Message in a bottle: Memories of a fisherman wash ashore in Annapolis

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

Fifty miles south of the Conowingo Dam, a bottle flew out of a BMW and flashed red as it tumbled into the water below the Bay Bridge.

Days before, incessant rain threatened to overtake the dam, which corrals the Susquehanna River and all of the junk that flows downstream from Pennsylvania and New York. Workers opened floodgates, sending driftwood, tires and plastic refuse past Havre de Grace and Elk Neck State Park, Tolchester Beach and Gibson Island, into Annapolis harbor, much to the chagrin of city maintenance crews.

Amid the muck and mire was the Coca-Cola bottle, tossed from on high to reconnect a man with the water he loved.

It contained: four screws, two nuts, a small wrench, an unsmoked Newport cigarette, a photo of a smiling family and a remembrance card from a funeral.

The card read: “In loving memory of Richard Henry Kaufman.”

There’s no way to prove that when Bradley Hamilton, Kaufman’s nephew, threw the soda bottle out of the car window Monday in memory of his late uncle, the bobbing, plastic capsule floated the five or so nautical miles from the Bay Bridge to Annapolis.

But what’s for certain is that Tuesday morning a volunteer found it amid the splintered trees and bottle caps dotting Ego Alley.

He handed it over to city public information officer Susan O’Brien, hoping Mayor Gavin Buckley might be interested in it.

“I asked Gavin what to do with it,” O’Brien said, sitting in the Market House. “And he said to open it.”

His joy in life

Richard Kaufman loved to fish.

“That was just his joy in life, to go fishing with his friends,” said Kathy Kaufman, his wife of 45 years, who didn’t initially know about her nephew’s plan. “So for you to find a bottle floating down the river does not surprise me.”

After retiring, Kaufman called his fellow fisherman Mark Shaw almost daily. Shaw would be at work — Kaufman already out on the river, looking for a companion.

“We had got together about five years ago and we just clicked because both of us just enjoyed the calmness,” Shaw said. “There was no rushing — wherever we went fishing, we put in, we’d just take our time going wherever.”

The two loved fishing for walleye. They’d venture down to Ocean City for flounder. Rest. Talk. “What’s that phrase? We’d just fix the world’s problems,” Shaw said.

They only fell asleep sometimes.

Kaufman was a man of deep faith and loved his church, Pioneer Baptist in Thurmont, where he and his wife lived for years. He was a straight talker — he’d tell you what you needed to hear, even if you didn’t want to hear it.

He built houses for 30 years, making homes for hundreds, maybe thousands of families in the Frederick area. And when his first heart attack kept him from building houses, Kaufman taught high school students to do the same.

“I think his proudest moment was when he was teaching at the (Frederick County) Career and Technology Center,” Kathy Kaufman said. He taught for seven years and helped students build three or four houses.

But Kaufman loved, loved, loved to fish.

When he died suddenly from a heart attack on July 20, his nephew knew he wanted to reconnect his uncle with the water somehow.

Hamilton decided on the Coca-Cola bottle because his uncle loved the soda. He filled it with tools, for Kaufman’s work as a contractor; a cigarette, for the Marlboros his uncle enjoyed with coffee; a photo of Kaufman and family at the beach; and the funeral card, so some unwitting passerby wouldn’t mistake the remembrance bottle as another piece of litter.

On the drive back from Ocean City, where Hamilton went after the funeral to get away from the loss, he opened the window of his friend’s car and tossed the bottle.

He hoped it would end up in the water, where his uncle loved to be.

A year of loss

Hamilton is standing at Sandy Point State Park while cars cross the Bay Bridge in the distance.

It’s been a big year of loss for Hamilton. Friends who felt more like family died. So did residents living at the apartments he manages.

He was close to his Uncle Rick. The two took a fishing trip to Ocean City almost every summer. They were scheduled to go this month.

He laughed on the phone when a reporter said his Aunt Kathy thought he might know something about a Coke bottle full of mementos. The Newport cigarette, his preferred brand, gave him away.

“I was hoping somebody would find it,” he said, but that they might realize what it was and throw it back in.

He didn’t expect it to wash up in Annapolis, a city dealing with loss of its own after a gunman killed five people at the local newspaper.

From a meeting with reporters from that paper, Hamilton reunited with the bottle and headed back to Ocean City.

“I think I’ll poke holes in it or something,” he said. “That way it sinks to the bottom and stays down there.”

twitter.com/dtohl

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
82°