to make out only a few words and phrases written on a yellowed paper towel:
“I wish I could see you ... I love you so much ... I love you, Diane.” It was addressed to someone whose name they could only tell began with the letter “M.” “When I saw the ‘I wish I could see you,’ I thought it was an affair,” Garrick said. “I thought, ‘Ooh, what have I found!’”
Studying the signature, though, she swore she recognized it.
On a hunch, she sent a picture of the letter and some of the text to her good friend Diane Bryant, who always signed her name with a familiar script.
The letter was no mystery to Bryant.
“I said, ‘I know exactly where that came from,’” Bryant said.
She had been about 13 years old on an overnight gathering along Lake Murray with a group from her church in about 1970, Bryant recalled, and she was missing her boyfriend, Mike Rogers, Nolan’s grandfather.
Bryant and Rogers dated on and off for a couple of years during their teens.
“He had long hair. And my dad did not like him, so, therefore, I liked him,” Bryant said. “I was his church girlfriend. I know he had other girlfriends.”
Rogers had gotten into some kind of trouble around that time, as he apparently often did, and hadn’t been allowed to go on the trip.
“When you’re 13 years old, you’re devastated about that,” Bryant, now 58, remembered with a giggle.
So she wrote the note to Rogers, not something unusual for her to do. The couple would scribble love letters to one another in those days.
And Bryant, who often fantasized, would sometimes write messages on balloons for fun, just dreaming of whom they might float to.
She stuffed this note, penned on half a paper towel, in a Dr. Pepper bottle and tossed it in the lake.
“With my whole heart, I just knew one day he would find it,” she said.
“I've thought about it through the years, thinking, ‘I wonder if anyone ever found that bottle?’”
“Well, I got it,” joked Rogers, 58, as Nolan led them one evening this week to the spot where he discovered the bottle (not far from where he also found half a turtle shell, he proudly noted).
“I'm feeling pretty old right about now, Diane, walking with my grandchildren, and one of them’s older than we were when you wrote the letter,” Rogers said.
What are the chances it would be Nolan to discover the letter written to his grandfather more than four decades ago?
And what are the chances that Garrick would make out her friend’s signature from just a faded scrap of paper towel?
If anyone else had stumbled on the letter – and in 45 years, what are the chances no one had? – it would have been meaningless, its story forever a mystery.
“I’m just amazed. I don’t understand why it happened,” Bryant said. “I don’t know what’s the hidden message.”
“The more you think about it, the more it blows your mind,” Rogers said.
“There’s got to be some meaning to this.”
They've remained friends through the years. But they certainly weren't the star-crossed lovers of some romantic drama, destined to fall in love all over again upon the letter’s discovery.
“We decided we would have killed each other a long time ago,” Bryant joked.
She and her husband, Ron, who had been at the same church gathering on the lake that day she wrote the letter to Rogers, will have been married for 40 years come June. They collect antiques and love the stories behind many of the items in their home.
And now they’ve got another one to add.
“We’ll put (the bottle) with all the other stuff,” Bryant said, “and when somebody sees it, we’ll say, ‘There’s a story behind that.’”