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Loved ones celebrate Sidonie and her excellent note

By Elizabeth Landers, CNN
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Sun July 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The message in a bottle was discovered on a New York beach after Superstorm Sandy
  • It had been written 10 years before by Sidonie Fery
  • Fery died in 2010 in a fall while at boarding school in Switzerland
  • On Saturday, a plaque was dedicated at the spot where the bottle was found

Patchogue, New York (CNN) -- A small group gathered Saturday in the Upper East Side residence of Mimi Fery, an interior designer in New York. English, French, a bit of German and even Farsi floated through the air as men in crisp, white pants carried umbrellas and women dressed in subdued blacks and grays greeted one another.

The group boarded a large charter bus bound for Long Island -- not to the Hamptons but to Patchogue -- for a ceremony to celebrate the life of Mimi's daughter Sidonie.

On December 6, 2012, six weeks after Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast, a message in a ginger ale bottle was discovered on a Patchogue beach amid heaps of trash left by the storm.

It had been tossed into the ocean more than 10 years before by a little girl who was playing with family friends a few miles east.

Sidonie Fery died in an accident at her boarding school in Switzerland in 2010, when she was 18 years old.
Sidonie Fery died in an accident at her boarding school in Switzerland in 2010, when she was 18 years old.
FEMA workers Garrett Rivers and Brian Waldron, who discovered the note in December, gave it to Sidonie\'s mother, Mimi.
FEMA workers Garrett Rivers and Brian Waldron, who discovered the note in December, gave it to Sidonie's mother, Mimi.

The note inside, scrawled in a child's hand, read, "Be excellent to yourself, dude." There was a phone number beside it. On the back it read, "From Bill and Ted."

Garrett Rivers, who found the bottle, used the phone of fellow FEMA disaster relief worker Brian Waldron to call the number.

"I love a good story, and it was just laying there and it looked old, so I picked it up," said Rivers at Saturday's ceremony.

But what they learned was that Sidonie Fery, the author of the advice -- taken from the movie "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" -- had died in a fall in April 2010 at her boarding school in Switzerland. She was 18 years old.

The relationships that began because of that bottle, the remembrances shared since since its discovery, culminated in Saturday's excursion, at which Mimi Fery would dedicate a plaque in the beachside community and an arts fund established in Sidonie's name.

On the bus ride to the beach, Fery shared stories of Sidonie's childhood, lighting up when she spoke of trips to Iran during which Sidonie taught her friends English -- even assigning homework -- and ventured out with her traditionally austere grandfather to jewelry shops, where they would turn sketches into small trinkets.

"When she was little, we never bought anything; I always made her make gifts. We always had to do something. It makes everything more special," Fery said.

Out of a small black clutch, Fery pulled dozens of tiny, trimmed pictures of Sidonie at various ages: Sidonie in Iran, Sidonie as a toddler, Sidonie's last high school portrait before her death. She pored over Facebook messages from her daughter's friends, as well as text messages she and Waldron had exchanged. Fery said she was so excited about the event that she'd barely slept the past two nights.

A welcoming committee was waiting in Patchogue, consisting of Mayor Paul Pontieri, Parks and Recreation Director Maria Guistizia, Waldron and Rivers. Fery and her loved ones were greeted warmly.

Sun broke through the overcast and drizzly weather shortly after the noon ceremony began.

When it was time for her remarks, Fery wept, and thanked her friends for being there. Her longtime partner, Kristiaen Van Gastel, spoke also. "When life seems to be impossible, she (Sidonie) takes time out to talk to us," Van Gastel said.

One of Sidonie's friends from boarding school, Ximena de la Camara, said Sidonie's death put things in perspective.

"Now you know what's really important in life. You have a new outlook," she said.

After remarks from the men who found the bottle and Sidonie's friends, the plaque bearing the young woman's photo was unveiled, nestled in a flowerbed between the community pool and the beach. Through tears, her mother said it was beautiful.

Then, standing in the wet sand, Fery and friends new and old threw carnations into the waves.

Back home in Manhattan, Fery and Van Gastel's apartment on 57th Street is filled with small reminders of Sidonie's short but larger-than-life existence. It's decorated with modern Lucite tables and plush furniture, but the eye is drawn up toward the ceiling by the artfully decorated walls, a dozen of Sidonie's expressive collages, drawings, and paintings hanging in clusters.

"Sidonie was always telling me not to worry, that everything would be all right. Her message in a bottle reminds me of that every day," Van Gastel said.

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