|Magic in the Bottle|
Table of Contents:
By Joseph S. Gulotti
I was an energetic eleven-year-old, and I could sing every Beatles song from memory. My favorite song was “Help!,” which I played over and over on my four-track tape player. That year Richard Nixon finally won the presidency after two failed efforts and inherited a raging Vietnam. Jimi Hendrix played a psychedelic version of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Woodstock Festival that summer, and rioting and discontent gripped many American cities.
Amidst all of this, I set sail with my Aunt Dora shortly after noon on June 15, 1969 on the T/N Raffaello, an Italia Line ocean liner of luxurious splendor. We put out to sea from Pier 82, one of the numerous piers that fingered out into the murky waters of the Hudson River on Manhattan’s West Side. It was a warm Sunday afternoon and a brilliant sun reflected off of the Empire State Building, which stood out among the countless, less characteristic skyscrapers that made up the skyline. At the furthest point west on 42nd Street, all the sounds of a great metropolis were carried on a humid breeze. As we lifted anchor, the noise of the city’s traffic was drowned out by the deep, drawn-out sound of the ship’s powerful foghorns.
After a few days at sea, I began to get homesick. The feeling quickly passed, however, as the next several days were filled with eating and swimming and running, playing with new friends and going to sleep way past my bedtime.
During one of those days, Aunt Dora had an idea. Somewhere north of Spain’s volcanic Canary Islands off of the northwest coast of Africa, she encouraged me to believe in magic and to dream the impossible. She told me that if I put a note in a bottle and threw it into the sea that surely someone would find it in some distant time, in some distant land. Captivated by that magical possibility, I got a thin sheet of the ship’s blue stationery from the cabin’s desk and began to write.
Below a line drawing of the ship and Raffaello written in cursive characters, I began my letter promising to anyone who found my letter a reward. I stuffed the tightly rolled up treasure into an empty wine bottle and sealed it tightly with a cork. That evening, after dinner, I tossed the bottle overboard. I watched it bob on the waves until it disappeared into the loneliness of the sea. As it faded from view, so did its memory.
Until . . .
One day in March of 1972, the postman delivered a letter addressed Joseph Gulotti, Esq. 92-11 52nd Avenue, Elmhurst, New York 11373, USA. I rarely received any letters, and that one wasn’t like any letter I had ever seen. There was no envelope; instead, it was a single thin sheet of letter paper that when carefully unsealed showed the contents of the correspondence on one side and the address written on the other. Just above the address was a yellow and brown stamp that pictured men building a boat out of wood. In the corner of the stamp was the likeness of the Queen of England. I was so excited. Beside the stamp, it read “par avion aerogramme”; and below that, printed to the character of a triangle, was the outline of the southern coast of Florida, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Within the triangle were several small dots labeled Turks and Caicos Islands, West Indies. I had no idea what to expect when I opened it.
To my disbelief and with complete astonishment, years after I had cast my wine bottle into the ocean I read the words “On 19 March 1972, I found a bottle on . . . .” It was so unexpected, so impossible, but it was true. Someone really did find my bottle in a distant time on a distant land.
I began to read her the letter. “I found your bottle on Great Sand Cay with your note in it. This particular Cay is uninhabited and the purpose for our visit there was just for an outing. You offered a reward,” it continued, “however, rather than sending me the reward I would appreciate it if you would send me a letter telling me when you dropped the bottle in the ocean. I hope you had a good trip.” It was signed, “Sincerely, William C. Bivin.”