HARMONY, Maine — She wore a silky pink dress, high-heeled white shoes, a sparkling tiara and a smile for the ages. She rode in a white horse-drawn carriage at the front of one of the biggest parades her small hometown has ever seen. She threw candy and waved to throngs of adoring people.
An ocean away, Kate Middleton married her prince, but 9-year-old Caitlin McKenney, the Princess of Harmony, wouldn’t have traded places. No way.
“Her greatest wish was to have a parade through her town,” said Shawna McKenney, the girl’s aunt. “She thought everyone would enjoy it.”
By the hundreds, they did. Lining tiny Harmony’s main thoroughfare, they snapped photos, called her name and waved. Some shed tears for the little girl who has been through cancer and emerged as a beacon of hope and beauty.
But Princess Caitlin’s biggest surprise — an elaborate pink playhouse with purple flower boxes beneath the windows and a spiral staircase inside — still awaited her. As her carriage rolled swiftly into the driveway, she sank back in her leather seat and absorbed the sight of it in stunned silence. Speechless. Amazed. And when she climbed down and sprinted toward Castle Caitlin, high heels or not, the dark cloud of disease that has hovered over Caitlin and her family for the past year — which she calls “a bump in her life,” according to a family member — was nowhere to be seen.
Inside of a few seconds, Caitlin darted in and out and all around the playhouse, soaking in the kid-size furniture, girly decorations and cast-iron spiral staircase that leads to a slide out the back wall. Her 6-year-old brother, Nathan, and several classmates wearing matching “I’m a Firework” shirts in her honor swirled all around as dozens of beaming adults observed. Questions from a reporter? Forget it.
“It’s unbelievable,” was all young Caitlin would say before turning her attention to her friends. “Let’s go inside and have some dessert!” she said, leading the troupe to a withering attack on a bouquet of candy on a table inside.
Friday’s presentation was part of World Wish Day, when the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted over-the-top wishes in every American state and at least 27 countries. Each wish has a generous donor behind it who provides an average budget of about $6,000. In this case that donor was United Health Care, a national company with offices in Portland.
James Christie, Make-A-Wish of Maine’s development director — who at Princess Caitlin’s urging took a turn down the slide — said his organization can take only so much credit for granting the wishes. The amazing thing, he said, is witnessing a community rally around a family in need.
“People from all over the state have come together for this,” he said, referring to the throngs of people and more than hourlong parade. “When the calls went out, it just started rolling.”
Brian and Tracy McKenney, who have had to endure watching their daughter suffer through a cancerous tumor, the loss of a kidney and chemotherapy, said the support their family has received since the June 2010 diagnosis has been overwhelming. Caitlin’s cancer is in remission, they hope for good, said Tracy.
“This is her place,” she said. “It’s a place for her to go and be by herself if she wants to. It’s a place for her to read and use her imagination. She’s got a fantastic imagination.”
The playhouse, which was built by Nichols Construction of Hudson, came with signs Caitlin can hang on her door, depending on her mood: “Shhh … Reading,” “All Welcome,” “Home Sweet Home” and “No Trespassing” were some of them.
But Princess Caitlin chose another one and with the help of two friends carefully hung it on the purple front door: