A blue quilt serves as a bedspread in the Greeley, Colorado, home of Jerold Thompson. It is composed of 48 blocks, each one representing a U.S. state, featuring the colorful stitched outline of that state's official bird and flower. 

It is a unique blanket, perhaps the only one of its kind still in use, Thompson suspects. But he treasures it for a different reason.

To the 79-year-old Thompson, the quilt is an invaluable physical link to a mother he can barely remember, to a family he lost in a tragic accident when he was just a boy. 

"I don't know too much about my mother," Thompson said recently. "I was about 3½ years old when they were killed, so anything I do know is hearsay."

What he does know: She was handy with a needle, and she read the newspaper. 

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In the 19th and early 20th century, publications across the country marketed themselves to women by printing serialized quilt patterns that often ended with an exhibit or contest, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's International Quilt Study Center & Museum. 

Daily newspapers, including The World-Herald, eventually followed the trend, printing their own patterns and employing expert columnists to offer tips and tricks for quiltmaking.  

In January 1938, Nadine Bradley, director of The World-Herald's "women's department," announced the newspaper would begin publishing a series of quilt blocks, each one depicting the characteristic bird and flower of a different U.S. state. The blocks would appear once a week for the next 48 weeks (Alaska and Hawaii didn't become states until 1959).

The same year the quilt series ran, Thompson's parents, Alice Payne of Chappell, Nebraska and Lloyd Thompson of Springfield, married. Still, Alice evidently found time to cut out the newsprint and, using carbon paper, transfer it "to a block of muslin, sateen or broadcloth," as the newspaper suggested.

"Clip the blocks as they are published, and be certain to get each paper in which they appear," read instructions for each installment of the series. "Even though you may not plan to embroider them immediately, you will want to save every block for future use."

Alice Thompson took her time. She clipped out each pattern, missing only New Hampshire. She completed the needle work for two-thirds of the blocks, leaving the rest to finish at a later date while she and her husband raised their three children.

In 1943, Alice, Lloyd and Alice's mother "Netty," traveled to Palisade, Colorado — near the Utah border — to help pick peaches, as World War II had resulted in a shortage for the region. 

On August 27, 1943, the Thompsons were on their way home to Nebraska, driving a pickup truck loaded with canned peaches.

Just outside of Merino, Colorado, about 50 miles southwest of Sidney, the truck blew a front tire and tumbled into the nearby South Platte River upside down. All three drowned.  

Thompson, just 3 years old at the time, and his two younger brothers went to live with his grandparents. The family eventually settled in Julesburg, Colorado, where Thompson finished high school.

Before his grandmother died in the early 1970s, she gave him the disparate pieces of his mother's unfinished quilt. 

Thompson joined the Navy, became a farmer and later worked hauling cars and turkey feed. And for more than 50 years, he carried the quilt blocks with him in a PayDay candy bar box. 

"I always wanted to get the quilt made," he said. 

So, in 2017, he finally did. 

Thompson and his wife, Debbie, designed their own pattern for the missing New Hampshire. Then a family friend, Pat Hershberger and her sister, Jean Green, worked to finish the remaining blocks and stitched them together in the order the states joined the union. The quilt was completed by Helen Stanley in Greeley, and Thompson received it in July 2017.

There have been many times over the years, Thompson said, when he found himself wishing his parents were around, when he wondered what his life would be like if they were.

A quilt can't change that.

But it can keep him warm, in more ways than one.

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