When Kathy Bennett's 4-year-old great-grandson, Ruben Barrera, tucked a message inside a bottle and tossed it into Lake Superior on Aug. 17, 2004, she wasn't sure the vast Great Lake would give it back.
And as the months and years scooted by without hearing of its fate, the Superior woman wondered if that old Spanish gin bottle had been reshaped into tiny pieces of sea glass by mighty winds and waves.
But to Bennett's surprise, she received a letter in the mail last month from a woman living in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and addressed to "Dear Message in a bottle."
"I am wondering if you had put a message in a bottle back in 2004 and tossed it into Lake Superior," the letter began. "My niece and nephew found a cool gin bottle (Xoriguer Mahon) with a note inside of it on Sunday, April 19, 2015 on the shore of Lake Superior in Misery Bay, Mich."
The letter was signed by LuAnn Hayrynen of Toivola, Mich.
Bennett was dumbfounded. Ten years and eight months from when little Ruben threw that bottle into the big lake, someone had found it and tracked her down.
"It was unbelieveable. I couldn't believe they found it," Bennett said this week.
'Did you ever find that bottle?'
Stuffing messages inside bottles and tossing them into oceans, lakes or large streams is a centuries-old pastime, but Bennett says she was inspired by the romantic 1999 film "Message in a Bottle" starring Kevin Costner, Paul Newman and Robin Wright.
Still, Bennett says it was a spur-of-the-moment idea when Ruben was visiting her from his Texas home and they were making one of their many trips to Brighton Beach that summer.
"He was fascinated with Lake Superior. He didn't know where it ended," she said. "There are no lakes around San Antonio. He doesn't live on the coast down there."
As best as she can remember, she scribbled this quick note on both sides of a small sheet of paper:
"My name is Ruben Barrera and I live in San Antonio, Texas. I am in Duluth, Minn., visiting. If you find this bottle, please call my grandma. ... Thank you."
Bennett added the date and her phone number. After placing the little note inside the bottle, corking it and wrapping the end with duct tape for good measure, Ruben threw the bottle into the lake, and its lengthy trek began.
"We watched it go out until we could no longer see it," Bennett said. "The wind happened to not be off the lake that day. It was blowing the other way. Usually the waves are coming in, but for some reason it worked.
"We normally don't throw things in the lake, I explained to him, but this is kind of a special thing because maybe someone will find your name on it."
Bennett and Ruben pondered the fate of their message in a bottle many times during the years immediately following their light-hearted venture, but as time passed, she eventually gave up hope that it would be found.
"Over the years he'd ask, 'Did someone ever find that bottle?' I'd say, 'No. It probably washed up as beach glass.' "
'This bottle took quite a trip'
It washed up - intact - nearly 150 miles (point to point) from Brighton Beach at Misery Bay, about 15 miles northeast of Ontonagon, Mich., and on LuAnn Hayrynen's lakeshore property.
Her niece Kristin Luukkonen, 6, and nephew Lucas Brandt, 32, were visiting on April 19 and found the heavily traveled bottle on the shore.
"This bottle took quite a trip," Hayrynen said Friday afternoon. "It was the coolest old bottle I have ever seen."
While the bottle survived the lengthy journey, Lake Superior was not as kind to the note.
"The cork had leaked a little bit and the note was a bit wet," Hayrynen said. "But 11 years later, I guess you'd take on a little bit of water."
All Hayrynen could decipher from the faded note was Bennett's phone number, a partial date and the closing "Thank you."
But she Googled that phone number, tracked down Bennett's current address and quickly mailed her a letter about what she found.
"I thought I would write a note," Hayrynen wrote. "If it were my bottle I would enjoy knowing of its long journey across the lake for over 10 years."
She didn't have to wait long for a reply.
"I got on the phone immediately and called her," Bennett said. "It hadn't been on my mind probably for five, six years. The chances that it even survived in the lake were really something.
"I've been in that area. I've driven past exactly that area because we've done some hiking in the Porcupine (Mountains) and some skiing right by that bay many years ago, but within the last 11."
Soon the bottle and its lake-worn note were delivered back to Bennett in Superior.
One more journey
Bennett's much-traveled old Spanish gin bottle is now at rest in her Superior home, but it soon will be on the move again - likely to Texas as a surprise gift.
"My great-grandson in Texas is 15 now. He will love this," Bennett said. "I haven't told him yet."
He probably will ask the same question Bennett has fielded often since telling others about her bottle's magical trip.
"Most people have said, 'How did it ever make it?' I said, 'I don't know. It just must have been a tough bottle.' "