John Rodriguez was walking along the coast with his wife, Jessie Rodriguez, near Litchfield Beach on Nov. 7, 2000, when he was swept away by a romantic impulse.
He ripped out a page from his Day Timer planner, scribbled his cellphone number and a simple message: “I met the love of my life in Myrtle Beach, S.C., 1966.” He slid the missive into an empty bottle of Santa Rita Chardonnay, secured it with a cork and tossed it into the Atlantic Ocean.
He didn’t expect to see it again – but he got a call 13 years later from Scott and Pam Harris, a married couple living in South Carolina. They had found the bottle years before and more than 600 miles away.
Scott Harris was stationed at the Bahamas with his wife and was working as a golf course superintendent at the Four Seasons Resort in Great Exuma between 2002-04 when the Harrises decided to go for a stroll along a secluded beach at Coco Plum.
“We were just walking on the beach one day and there was this washed-up wine bottle,” Pam Harris recalled. In the bottle, she saw John Rodriguez’s message.
“It was very faded,” Pam Harris said.
“We thought somebody probably threw it off a cruise ship,” Scott Harris added. But he researched the currents and said he found the bottle had taken a much longer route being picked up by a current that had to travel north to Virginia before making a loop back south on its long journey.
“I don’t know how it made it without getting broken up,” he said.
The message was rolled tight and the Harrises didn’t see the phone number, but they kept the bottle as a souvenir. The couple returned to their home in Lancaster in August 2004. They placed the bottle on a bookshelf where it sat as a conversation piece for almost 10 years with its message inside slowly unfolding.
In 2013, Scott Harris’ cousin was admiring the message in the bottle and spotted the number, faded by the sun, but still decipherable through its indentations. “Have you ever called this phone number?” he asked.
“Scott called the number and left a message. We thought, chances of this being the person or persons who originally had it would be slight,” Pam Harris said. “What are the chances of the person who dropped this in the ocean to still have that phone number?”
But John Rodriguez had never changed his cellphone number. The call came in a few days after his birthday in 2013.
“I said ‘you’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” John Rodriguez said.
The Rodriguezes invited the Harrises to their home in Nebo, N.C., where the Harrises traded the empty bottle with a message for a full bottle of champagne. It was instant friendship, the couples recall, as they reflected on a sea of similarities and serendipitous moments that brought them together.
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, John Rodriguez was in the U.S. Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Lejeune in 1966, when he met his future wife in Myrtle Beach. She was vacationing from Shelby, N.C.
“It was like a summer romance,” Jessie Rodriguez said. She met him as she and a friend were exiting a souvenir shop.
“We just started talking,” she said with a grin. “We wrote a couple of letters and then he came to Shelby to see me.”
John Rodriguez said he used his mustering-out money several weeks later to buy an engagement ring.
“(I) drove all the way to Shelby from Camp Lejeune and she said I can’t accept that ring,” he said.
“She turned me down! So I drove from Shelby, N.C., to Dayton, Ohio, nonstop, like this,” he added with gritted teeth.
“I said if it’s meant to be, you’ll be back and it was like it was meant to be,” Jessie Rodriguez said. He returned and she said yes.
They celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary Dec. 17. The couple tries to return to Myrtle Beach every year to celebrate where their love began.