Set To Sea

Message In A Bottle Brings Family More Than Closure

Posted: September 6, 2013

Over the summer, Amy Simmons (right) dropped a message in a bottle into the ocean. Shortly there after, Bob Grimm contacted her saying he’d found the bottle; he later told her the two families are, in fact, distantly related. (Photo by Matt Gonzales)
Honoring a family member with messages in a bottle brought together distant relatives (from left) Judy and Bob Grimm; Amy, her daughter, Abby, and Christine Simmons. (Photo by Matt Gonzales)
To honor Jim Simmons, a family member who lost his battle with cancer, Amy Simmons and her family set messages in bottles to sea in the hopes those who found them would respond. (Photo by Photo Courtesy of Amy Simmons)
This past June, Amy Simmons, along with seven other immediate and extended family members, hit the road for a family vacation to the shores of Nags Head, N.C. It had been a long, tough year for the Simmons family, as beloved member Jim Simmons had lost his battle with cancer in July 2012. A family vacation was needed, and they wanted to make it special.

As the families loaded their vehicles, they made sure to bring along eight empty soda bottles. Inside each bottle was a handwritten message — four penned by children and four by adults.

“My message included my name, where I was vacationing, who I was vacationing with, my email, and the date,” said Amy. “I referenced Jim — my father in-law — and mentioned the experiment at hand.”

The plan was to celebrate Jim’s life by testing out the “message in a bottle,” which involves sealing a message in a bottle that is dropped in a body of water in the hopes someone will later discover it and contact the sender.

According to Amy, Jim collected old Coca-Cola Co. bottles as a hobby, so honoring him with the project seemed fitting.

Once on shore, each family member tossed their respective bottle into the ocean and watched the current take it away.

Simmons family members thought it would take many months before a single bottle would be found, if discovered at all. Amy joked that she thought hers would end up in Ireland one day.

That theory went out the window when, a few days later, she received an e-mail.

The email was from Bob Grimm, a West Virginia resident vacationing with his wife, Judy, on Pea Island, which is approximately 14 miles south of Nags Head.

“We go to Pea Island each summer to look for sea shells,” said Bob. “As I was walking along the shore, I saw a Coke bottle in the distance. As I was walking past it, I looked down and said ‘Wait a minute, there’s something in there!’ ”

Upon opening the bottle and reading the message, Bob immediately contacted Amy.

“I was surprised it happened so soon,” Amy said of the initial email. “I had no idea that somebody would find a bottle that quickly. It was surprising.”

But it was a pleasant one.

Amy was not astonished by the discovery, as the purpose of the project was for somebody to find the bottle and contact the sender. The pair ended up keeping in contact and exchanged emails for the next couple of days.

Deeper Connection
A few days later, as Amy was at work, she turned on her computer and checked her email.

She received a new message from Bob.

In the message, Bob included a breathtaking piece of information that left Simmons speechless.

“He said that his wife may be related to our family, and I couldn’t believe it,” said Amy. “I had to take a lunch break when I read that. I couldn’t process what I had just read.”

What was discovered is that the two parties are actually related.

Judy’s aunt had a grandfather who was related to Jim’s grandmother. Years ago, Judy’s aunt was at a family reunion that was also attended by Jim.

“I said to myself ‘Wow, this is something,’ ” Bob said of the discovery. “Finding the bottle from somebody with family ties, that is so unique.”

After this discovery, the two families wanted to meet each other. They decided to unite in Harrisonburg late last month, which was the first time the two parties had met in person.

Many hugs, laughter, and conversation were exchanged during the hour-long gathering in Downtown Harrisonburg one bright Sunday afternoon.

The meeting was extra special for Christine Simmons, Jim’s widow.

When talking about the enormity of the situation, Christine looked at Bob and told him something that she could not shake from her mind.

“Out of all the people that could have found this bottle, it was you,” said Christine, as she slowly shook her head in astonishment. “You all just so happen to be on vacation down there the same week. What are the odds?”

Slim to none. The families agreed that the chances of a distant relative finding the bottle were nearly impossible, considering the current initially took the bottles north, yet somehow they washed ashore south of where it was tossed.

There could be discussions as to whether the discovery was simply due to luck or fate, but Amy believes it was something more than that; something miraculous. She believes somebody else made all of this possible.

“I think Jim had something to do with this,” admitted Amy. “I honestly do. Some kind of power was involved. I honestly don’t think this was a coincidence.

“I mean, how does that happen?”

Bob agrees.

“I can’t explain how this happened,” admitted Bob. “The way everything played out, I almost feel like this was meant to happen.”

A message in a bottle: another way to bring the family together.

Contact Matt Gonzales at 574-6265 or

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