STANDISH, Maine — While tackling some spring renovation work, Lance DeRoche found a 45-year-old beer bottle tucked between the wall studs in his house. Inside the 12-ounce suds jug, he discovered a hand-written note about the dead man who drank it, dated 1975.
“This is his trademark,” it announced, with double exclamation points.
DeRoche’s wife, Rebecca, snapped a picture of the curious find and shared it online. Less than 24 hours later, thanks to the speed and power of social media, the long-deceased man’s daughters spied the picture and got in touch. The unexpected reconnection with their beloved dad brought joy and a sense of hope to both parties amid an otherwise gray, cold spring full of drab coronavirus news.
It all started on April 21 when Lance decided to take out a wall, opening up one of the rooms in his house.
“I always wanted to remove that wall and, to do it, I needed to take out the hearth and mantle behind the wood stove,” Lance said.
The first interesting thing he found was a metal Miller Lite beer bottle cap embedded in the mortar between two bricks. He pulled it out and showed the oddity to Rebecca.
“I thought it was kind of cool,” Lance said. “You know, something old.”
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But there was a bigger surprise waiting a few inches away. After some more demolition work, he found the brown bottle, belonging to the cap, in the wall behind the bricks. It was wrapped in an old-school, tuck-under, plastic sandwich bag. Inside, was a handwritten note on a piece of blue-lined, notebook paper.
It read: “October 15, 1975. This chimney was built by Lawrence Shaw of Sebago. This bottle of beer was drank by the same man. This is his trademark!! May it stand for the next generation to see. Carl Weymouth owned the house at time of erection.”
Weymouth — as coincidence would have it — had been Lance’s baseball coach and the house’s original owner. It was built in 1973. Lance and Rebecca bought the house 17 years ago from an intermediate owner.
The time traveling note also stated that Standish was a “growing town,” food prices were “outrageous,” inflation was high and Gerald Ford was the president.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Standish had a little more than 3,000 residents in 1970. By 2010, it had swelled to almost 10,000. In 1975, the inflation rate was almost 10 percent higher than the year before, according to official records. The Miller Lite brand of beer was brand new when the note was written, debuting earlier that year.
When Lance showed the bottle to Rebecca, she was shocked.
“And I was happy,” Rebecca said. “Because life doesn’t give you that many surprises and this was a true surprise — unexpected.”
She took a picture of the stubby bottle, known as a steinie, and put it on Facebook for her friends to see.
“It went nuts from there,” Lance said.
The story raced through local cyberspace at hyper speed, getting almost 350 shares in no time. By that same evening, two of Shaw’s daughters had contacted Rebecca. They said Shaw died in 2010.
“I wrote to [Rebecca] and thanked her for sharing it — it was just such a ray of sunshine,” said Chrissie Libby, one of Shaw’s daughters, “and at a time when all we’re hearing is such bad news. It was a fun thing to hear.”
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Libby said her father was left handed and had a distinct slant to his writing. She could tell right away that he didn’t write the note, himself. Libby’s not sure who wrote it but can picture the convivial scene of Weymouth, her dad — and maybe a few other men — having a couple of brews and working on the hearth together. The note was meant to be a joke, she thinks.
“That wasn’t his trademark,” Libby said, noting that her father was not a heavy drinker. “But maybe the guys had one too many and the story got embellished — because his real trademark was helping people.”
Libby is sure that her dad would get a kick from the reaction the note is now getting.
“He did have a dry sense of humor,” she said. “He was a quiet old Mainer but when he did something like this, something that was silly, he would get so tickled that he’d laugh, and his laugh was just so contagious. He had smiling eyes.”
Libby said both her parents are gone now but she’s sure they’re both laughing about this story.
“I think they’re smiling about how far this has spread good news right now,” Libby said.
The DeRoche’s plan to give the original note, the vintage bottle and a brick from the hearth to Shaw’s family. After that, they want to put a photocopy of the 1975 memo in a new bottle, along with a message of their own. They’ll seal it up in their wall for someone else to find, sometime in the future.
“We’re going to talk about Standish, and describe the pandemic,” Lance said. “We’ll maybe put it in a Fireball bottle — or maybe Allen’s Coffee Brandy.”
They’re not sure what else they’ll write but they want to keep it mostly in the playful spirit of the original.
“I hope it brings happiness to whoever finds it,” Rebecca said. “We may not be here when it’s found but it’ll be something that’s happy and positive. This house has been good to us.”