PATCHOGUE, N.Y. – At first glance, the green plastic ginger ale bottle on the beach looked just like another of the billions of pieces of debris splayed across Northeast coastlines after Superstorm Sandy.
But this bottle, which would fetch a nickel at the recycling center, is worth everything to a grieving mother who knew instantly from the silly adolescent message inside that it had come from her daughter, who died in 2010: "Be excellent to yourself, dude!"
Sidonie Fery, then 10, wrote a message on a scrap of paper, tucked it in a bottle and launched it into the waters off Long Island a dozen years ago. It was long forgotten until workers cleaning up after Sandy in the village of Patchogue discovered it and called Sidonie's mom, Mimi.
"I was just sobbing when I heard they had found it," Mimi Fery said. "These are very, very kind people."
This weekend, Fery will return to the seaside village about 60 miles east of Manhattan where she will again thank the workers and attend a ceremony where a small plaque will be dedicated as a remembrance to Sidonie, village officials said. The 18-year-old died in a 2010 fall from a cliff in Switzerland while attending boarding school.
Fery described her only child as a creative youngster, who was always writing poetry. She knew instantly when told what the message contained that it had been written by Sidonie because it was a quote from "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," the girl's favorite film.
Fery also takes a second meaning from the message, one not to worry about Sidonie.
"Be excellent to yourself, dude," Fery said, quoting the message. "It makes so much sense."
Described as a "very artistic and vivacious young woman," Fery said Sidonie always had an independent streak; she traveled by herself to visit relatives in Iran every summer beginning when she was about 7 years old, her mother said.
Born on Sept. 11, 1991, the little girl was often teased and harassed after the terror attacks on her 10th birthday by people who didn't understand her Persian heritage, her mother said.
"She had to deal with a lot of things," Fery said. "But she stood her ground."
The bottle only traveled a mile or two westward from where it was likely deposited to the location where parks workers found it just before Thanksgiving last year. It was intermingled with broken docks, boating gear and a spectrum of sea trash. Because the note included Sidonie's New York City phone number, the bottle found its way home to her mother.
Brian Waldron, a Patchogue parks department employee for 23 years, says he was working with a few temporary workers hired to assist with the cleanup after Sandy, when one of them said they found the bottle with the note inside.
"We opened it and it had a phone number inside, so I called the number and left a message," Waldron said. More than three hours later, an overjoyed Fery called back crying on the phone.
They quickly arranged a meeting in Patchogue so she could retrieve the prized possession.
"I told her I felt like her daughter was looking down from heaven and wanted me to give her a call," said Waldron, who added that he collected a second bottle filled with sand from where the ginger ale bottle was found and gave it to Fery.
"She was crying, everybody was crying."