Quilt cover

In celebration of the 25th wedding anniversary of Helena (Wiens Kroeker) Dyck and Peter Dyck, a quilt cover measuring 7 feet wide and 9 feet long was made for them. The year was 1942, the middle of World War II.

War was important to the people of Winkler in a converse way because most of them were Mennonites – pacifists, conscientious objectors. If any young man joined the army he was excommunicated from the church upon his return.

Sewing of the quilt was overseen by Nettie Kroeker, daughter of Helena. Nettie was the last of six siblings born to Helena and Abraham Kroeker. Her father died in 1906 when she was three years old and her oldest sister was a young adult.

After Kroeker’s death, Helena married again a little more than a year later. Her new husband was Peter Dyck, a widower, father of his own 10 children.

The year their parents celebrated their silver wedding anniversary, all the Kroeker and Dyck children, adults now, some married and some not, were asked by Nettie to make a one-foot-square cotton piece, embroidered or painted. The squares would subsequently be sewn together into a cover.

The quilt has 63 embroidered squares. Each square has a German Bible verse and flower or floral design. There are 31 embroidered squares, sewn together in a checkerboard design with 32 plain green squares. Around the edge of the cover is a two-inch green border.

Aunt Nettie was a spinster. Instead of children, she had 26 nephews and nieces on the Kroeker side of the family. She had the knack of making each one feel special, although I think she had a secret list of favorites. I’m sure I was at the top of the list because I visited a lot, first as a young lad, then as a young adult, then a married man with a wife and three daughters.

We nephews and nieces loved her because she doted on us, but people living in the Maples and Donwood nursing homes did not like her because she was demanding and bossy. We did not see that part of her because when we went to visit, she was too busy reading stories to our children, her grand-nephews and grand-nieces.

Before going into a nursing home she lived in a little house on the east side of Henderson Highway between Elmwood Mennonite Brethren Church and Mennonite Brethren Bible College. Toward the end of that time she gave away all the things representative of life with her mother in Winkler until 1945. She gave something to each nephew and niece.

I got the quilt cover.

In our home it moved from bed to wall and back to the bed as a spread. It was made of light cotton, not designed for daily use, and some of the squares got torn.

At some point I had it made into a quilt by a seamstress I got to know through Donwood Manor where my mother lived her last years.

When it came back we used it again as a spread but soon tired of its historic look, so we folded it up and stored it in the closet on a shelf.

Now after years of neglect it is tattered and has rust spots. Some of the squares have faded beyond recognition of the names.

I am the youngest of the 26 cousins. There were 4 in the family of Helen who married John Dyck, 8 in the family of Jacob A who married Annie Nikkel, 2 in the family of Tina who married Henry Neufeld, 9 in the family of Abram A who married Elizabeth Nikkel and 3 in the family of Peter A, who married Susan Hiebert.

The Dyck and Neufeld families developed their own characteristics, mostly because the children eventually moved away. However, the children of Jacob A, Abram A and Peter A Kroeker have bonded in their later years, thanks to a Cousins Breakfast that takes place the third Saturday morning of every month. They maintain an interest in the lives of the other families, and the successes of the children, and often talk about days long gone when everyone still lived in Winkler.

When the war ended in 1945, there were victory parades in most every town across Canada, including Winkler, a small prairie town in the province of Manitoba. Mostly Mennonite, the people celebrated this to be the end of a conflict rather than a victory, although they did not think about it much that way at the time. They were unconscious more than conscientious objectors.

The quilt is symbolic of an era long gone, remembered in the minds of a few of the 26 cousins still left to sit around the table at The Forks, enjoying breakfast in the morning sun.

Years later

In 2015 I met Anne-Shirley Clough. We have similar interests, including family history. One day she read the article about the quilt. After discovering that it was folded away into a box and probably rotting by the year, she decided to unstitch the squares and put them in cellophane covering in an 8 ½ x 11 three-ring binder. I have that binder, and it will become an heirloom to pass on to one of my children. This note written August 27, 2016, my 78th birthday.

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