Traveling across the United States for many years, a very special quilt top has returned to the last surviving person who worked on the quilt.
It all began when Sweetwater resident Jan Toland Smith decided to go through some boxes that have travelled with her family for years. A woman who works for Smith, Viola Rivera, was having a garage sale and Smith wanted to donate items for her sale. "My husband's work has taken him all over the United States and we have lived in many different states. I had a few boxes that travelled with me for years that never got unpacked, so I decided to go through them. I figured if they hadn't ever been unpacked, then I probably wouldn't miss what was inside the boxes," said Smith.
One of the boxes contained many blankets and quilts that Smith inherited in the 1980s, when one of her family members passed away. She decided to just donate the boxes and did not check through them. "Viola called me and told me that there was one thing that she thought I would want out of the boxes, that it looked important, said Smith."
Rivera brought Smith a historical and local item -- the beginnings of a friendship quilt, made in 1939. The quilt top was complete with many squares with names embroidered on each square. Smith did not see any of her family members' names on the quilt, but did recognize many local family names, including "Coker" and called a friend of hers to see if she might have more information about the people who contributed to the quilt.
When Smith read many of the names to her friend, Janie Tolbert, she also recognized many of the names on the quilt and also confirmed that Mrs. E.R. Coker, who's name was on the quilt, was her aunt. Smith gave the quilt to Tolbert, who then with her sister, Darlene Moore, took the quilt to her mother, Myrle Coker, at Nolan Nursing and Rehab in Sweetwater. "Mrs. Coker knows every name on that quilt," said Smith.
Mrs. Coker says that she was there -- in Fisher County -- when the quilt top was being made in 1939. At the time, she was a 17-year-old newlywed and helped to put some of the squares together. "Back then, women belonged to home demonstration clubs and would get together to make items such as quilts," said Smith. "This particular type of quilt, with names and family names embroidered into the squares, was called a friendship quilt."
Mrs. Coker says that the quilt top was made out of feed sacks. She says that back then, many items were made out of feed sacks and remembers receiving new dresses made by her mother when her grandparents would buy feed. "My mom would wash the sacks and make me new dresses," said Coker.
There were many names on the quilt top -- some full names and some squares with just last names -- most of which are families that still reside in the area. Names included Annie Bradshaw, McCormick, Edwards, Lillian Spicer, Sammie Shaw, Ridgway, Josie Nunn, Minnie Hubbard, Mae Green, Carriker, Mrs. Floyd Parker, Belle Simpson, Cross, Nora House, Pearl Dooley, Summerlin, Vevie Barnes, Mattie Wilkins, Isabell Stewart, Mabel Donnell, Myrtle Davis, Moore, Morgan, Roxie, Bea Davis, Cooper, Snooks Bradshaw, Nina Hale, Rubie Foreman, Jay Warshaw, Weatherby, Mrs. E.R. Coker, Mrs. Potts, Kinsey, Ella Faye Eaton, Vesta Foreman, Wilder, Zada Pinkett, Teresa Kiker, Leola York, Melton.
"This experience has been fun," said Coker's daughter Darlene. I had never seen this quilt top before, but it brings back many memories for me, as I also recognize many of the names."
Mrs. Coker says that many memories also came flooding back when she saw the quilt top. "I witnessed the quilt being made and helped to make it. I am the only surviving person that was involved in making the quilt."
Mrs. Coker is also the last surviving child of eight siblings. She has six children, Donald Coker of Roby, Darlene Moore of Sweetwater, Debbie Coker Trotter of Weatherford, Danny Coker of Longworth, Davie Coker of Bastrop and Janie Tolbert of Snyder. Her husband, D.L. Coker passed away in 2002.
"It must have been an act of God that the quilt showed up and I got the chance to see it again," said Mrs. Coker.
The family is actively seeking someone to finish the project and complete the quilt.