Roger Clay died in a motorcycle accident 5 years ago, at the age of 21, but his parents received one last message from him?in a note he put in a bottle and dropped in the ocean in 1984, when he was 7 years old. A man in St. Petersburg, Florida found the bottle this week and returned it to his mother.

Clay was 7 years old and on vacation when he tossed the bottle into the Gulf of Mexico from a pier in Clearwater, just north of St. Petersburg. “To whoever finds this letter please write me a letter and let me know,” he wrote. He included his address in Fairfield, Ohio, and the date: Dec. 27, 1984.

When Don Smith saw the bottle in the water behind his house on Tampa Bay, he decided to try to find the boy. When he discovered Clay had died, he was even more determined to find his parents. He said, “Imagine what that message would mean to them.”

He finally tracked down Clay’s mother, Lisa Ferguson, while she was on vacation near St. Petersburg. “Here I am, trying to escape Roger’s death, and he reaches out and gives me this message, this gift,” she says.

Clay’s father, Roger K. Clay, had forgotten all about the bottle. “It’s kind of hard to put into words, all the emotions that brings back,” he says. “I told Lisa, it was like he was trying to remind us he was still with us.”

Sometimes important messages arrive in strange ways.

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