Monthly Archives: March 2011

Life Story Ghostwriter Uncorks A Jewel: This Message in a Bottle Was Found and Returned – 30 Years Later!

As a life story ghostwriter and teacher of Writing Your Life Story classes, one of my favorite exercises is to ask students to write about and bring in a “Memory Peg,” which can be any physical possession that has a story behind it. I’ve heard many vivid and unusual stories, including a stuffed moose head that served as one student’s family Christmas tree for 20 years.  But awhile ago I heard a Memory Peg kind of story from my wife Krista that just may top that one.

Here’s the story in a nutshell:

Back in 1978, an 8 year old boy, Matt Johnson, was sailing around the world with his parents and two sisters as part of the Semester at Sea study abroad program ( His father was one of the faculty teaching fully accredited courses to the college students onboard the 100-day voyage. The 15 or so “kids” that were children of faculty or staff had to use their imagination to find fun ways to pass the time, and when he wasn’t trying to catch sharks with meat coaxed from the dining hall crew or running around in forbidden parts of the ship Matt and his new friends were stuffing notes in bottles and casting them out to sea. (Perhaps littering was held in a different light then!) He was no doubt convinced, as kids would be, that someone surely would find one of his bottles and use the note inside to track him down someday.

And he was absolutely right. It just took more than 30 years to happen.

How? Well, it seems that a German woman named Connie and her British husband were vacationing in Barbados that winter. Connie’s eye caught a barnacle-covered bottle in the sand, and when she lifted it up she was quite surprised to learn that she literally had received the “message in a bottle” that we all hear so much about in movies and books. This one was very real, though, and she could clearly read the note (apparently the boy’s mom helped with the spelling). She was so excited that when she returned home she had the note mounted and displayed on her mantel. There it sat for years. “I’ll take it down and write to that boy someday,” she would say. Then she would forget.

Recently, she was cleaning out a drawer, found the note there, and decided she really ought to find that boy after all. “No way will you find him after all this time,” her husband said. But Connie was undaunted. The note included the detail about the boy being part of Semester at Sea, so she turned to my wife, the organization’s Director of Alumni Engagement. Using modern databases and info trails, they tracked down that “boy” – now 40 year old Matt Johnson with a family of his own. Imagine his surprise when he discovered that his message in a bottle was about to come back to him! And now he has a stirring Memory Peg story to tell his kids and everyone else in his life. In fact, Matt and Connie just shared their experienc eon NPR’s The Story (

Do you have an unforgettable Memory Peg story you could tell right now? Or have you ever (fess up) written a note and stuffed it in a bottle that you cast out to sea? Did you ever fantasize about hearing from the person who found it? Well, you never know!

– Kevin Quirk, Life Story Ghostwriter and author of the new book “Your Life Is a Book – And it’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story” (