By Anna Heiney
NASA's Kennedy Space Center
When a team of Kennedy Space Center ecology specialists ventured out to the Florida spaceport’s shoreline for a routine site survey, they expected to check on the progress of an ongoing dune restoration project. They didn't expect to find a compilation of poignant and charming writings.
Don Dankert first spotted the olive-green glass bottle jutting out of a shallow ditch just inland from the dune. It was May 2, 2018, and the area had recently been cleared of thick vegetation, leaving the bottle exposed. Surprised to have made such a discovery in the first place, Dankert retrieved and opened it, pulling out the neatly typed packet inside.
"You expect a single page, but it was five pages, front and back," said Dankert, NASA technical lead for environmental planning in the center's Environmental Management branch. "We were all reading excerpts, standing right there on the beach."
"Dearest Barbara," the first letter began. The writer, Victoria, addresses her sister Barbara directly, reminiscing about their sister, brother, parents, husbands and experiences they’d shared growing up. "My letter will take on its own pulse as I want to say the things I was not able to say at your bedside. . ."
After the first letter to Barbara was a second, written after she passed away in September 2012, describing the beautiful, smart and funny woman whom her siblings had always admired. Then, a copy of Barbara’s obituary. There were photos of Barbara, and several pages of her favorite witty "Barbara-isms."
Also included was a letter from Victoria to the person who would someday find and open the bottle.
"It is the desire of Barbara’s sisters to honor and share this amazing woman with the mystery of whomever should come upon 'Love from Barbara in a bottle,'" the letter read. "Barbara enjoyed life, and her funny side kept us laughing with the timing of these 'isms.'"
Victoria also included a phone number. Reached at her home in Mississippi, she was pleased and relieved to learn the bottle had surfaced.
"You don't know if it will be broken at sea; you wonder whether it will ever be found," she said.
After Barbara's passing, Victoria explained, the family had enlisted the help of the captain of a fishing charter that sailed out of Daytona Beach, Florida, about 50 miles north of the spaceport. He'd released the bottle in the Gulf Stream in March 2015. Dankert believes a passing hurricane probably carried it all the way over the dune to the place where it was finally discovered. The bottle and enclosed papers were all in good condition.
After the Kennedy team read the message that day at the beach, they brought it back to share with the rest of their organization.
"We shared it widely within our branch, with the disclaimer that it's emotional," Dankert said. "But it was well-received around here. Now everybody feels like we know Barbara, and a few of us still use the 'Barbara-isms.'"
Victoria and her surviving sister, Annis, are happy to know they accomplished their goal of honoring Barbara by sharing her warmth and wit.
"She loved life, and was just a beautiful woman, physically and in spirit," Victoria said. "She was an amazing role model."