Jodi Thomas dropped the bottle off the coast of Provincetown in August 2022. Last month, a history teacher found it 3,349 miles away
On a Saturday morning early in January, Jodi Thomas began receiving a flurry of phone calls from an unknown number in France.
“New year, new scams,” Thomas, 55, recalls to PEOPLE. “I had a spree of calls on Jan. 6. At first I dismissed them, but then received a text from one of the numbers stating, ‘The letter you wrote has been retrieved in France. Would you be interested in speaking with us?’”
Someone had found her message in a bottle — a note she wrote to her late father, who was a pilot boat captain — which she tucked inside a bottle on Aug. 19, 2022, and cast into the ocean while aboard a fishing vessel on the outer waters of Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Halfway around the world, on the beach in Montalivet, France, history teacher Jean Rouchard was walking along the shore when he discovered Thomas’ treasure.
After bringing it home to his wife, the couple debated about whether to contact her, Thomas says, before they ultimately got in touch.
The Massachusetts woman was driving when the first picture of her bottle came through on her phone.
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“I was shocked,” she says. “It really was mine, it was true.”
Thomas adds, “I had to pull over, I was shaking with unbelievable nerves of disbelief.”
Yet, she says, she was also overcome with gratitude to Rouchard — who had found her through an online memorial for her father — for reaching out.
“There is certainly a reason it found its way to you,” Thomas says she told him in a call later.
Just over two years ago, Thomas lost her beloved father, Tommy, who had battled heart issues for years.
On the morning of his memorial, Nov. 23, 2021, in between the buoys of Butler's Flat in the New Bedford harbor, she dropped her first message in a bottle to honor his memory.
“It was that morning when listening to our shared love for the legendary artist James Taylor and a line in the song, ‘Boatman,’ just hit my heart. 'Jodi, do it!' So, I took a random paper and began to write,” she recalls to PEOPLE.
“I had not planned this, so a pre-sought bottle was not available, which is why I used a skull-shaped vodka nip bottle, because when he did have a cocktail or two in his younger days it was always a vodka-based Seabreeze. I placed the note in, along with some sand from the shoreline, and later that morning, my note was released in the bitter cold from the bow of my dad's boat.”
The bottle sank to the bottom of the ocean, Thomas recalls now, something like a metaphor for her loss.
“He was the essence of a beautiful man,” she says. “My first memory is that of wonder. He stood tall and strong with a grand presence. He was handsome. His smile made you smile too. He was a hard worker and always wanted the best.”
When she was a young girl, she would tag along with her dad to work on Sundays, where he would supply local fishing vessels with clean water before their sea voyages.
“I remember watching in awe how fast and brave he was jumping boat to boat,” Thomas says.
She adds, “He would help anyone he knew who needed something and expect nothing back. It was just his way. The work, whether it be on a fishing boat, water boat or his pilot boat, it was in him. He told me once, ‘There is nothing better than to catch a sunrise behind this wheel and watch the sea.’”
Now, left with the memories of her dad, she hopes to make new ones because of him.
Shortly after Rouchard found the bottle, he brought it into his classroom to share with his students, teaching them a geography lesson on the “mirrored cities” of Provincetown and Montalivet, separated by 3,349 miles but also tied together by the bond that he has forged with a daughter who lost her dad.
Rouchard has already invited Thomas, an educator herself, to visit him, and she says she’s saving for the trip, which is “now No. 1 on the bucket list.”
Through her grief and now through her new friend in France, she has learned more than a few life lessons.
“Losing my dad was the hardest thing I have experienced in my life thus far,” Thomas, a breast cancer survivor, says. “We all take for granted that time is just time. We all make time for things that we like, but what are these things? Can we live without these things? Things mean different things to different people. The one thing we should all make time for is love because without it we have nothing.”
"So we should all believe that our lives can change in a matter of seconds," she adds. "It sounds cliche but it's true.”
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