Kitty Nicholson - The Baby Cap Maker
"This is My Joy"
Christmas came early for 100-year-old Catherine “Kitty” Nicholson, and, appropriately for the season, it came wrapped as a newborn baby.
It was Nov. 13 when Georgetown resident Tytianna Gibbs walked into Kitty’s apartment at The Lakes at Litchfield assisted-living facility. For the visit, Tytianna brought her 2-week-old son, Deshaun Smith, who wore on his head a handmade, knitted blue cap.
That cap – and thousands like it – have been provided for years by Kitty and other members of the Dorcas Disciples to the newborns birthed at Georgetown Memorial and Waccamaw Community hospitals.
For Kitty, the visit with Tytianna’s baby boy, who was born Oct. 31 at Georgetown Memorial, was a long-hoped-for gift. “How precious,” she exclaimed. “How darling!”
As Kitty cooed over Deshaun, it was clear any baby would have been just as welcomed and adored, but, despite patiently and meticulously knitting hundreds of baby caps over the years, Kitty had never – until Deshaun’s visit – seen a baby wearing one of those special caps.
That seems incredible considering that every day – yes, every single day – for the past five years, Kitty has knitted another cap for the newborns.
“That’s a lot of baby caps, and that’s an awful lot of babies,” the Pawleys Island resident said, as she let loose a giggle and returned her attention to Deshaun, cuddled safely in her arms. “This feels so good. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve held a baby this tiny.
“I wanted to go to the nurseries in the hospitals to do that, but I’ve never been able to. ... This is like Christmas. It’s wonderful.”
Tytianna said Deshaun’s baby cap will be a special memento. “It means a lot to me,” the new mom said. “I’m going to keep it forever.”
Nira Daleda, clinical director for OB services at Georgetown Memorial, said the baby caps are popular keepsakes. “The moms love them, and the nurses love them,” she said. “It’s a great thing that we can pass on for the new baby. It’s special, too, because they’re handmade.”
Those caps – knitted in hues of pink, blue, white, green, peach and more – are a gift from the hospitals and the Dorcas Disciples, a group of about 18 local women who make the caps for the hospitals, along with other items such as blankets and sweaters for those in need in local communities.
Over the past 12 years, the Dorcas Disciples – named after the Biblical figure who was famed for her charity and raised from the dead by St. Peter – have provided the two hospitals with thousands of caps to be given to newborns and their families.
“We hopefully have given baby caps to each baby who’s been born at both Georgetown and Waccamaw hospitals,” said Betty Lyon, who oversees the Disciples. “And I’ve been involved for about 10 years, and it started a couple of years before that – a lot of baby caps! We make prayer shawls, infant clothes, baby blankets. We also have little crosses of courage for people who have had a loss in the family. It might be something as simple as a pet that has died, and they need a little encouragement to get over the loss.”
Most of the Disciples meet every Monday to knit and enjoy one another’s company. “It’s just a great group of ladies,” Betty said. “We knit, we laugh, and we pray.”
But Kitty doesn’t attend the meetings. By her own account, she enjoys being a loner at her assisted-living apartment. Each week, Betty drops by some yarn and picks up the finished baby caps Kitty has completed -- at least one for every day, of course.
“I found my niche. I have something to do. It keeps me out of trouble,” Kitty said of her volunteer work.
“Kitty is a very special person,” Betty said. “She is just so full of life. She has a wonderful sense of humor. ... She’s a spunky lady.”
Over the years, this special relationship between Betty and Kitty has turned into a loving friendship. “I never knew Kitty,” Betty said, explaining how the two women became acquainted. “I knew somebody named Kitty Nicholson only because a friend of hers, who has since died, who would come to the Dorcas Disciples, and she would always come with a bag full of baby caps and say Kitty made them. I had probably sent five or six thank-you notes for the caps she had made. One day I was visiting someone else up here (at The Lakes At Litchfield), and I was walking down the hall and I saw Catherine Nicholson on the door. ...So I knocked on the door and said, ‘Are you the Kitty Nicholson who makes the baby caps?’ And she said, ‘Yes, I am!’ So we’ve been good friends ever since.”
Kitty had been knitting as a volunteer long before she joined the Disciples – probably for 40 years, she said, and for similar projects when she lived in Indianapolis before relocating to the Lowcountry nearly 15 years ago. “Some of the ladies here started to make caps,” Kitty recalled, “and I said, ‘Oh, can I do that? I would love to make them. ... I would like to do that if you will accept me as a volunteer.’ ... I just wanted something to do, because I’ve always volunteered. ... I’ve been knitting for everybody. My husband used to say, ‘Watch out, she needs a victim. You will go home with a sweater!’ ... I just thought I’d do as many as they wanted me to, and it got so interesting. ... Betty calls me the knitting machine. That’s about all I do now.”
Before Kitty – perhaps a little reluctantly – handed Deshaun back to his mother, she said it may have been 50 years or more since she last held a newborn, and that was her great-nephew, who now serves in the Army.
“I just love babies,” she said. “We don’t have any babies in our family anymore. Every time I make a cap, I hope the baby who wears it grows up to be a very important person, too.”
Kitty said she was once able to complete a new baby cap in four hours, but now it takes “a little longer.” She uses a large magnifying glass to keep her knitting in focus, too.
“This is my joy,” she said. “This is what I really like to do.”
So it will go as it has for these last several years. Betty, who is 88, brings yarn, and Kitty makes baby caps. And the process repeats again and again – just as new babies are born every week at Georgetown Memorial Hospital and Waccamaw Community Hospital.
“I make them, and Betty comes and gets them and puts them in a little package with a little note and a prayer in each one of them and gives them to the hospitals,” Kitty said. “Betty is an angel. She is really great. She comes and gets the finished product. She brings me yarn all the time. She doesn’t wake me up if I’m taking a nap. She just comes in very quietly and does what she has to do and leaves, and we’ve become very good friends.”
After Deshaun’s visit, Kitty took a seat in a chair by the window and smiled broadly, an unfinished baby cap in her hand. “I just love to knit,” she said, “and I love babies. So it just meshes. It works.” And with that, Kitty was off to work again. Another day. Another baby cap.
Originally published in HealthWaves Winter 2014.