Expressway: A castaway ball finally bounces home

Suffolk County Marine Bureau Police Officer Edmund McDowell

Suffolk County Marine Bureau Police Officer Edmund McDowell returns a volleyball washed out to sea by superstorm Sandy to Greg and Kyle Greiner of Davis Park, on Fire Island. McDowell found the ball at his house in Lindenhurst, more than 20 miles away, on Oct. 30, 2012, a day after Sandy. Its owners were tracked down by Nancy Capizzi-DeMeo of Huntington. (Sept. 29, 2013) (Credit: Nicole DeMeo)

A day after superstorm Sandy, Edmund McDowell and his family returned to their Lindenhurst home to find the first floor of their newly renovated house flooded up to his knees. Amid the debris outside, they found a volleyball.

The family had recently watched the old Tom Hanks film "Cast Away." Reminded of the Wilson volleyball in the movie, and hoping to cheer up his two young children, McDowell told them, "Look, there's Wilson!"

He noticed the words "Sans End, Fifth Walk" written on it. That ball had a home. Many people would have tossed the ball away, but McDowell wanted to return it to its owners.


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An officer with the Suffolk County Police Department Marine Bureau, McDowell sometimes works on Fire Island. He knew of a Fifth Walk in the community of Fair Harbor, where my family has a summer home.

It's rare to see a uniformed officer on the side paths in Fair Harbor, but months later, in July, my husband and I saw him there with the volleyball. In jest, I asked if the ball was part of his uniform. He smiled and told us how he found it, and that he wanted to return it.

"I'll help you find the family," I said. And he tossed me the ball.

I made several calls to residents of Fifth Walk, but could find no one who knew of a Sans End. The storm was so big that the ball could have come from anywhere in the tristate area. But I persisted. Early one morning, I typed "Fifth Walk, Fire Island" into a search engine on my laptop. The first result was an oceanfront home for sale at 2 Fifth Walk in Davis Park, on the eastern end of Fire Island. I took the video tour of the house. There in large letters on a plaque in front of the home were the words "Sans End." I nearly fell off the bed.

I contacted the real estate agent, Debi Greiner. Not only was she the agent, she also was the owner of Sans End. With four athletic sons, her family had a shed on the ground level of their home full of sports equipment, including that volleyball. Sandy swept the shed and its contents into the Atlantic.

The Greiners could not believe that the volleyball, of all things, turned up more than 20 miles away in Lindenhurst, perhaps having floated through Fire Island Inlet to the Great South Bay.

 

We arranged to return the ball on Sept. 29. So, nearly one year after the storm, on a spectacular autumn day, McDowell, the Greiner family, neighbors and my family met at Sans End. There were plenty of smiles, photos, handshakes and stories. A 93-year-old neighbor even read a poem he wrote about the volleyball.

This one well-traveled ball represented more than an object being returned to its rightful home. Despite its seeming insignificance, the ball symbolized renewal, hope and the thoughtfulness of others. It gave us meaning and connection in the aftermath of so much destruction.

In "Cast Away," Wilson sadly floated away forever. That Wilson didn't have someone to rescue him. Our Wilson had a much happier ending.

Reader Nancy Capizzi-DeMeo lives in Huntington.

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