Message in a Bottle by
(302 Stories)

Prompted By Recycling

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

When I graduated from college almost fifty years ago(!), I found a job in Cambridge, and then was lucky enough to get a room in the wonderful old three-story house pictured above. The house had been cut horizontally into three flats, and I was in the middle one, encompassing the whole second floor, with three roommates. This was in late 1972, when recycling of glass had just become a thing, and we wanted to do our part. So instead of throwing away our glass jars and bottles the way most people did, we washed them out and saved them to take to the recycling center. The problem was that nobody knew where this recycling center actually was. It wasn’t listed in the telephone book, and of course we couldn’t look it up online, but we figured that sooner or later we would find out where it was.

This was in late 1972, when recycling of glass had just become a thing, and we wanted to do our part.

Outside the back door of our flat there was a landing, with stairs that went up to the third floor and down to the back yard. (We had another staircase in front that went up to our floor, but the third floor people – who were the landlords – had to enter from the back yard.) On that landing there was a big set of built-in cabinets that went from floor to ceiling. The shelves were empty when we moved in, and it seemed as if they must have been intended for our use. So we started putting all our clean glass jars and bottles there. There were a lot of shelves, and they were quite deep, so they held a lot of jars and bottles. Periodically we would make a new effort to find out where we could take them to be recycled, but we were never successful.

In August 1974, after living there for two years, we all moved out. Lita and I were both headed to California; I was starting law school, she was going home to figure out what her next steps were (which turned out to be law school, but not until a year later). Arlene was transferring to the University of Tennessee because her thesis advisor at BU had gotten a job there and was entitled to take two of his graduate students with him. Bonnie was leaving too, and I don’t remember where she was going – maybe to move in with her boyfriend who was a student at Harvard Law School.

So we packed up all our belongings, and cleaned up all the rooms in the flat, and then we left. Nobody remembered the cabinets full of bottles and jars. So they just stayed there. Since there were doors on the cabinets, it may have been a long time before anyone discovered what was inside. I hope the landlords, or the new tenants, took them to the recycling center when they found them!

In case you’re wondering because of the title, we didn’t leave any message in any of the bottles. The only message was that they needed to be recycled.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. Jeff Gerken says:

    At least you tried to do the right thing. Even today, there are so many people who can’t be bothered.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Great (and funny) story, Suzy. Sort of a recycling version of “all dressed up but nowhere to go.” Perhaps you can share the address of the house and one of us Boston-area Retro writers can do some reconnaisance and try to ascertain if the bottles and jars are still there. But I’d like to think that someone over the years read the (implicit) message in the bottle and acted accordingly. Without doing any research on the topic, I am pretty sure that Cambridge publicizes the location of its recycling center these days.

    • Suzy says:

      John, I’ll send you the address privately. I don’t want to go on record admitting that I was the one who left all those jars and bottles there, in case the owners want compensation for having to deal with them.

  3. Funny story Suzy, what are the chances those bottles and jars are still there???

    It looks and sounds like a wonderful house indeed, have you ever gone back to see it?

    • Suzy says:

      If the house was ever sold, I assume there would have been an inspection that included those cabinets. However, those 3 guys who owned it 50 years ago were pretty young, they might still own it, so maybe nobody has looked.

      I went back and saw the outside when I was in Cambridge with my husband and kids for my 25th reunion in 1997 – I wanted them to see my old house – and that’s when I took the photo that is the featured image. Didn’t knock on the door to ask for a peek at the inside though. Maybe I’ll try that next year when I go to my 50th.

      • Suzy says:

        Actually, it turns out I took the picture in 2010, when we were there for my son’s graduation (the one other time I was in Cambridge with my husband and all three kids). It just came up on Facebook this morning as a memory from eleven years ago today.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Funny that you carefully cleaned and stacked those bottles, then forgot about them! Now you’ve got us all curious about what became of them. I wonder if Zillow would list the current home owners, or some other on-line directory, so you could contact the owner. I have to believe the bottles are long-gone. Who knows if they were disposed of properly. That will likely remain a mystery.

    • Suzy says:

      Just another mystery from my past that will never be solved! You’ve got me thinking I should check Zillow, although I don’t know that I would want to contact the home owners and admit what I had done. They might want me to pay the cost of disposing of all that glass.

  5. But you did recycle! You turned, or at least began to turn, your old bottles into artifacts! Aye, there’s recycling. Given the period of your tenure I wonder whether there may indeed have been or still are, time pieces there. Probably too late for the vintage Coca Cola 6 and a half ounce glass bottles, but who knows?

  6. Marian says:

    Fun story, Suzy, and it would be interesting to know if the glass was still there. It runs parallel with my story, because I don’t remember how the guys found out that the recycling center existed. Must have been a lot of word of mouth back then.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    I remember when glass was the thing to recycle, and now you can’t put glass in the recycle containers here! Have to haul them to a special depot or the dump. Although they do have systems for just about everything now, from paint to batteries to styrofoam and on and on–but not curbside. Good on you for so carefully cleaning and setting aside the glass back in the day, and who knows, maybe the new tenants actually found a way to get them to a recycling place. I hear you about policing the recycle bins. We rented out some rooms for vacationers, and I was appalled at what they thought went in the recycle bins (really–pizza slices in the box???) not to mention the awful junk food they ate. I spent lots of time re-sorting everything.

    • Suzy says:

      We can put glass in our recycle bins, but it is in the same bin with plastic and paper. I don’t know what they do with it all when it gets to the recycling center.

  8. I have to say I was expecting some kind of catastrophe…either an earthquake or the cabinet simply toppling over for whatever reason, the sound of shattering, and you having to deal with a whole lot of broken glass. Glad nothing happened…literally.

    • Suzy says:

      That’s funny that you were expecting a catastrophe. The cabinets were built in, as I recall, so couldn’t topple over, and I don’t think there are earthquakes in Massachusetts. But I’m sure something terrible COULD have happened, and I’m glad it didn’t.

  9. Great memories, Suzy. Wonder where the 50 years and the bottles went;-)

  10. Your time in Cambridge post-graduation has often sounded rich and busy. Little wonder you had no time for recycling! I suppose you could have taken them with you to California and recycled them there. Or maybe the next occupants opened the cabinet doors and the bottles and cans came tumbling out… the possibilities are endless.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, I can just imagine filling up my Plymouth Valiant with jars and bottles instead of all my clothes, books, and other possessions. I wonder what they would have said at the Ag Inspection Station at the California border.

  11. Laurie Levy says:

    Hopefully those bottles eventually made it to their destination. Alternatively, perhaps they were repurposed and recycled in that way.

  12. It sounds as if you and Marian would have been neighbors. Maybe you should convince her to convince the hippie-friendly Mafia guy to lend you and Marian the truck for a recycling weekend in Cambridge.

    • Suzy says:

      Marian and I would have been neighbors in New Jersey, where we both grew up. But by the time of my story I was living in Cambridge, which, as you may know, is a few hours away from New Jersey.

Leave a Reply