BRANDON — The infant booties and beanie caps started arriving at St. Joseph's Hospital around 1972. They were a soft shade of blue or pink and delivered by a maternity nurse whose mother-in-law knitted them.
Muriel Towsley, the mother-in-law, was then a seasonal Brandon resident, a woman who never watched television but knitted in front of bare blue walls.
Mrs. Towsley and her husband, LeRoy, moved to Brandon permanently in the late 1980s. She knitted year-round then, keeping count of each cap or pair of booties.
Mrs. Towsley, who knitted more than 25,000 beanies and booties for St. Joseph's, died March 11 in Medina, Ohio, where she had lived for several years. She was 98.
Whether there is a reason she knitted so many baby warmers beyond simple charity is a mystery. One fact seems beyond dispute: In nearly a century of life, Mrs. Towsley remained haunted by a childhood experience.
Muriel Jane Meyer was born in the Bronx in 1914, the eldest of seven children who nicknamed her Moo. Her father, who owned an ice business, was gunned down by gangsters when Mrs. Towsley was 15, according to her family. Her mother died four months later — "of melancholy," said Marilyn Kroczynski, Mrs. Towsley's daughter.
The orphaned teenager cared for her six siblings, the youngest age 2, for eight months, until the money ran out. Then the boys and girls went off to separate orphanages.
That year she met a boy, LeRoy Towsley, in the Catholic Youth League. His parents, a cinematographer and a Ziegfeld Follies dancer, took her in. An artistic bent blossomed.
She graduated from New York's Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art; then arranged display windows for Lord and Taylor, B. Altman and Saks Fifth Avenue stores.
All the while, she wished she could have done more for her siblings, some of whom did not see each other for several years.
"I know the weight of her having to put those children in a home," said Kroczynski, 70.
She married LeRoy in 1938 in an ice-blue wedding gown.
The couple lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Summit, N.J. Wherever Mrs. Towsley lived, she painted the walls of the house blue. "Every room was blue," her daughter said. "She had blue toilets, blue sinks, blue, blue, blue. She was buried in blue."
The blue had to be uninterrupted. Mrs. Towsley permitted no wall hangings of any kind. She knitted most of the 25,000 caps and booties from a blue family room in Brandon overlooking the back yard, her daughter said.
"She never gardened or went outside. She went to the store once a week. She never saw a beach."
By 2004, her eyesight failing, Mrs. Towsley stopped knitting. St. Joseph's Hospital, which had received her caps and booties for more than 30 years, gave her a plaque signed by all the maternity nurses.
For a while, Mrs. Towsley propped the plaque up against a blue wall, her daughter said. Then she tucked it away, no one knows where.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248.