In an age of text messaging, of digital immediacy, Dallas Goreham had an old-school problem.
The 11-year-old discovered a most unlikely note last Wednesday afternoon in a bottle on a beach in Nova Scotia, a note apparently written almost 18 years ago by a woman who turned out to be from Western New York. Yet it took a little while to figure out those origins.
Dallas is a good reader, not to mention intensely observant and curious - a lot of people might have missed seeing the message in a faded old bottle - but he could not read the yellowed letter for one reason. It was written in cursive, "and they don't teach cursive in his school anymore," said his mother, Tara Goreham, a teacher at Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School in Nova Scotia.
Tara said Dallas loves "beachcombing" along the Atlantic Ocean with his family near their Woods Harbour home in Nova Scotia. Dallas was out there Wednesday with his mother and his sister Callie, 9, looking for sea glass or bits of interesting driftwood, when he found what appeared to be that message in a big plastic bottle, sealed tight.
"It looks kind of like an Ocean Spray bottle," Goreham said, which would certainly be an appropriate brand.
Dallas had to cut the bottom off the bottle apart to get out the note. He removed the paper, which was thicker and more like cardboard. He handed it to Tara, who read the note to her son:
Aug. 19, 2000
I am a visitor to Gloucester. I hope you will/let me know if and when you find this. Cheers, Rita. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Imagine this. Based on the date, that bottle went into the water seven years before Dallas was born.
Mother and son, fascinated, tried the email on the note. No response. Then they googled the name of "Rita Ganim."
It turns out Ganim, 80, lives in West Seneca. She writes frequent notes and letters to The Buffalo News, a joyous correspondent who reflects the humor she sees in the world. So Tara emailed the newsroom, where she received help from editorial assistant Amy Yakawiak in making an email connection with Ganim.
Who was stunned.
Sure, Ganim said Thursday, she remembered tossing the bottle in the water. She was visiting her daughter and son-in-law in Gloucester, Mass., Jackie Ganim-DeFalco and Michael DeFalco, and they went for a ride on the couple's boat.
Ganim, looking out across the sea, decided she wanted to put a message in a bottle. Ganim is not one to litter. She asked Michael if she thought it would hurt the environment to give it a shot, especially if she used plastic instead of glass, and he told her he thought she would be all right.
She wrote the note, stuffed it in, sealed the bottle tight and heaved it overboard.
Nearly 18 years later, it showed up on a beach in Nova Scotia, hundreds of miles away from Gloucester.
Could a note survive at sea in a bottle for that long? When journalists have such questions about messages in bottles - such as a 101-year-old beer bottle found in the Baltic Sea - they often turn to David Holland, professor of mathematics and oceanography at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
His short answer:
"I find that to be a plausible story," he said of the Gloucester-to-Nova Scotia tale. The most fascinating question, to Holland, is whether the bottle was tied up for years in some little bay, or whether it went on some long journey to God knows where in the ocean and eventually found its way back to Woods Harbour.
As for the families involved, their conversations thus far have been carried out by email. Dallas, however, intends to make a call, because he has questions he wants to ask Ganim by phone, and he does not want to wait 18 years for a reply.
The big one is simply: What inspired you to do it?
Jackie Ganim-DeFalco, Rita's daughter, happens to be visiting her mother in West Seneca this week. In Gloucester, in an act of perfect fate, Ganim-DeFalco makes jewelry from bits and pieces of pottery and other tidbits she finds along the shore, driven by that sense of wistfulness and wonder she inherited from her mom.
Rita Ganim's mind is always churning, DeFalco said. In this case, the result was not the one that she expected.
"I thought I would get a pirate with a patch and a missing tooth," Ganim said. "I didn't think I'd get a cute little boy."
Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at email@example.com or read more of his work in this archive.