In 2014, with no prior connection to the North Fork, I bought a house in Southold on a wing and a prayer, fingers crossed for a good local community — to go with the irresistible natural appeal of the beaches, farms and vineyards. I had a good vibe. I also knew good vibrations don’t always play out like a Beach Boys song.
One of the first people I met was a carpenter named Adam West. To remember his name, I put him in my phone as Batman — played by an actor of the same name in the original TV series — though his gray van never breathed fire when he drove away from my house.
As we became friends, I learned his daughter Morgan had been diagnosed with cancer when she was a toddler; that she had already surpassed its life expectancy; and how special it was to put her on the bus her first day of kindergarten, a rite of passage most parents anticipate as a given but one Adam and his wife, Nikki, had been warned might never happen.
Last September, I heard about a yard sale (sponsored by Kait’s Angels) to benefit Morgan. I gathered stuff from my basement — on layaway for my annual yard sale that annually never happens — threw it in the car and drove to Mattituck for the dropoff, imagining a few nice people receiving a few random boxes from a few nice neighbors.
When I turned onto Ole Jule Lane, what I saw was a sea of cars backed up in both directions, with lots of people milling among them. Typically, this visual would have a soundtrack of honking horns and cursing drivers. But here, the street was nearly silent — and stunningly polite for a standstill of blocked vehicles. I couldn’t get close to the designated address, but was able to identify it the same way you find a bees’ nest in your lawn: Watch where the movement patterns flow in and out.
People unloaded trunks and truck beds of furniture, appliances and boxes containing toys, tools, clothes, pots, record albums, jewelry … and carried their offerings to a team of smiling helpers who organized everything by category into a pop-up driveway department store.
What I saw was an army of love, rallying its strength in numbers to support a local family.
A few months later, getting coffee at the North Fork Roasting Co., I overheard a nurse from Peconic Bay Medical Center saying her unit had chosen the West family to receive holiday gifts, which they traditionally give to a local family rather than exchanging among themselves.
“Do I need another potholder?” she said. “Look what they’re going through.”
When Christmas came, the delivery of those gifts was accompanied by pies and cookies baked by North Fork Roasting Co. to complement the elaborate holiday feast prepared and donated by local caterer Grace & Grit.
These amazing gestures of support from the community were not unprecedented. They followed years of other equally moving, deeply generous events and fundraisers that dotted the North Fork calendar with goodness in the form of bake sales, walks, workout challenges and more.
In February, when routine scans at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital showed an untreatable spread of tumors, the prognosis for Morgan dimmed.
Naturally, Adam and Nikki wanted to be home with their daughter for every moment of whatever precious time was left and to ensure her comfort as much as possible. For Nikki, an assistant at Southold High School, that would mean missing work, not getting paid and possibly losing her job. In response, her coworkers pooled their sick days and gave them to Nikki so she could be home with Morgan without an added worry.
On the intermittently rainy afternoon of April 6, at home with her parents and sister, Morgan passed away. She got more years than the doctors expected and decades fewer than she deserved. If cancer is cruel, it is most cruel to children and their families.
As we navigate our lives, sometimes incomprehensible and unfair, our circumstances show us where we are; how we respond to them shows us who we are.
A Cutchogue girl who had to fight cancer nearly her entire short life showed us all who we are, what we value and how we rise together in difficult times to be there for each other with love.
A good local community, indeed.
The author lives in Southold.