Helen Littrell (showing Cover Cap)

Almost 20 years ago I relocated my one-person medical transcription business to the slower pace of life in rural southern Oregon. It was a welcome relief to live in a community where most people only read about crime and didn’t experience it as I had in Stockton, California.  In my last five years there I’d been burglarized twice, my house ransacked and my valuables stolen.  A year or so before my move a man just released from prison, held me up at my front door, brandishing a knife and demanding money.  I could smell the antiseptic jail smell on him.  Later that same evening, he was murdered in North Stockton during a drug deal gone bad.  Then the week before my move, a woman, also demanding money and threatening me with a gun in her hand inside the large purse she carried, turned up at the same front door.  I went a little bit crazy, screaming and yelling, waving my arms at her.  She panicked and ran down the street.  I could hardly wait to leave that hellhole and head north.

My little transcription business flourished after a few ups and downs, enabling me to purchase a home and become, as the locals say, “from here”.  On the evening of December 7, 1990 I received a telephone call from my son-in-law with the news that my only daughter had died suddenly while they were at a Christmas party.  She had visited me here for an early Thanksgiving only three weeks before and we’d had a wonderful time, taking long walks, enjoying the autumn coolness and the scent of leaves falling from the trees.  We’d discussed plans she’d made to institute a brand-new curriculum she’d devised at the facility where she instructed developmentally disabled adults.  This one really worked, she said.  It was like a game, but they learned how to cope with the activities of daily living, and she’d gotten the okay from the state to implement it as a pilot program.

Pulling myself out of the shock and grief I experienced seemed nearly impossible, but I managed to get by, taking one day at a time.  I had to keep the business operating in order to have an income.  Help arrived unexpectedly in the form of a public television program by Nancy Zieman.  It was part of a series called “Sew a Smile” and it described countless places in desperate need of donated items such as blankets, tiny caps, and bereavement garments for preemies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units; lap robes, bibs, and other items for nursing home residents; head coverings for cancer patients; and on and on.  I obtained the list she offered for places who needed donated items, and immediately started making preemie blankets (12” x 12”) and tiny knitted hats (NICU nurses told me, think the size of lemons and limes), and for a time, this endeavor occupied every spare moment.

But always in the back of my mind was the question of how I might fabricate a simple, easy-to-sew pattern for attractive head coverings for cancer patients.  The patterns and instructions available were complicated and expensive, requiring at least a yard of material, and the completed hats were too hot and heavy for day-in, day-out wear, especially in warmer climates.  Every time I tried to concentrate on this dilemma, I became distracted and overwhelmed with thoughts of my daughter.  There didn’t seem to be any real connection that I could think of.  Finally one morning I awoke around 4 AM, the idea for the pattern clear and concise.   I concentrated hard on keeping that picture in my mind before it dissipated as I arose and made a pot of coffee.  Taping several pieces of bond paper together to make one large sheet, I sketched an outline.  It seemed to come automatically, especially since I’m not much of an artist.  But there it was and it didn’t look like any hat pattern I’d ever seen.  It looked like an airplane with wings and a tail.  Again, my daughter’s presence was very close and it seemed I could smell the faint scent of the perfume she always wore.  For a moment I thought I must have been losing my mind.  Then suddenly I saw how the pattern would go together in a most unusual but extremely simple manner.  Hurriedly I made rough notes for instructions to accompany the hat.

I felt drained as I finished scribbling the last sentence. By this time, my daughter’s presence had dissipated and she was no longer there with me.  She’d paid me a visit in the middle of the night, jolting me out of deep sleep with the idea she’d brought, the pattern for Cover Cap.  Now her work was done and mine had just begun.

After making and donating close to four thousand hats in the southern Oregon area, I realized that one person alone could not possibly meet the needs of cancer patients.  I’d written to Nancy Zieman, thanking her for producing such a marvelous television series, and telling her of my involvement in donating head coverings for cancer patients.  Shortly afterward, she featured me in her book, “Creative Kindness”.  About a year later, her co-author Gail Brown called, suggesting she feature me in a “From the Heart” article in Sew News magazine, and from then on, as they say, the rest is history.  I still make and donate as many hats as time allows, but my main effort now is distributing my patterns so that others may become involved in making and donating head coverings for cancer patients who need them so desperately. 

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                                   John Beauregard

Feel free to contact me at:    pjbeau1@frontier.com