N.J. Press Association award-winning column
A good deed comes from a shared experience in life
© Today’s Sunbeam
“Terminal,” he said.
In the same cheerful, matter-of-fact tone that he had been using to describe his life with his wife, Sophie, in their Craven Street neighborhood, Andy McKee told me about his coming death.
I paused in my interview of the couple to keep myself from crying.
This was not the answer I had expected when I asked Andy what his prognosis was.
And this was not the story I had expected when Sophie called earlier in the day to tell me about “just a really nice thing” that two little girls on their block had done.
When I drove onto Craven Street that hot, sticky afternoon, just as Sophie had described it, I saw Jessica and Meagan selling lemonade from a card-table stand. The cute thing they had done, according to Sophie, was — without anyone having asked them to do so — to bring Andy a cup of the refreshing liquid.
Andy is disabled, Sophie had said, and the girls know he has difficulty walking. As I found out when I met Andy, one of his legs was removed when he was a youth because he had cancer — cancer that up until a year ago, his doctors thought was cured.
Meagan Fogg, 9, and her “step-cousin,” Jessica Harris, 11, didn’t know the extent of Andy’s illness when they decided to bring lemonade to him. They just wanted to help out, they told me.
The young entrepreneurs said they delivered free drinks to a number of people in the neighborhood who might not be able to get out to their lemonade stand.
As we sat talking in the shady front yard at Jessica’s grandma’s house, Meagan broke away to bring some 25-cent refreshment to the mailman.
When I asked Jessica why she was so considerate and helpful to other people, she revealed something about herself that not too many people in the neighborhood knew.
“I just thought since he couldn’t walk down here — well, he can with his crutches but that wouldn’t be right — everyone brought me stuff when I had cancer,” she said.
Jessica had a brain tumor when she was 4, a long time ago for an 11-year-old, but she still remembers the kindness that was shown to her. She offered this explanation of how her illness was discovered:
“The only reason they found out was because my brother hit me in the head with a golf club,” she said. “It wasn’t his fault — I walked behind him and he hit me with his back swing.”
Jessica had more than one thing in common with Andy at that time, but one of the things that stands out in her mind today is the pre-surgery haircut.
“I had all my head shaved off,” she said. “I only had two pieces of hair hanging down.”
Andy still sports the shaved-head look, although he’s no longer in treatment for cancer.
“As you see,” he said, nodding his head, “it’s my $4,000 haircut.”
Originally from Quinton, Andy said he had been going out with Sophie, a Pennsville native for several years before the two 27-year-olds got engaged. When they found out a year ago that Andy’s cancer had reoccurred, they decided to wed right away.
“We weren’t planning on getting married then,” Sophie said. “Someone told us go on living our lives while we can, so we’re getting it all — in high gear.”
As evidence, Sophie pointed out the two Tiffany-style lamps she purchased recently to go in their trim, neat living room. They bought the house and moved in earlier this year.
“We’re just in love with the house,” she said, “so now we stay home a lot.”
“High gear” for the McKees also includes doing some traveling, as the boat parked in front of their house would indicate.
Despite what he calls misconceptions about how a terminally-ill patient should feel, Andy says at times he’s “a little sluggish,” but most of the time he feels “great.”
He and Sophie are determined to keep a positive attitude, and they just want their friends to treat them normally.
“Some people are afraid to come over,” Sophie said. “They’re afraid of what they’ll find when they come to see him.”
Andy says the attitude he encounters from children is usually different.
“We have fun with all the neighborhood kids,” he said.
“When they see him driving down the road, they’re like, `Hi, Andy, Hi, Andy,’ ” Sophie said. “They think he’s the greatest thing since bubble gum.”
Sophie said she and Andy want to do normal things and “just live life to the fullest.”
Andy has other, typical-male concerns: “I’m just waiting for football season to come,” he said.
And while he waits, there are kids in the neighborhood who think Andy’s the greatest. And bringing him a cup of lemonade on a hot day is the least they can do.
Jessica and Meagan earned $11 that day, and the cliché that dictates, “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade,” was never truer.
(Editor’s note: Andy died less than six months after this article appeared.)