Brian Standefer was 10 years old in 1995, when he and three friends decided to write a note on a piece of cardboard, roll it up inside a bottle and toss it into a bayou in La Marque, Tex., near Galveston Bay.
“If you find this please call,” he wrote on the note, including two phone numbers. “If not home, leave it on answer machine. Please leave phone #.”
He and his buddies signed the note and hurled it into the water, then they quickly forgot about it, as they had other kid things on their minds, such as baseball and swimming and making sure they were home before dark, he said.
“We were just a bunch of kids goofing around and looking for something fun to do,” recalled Standefer, now 38. “I think on that day we were probably playing a game of sandlot football.”
He and his friends — Drew Plasek, Travis Casler and Lance Casler — quickly moved on to more important tasks, like winning Little League Baseball games, he said.
As they grew older they stayed in touch, and they pulled together when tragedy struck their friendship circle after Travis Casler died of a heart attack a year and a half ago.
“The rest of us were devastated,” Standefer said.
“When something like that happens, you think a lot about the fun times you had together,” he added.
Even as he and his childhood buddies reminisced, they had forgotten about the message in a bottle — until this summer. They were shocked to learn that 27 years later, it had surfaced downstream, just two miles away.
Terry “P.J.” Pettijohn, a cleanup volunteer with the Keep La Marque Beautiful Commission, was picking up trash in Mac McGaffey Highland Bayou Park on July 16 when he spotted an aqua blue Clearly Canadian water bottle partially buried in compacted mud along the shore.
He dug it out and held it up to the light.
“The top was tightly sealed, and I noticed there was a note inside,” said Pettijohn, 68.
He called over a few other volunteers, and they took turns trying to open the bottle and finally smashed it to get inside, he said.
“When we saw the phone numbers, of course, we were immediately dialing them,” Pettijohn said. “But both numbers were out of service.”
The note was too good to toss away, and the volunteers were intrigued by the mystery, so they notified a local television station about the find and also posted a photo of the note on the Keep La Marque Beautiful Commission’s Facebook page, he said.
Several area residents recognized Standefer’s name, and they soon put Pettijohn in touch with him, he said. Standefer was blown away when he heard.
“I couldn’t believe he’d found that bottle — I hadn’t thought about it since the day we threw it in,” said Standefer, now a certified financial planner in League City, about 14 miles from where he grew up in La Marque.
“Think of the hurricanes and storm surges it had been through in almost 28 years,” he said. “For it to end up only two miles away is incredible. It didn’t travel 2,000 miles, but I was thrilled it was found.”
Standefer said that when he was growing up, his parents often took him to the bayou with a metal detector to look for hidden treasure. It’s something he still does today with his two boys, Parker, 7, and Drake, 6.
“Don’t tell my kids, but I hide coins in the backyard for them to find,” he said. “When I was a kid, I always loved to see what I could find in the dirt and the sand.”
“That’s probably the reason I decided to write a note with my buddies,” Standefer added. “I wanted somebody to have the surprise of finding it.”
Pettijohn said he certainly was surprised. The day he found it, he and 26 other volunteers had picked up more than 400 pounds of garbage along the shores of the park.
“I saw this really nasty piece of carpet, and when I picked it up, there were lots of cans and beer cans underneath it,” he said. “But this particular bottle stood out — it was buried halfway into the ground.”
On July 18, he met Standefer in the park to point out where he’d found the note and present Standefer with the message from his 10-year-old self.
Alanah Brown, chairwoman for Keep La Marque Beautiful, had arranged to have the note framed, since the original bottle had been broken.
“To see my handwriting and my friends’ names was a surreal and emotional thing, especially since we’d lost Travis,” Standefer said.
Drew Plasek now lives in Denver and is still a close friend, he said, while Travis Casler’s brother, Lance Casler, lives nearby in Spring, Tex.
“We’d all forgotten about the note until Terry found it,” Standefer said. “It was fun to meet him and thank him for what he did.”
“To me, it was meant to be,” Pettijohn added. “If I hadn’t gone out to look for trash that day, that bottle never would have been found.”
He said there is probably a good explanation for why the bottle only made it two miles to the city park.
“That bottle was pretty heavy, and I don’t think it was able to float the five miles to Galveston Bay,” Pettijohn said. “I believe it sank to the bottom and eventually rolled to where I found it.”
Standefer said he thought briefly about taking the note home and displaying it on a bookshelf, but then he decided there was a better place for it.
“I gave it to the city of La Marque to put on the wall at City Hall, where everyone can enjoy my chicken-scratch handwriting,” he said.
He said he now hopes later this year to toss another bottle into the bayou with his sons and include a scavenger hunt map leading to a $100 bill.
“Only this time," Standefer said, “I hope it doesn’t take somebody 27 years to find it.”