Guest blogger Irma Cortez
Once again I’ve asked my friend Irma to share her story concerning one of the quilts that I’ve made for her through the years. This is about her brother Jesse who would have been 55 today, February 11. Among other things, Jesse served his country and for that I would like to say a personal thank you!
So pour that second cup of coffee, settle in with your favorite quilt, sit back & enjoy this heart felt story of a sister’s eternal love.
The Making of Jesse’s Memory Quilt
This is my story about the various quilts that my friend, Karen E. Overton, has made for me – this one is specifically about the quilt she made for me for my brother Jesse using some of his favorite old t-shirts.
First, some background information…
My name is Irma Cortez, and Jesse Cortez is one of my younger brothers. Sadly, Jesse passed away unexpectedly in June 2011. He was only 49 years old.
As printed in his obituary, Jesse lived his life his way and only his way. He had many passions in his short life, some of which were: family and friends; working hard; playing just as hard; always having a good time; the Dallas Cowboys; riding motorcycles; collecting classic muscle cars; hunting; camping; drag racing; and joking & kidding around and making others laugh every chance he got.
Jesse’s Career Path included the U.S. Marine Corp
Jesse quit high school and never actually graduated, but instead enlisted into the Marines at the age of 17. My parents had to sign papers for him to enlist, but they proudly did, and he eventually received his GED while he was in the service.
While serving his country from 1980 to 1983 as a Proud Marine, Jesse could travel the world to places like Japan and Okinawa. After four years, he was Honorably Discharged with the rank of Lance Corporal.
Jesse Finds His Second Career with The Light Company
Once he arrived back home, Jesse got a job as an Apprentice at HL&P (Houston Lighting & Power). He eventually completed his apprenticeship, and continued to work for HL&P for a total of 28 years. To better explain what Jesse did at The Light Company, he was one of those men that you would see up in a big bucket truck working on power lines. He loved climbing those power poles and working outside.
During his years at The Light Company, HL&P decided they would stop using paid models or actors for their company promotions and commercials.
In 1997, HL&P sent out notifications to all employees that they would be using company employees for the upcoming new print ads and commercials and that any employees who were interested could submit their names to be considered for the new marketing campaign. Of course, my brother submitted his name, and the rest is history as they say.
During those years, HL&P went through several management changes and a few name changes – at one time it became CenterPoint Energy, and then it eventually became Reliant Energy.
My brother was very well liked at work by his managers and supervisors, and he was known to be a very hard worker, always very supportive of his company. He represented HL&P in many BBQ cook-offs at the Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo with his team oftentimes winning top prizes.
Jesse was a stubborn free spirit that cared for others with his whole heart and soul – he was always there when you needed him. To me, my brother’s greatest asset was his great zest for life and his kind and gentle soul. Although physically, Jesse was a large, stout man, he was really just a teddy bear at heart, and he loved children. Because of his love for children he participated in various fun-runs or toy-runs for local charities, like the Shriners. Since Jesse was never married, nor had children of his own, he always volunteered to work the various holidays so that his married co-workers could have time with their kids and families for the holidays.
Jesse’s Extra Career – Advertising!
The first photo in this story shows my brother in one of the original full-page ads that appeared in the Houston Chronicle for the new HL&P marketing ads using real employees of the company. This print ad first appeared in the paper on 11/12/1997, and it was later reprinted several more times throughout the following years. It was interesting to note that even after the company changed names, the HL&P logo on his hardhat in the original picture was also changed.
Of course, Jesse had told everyone that would listen, including our parents that he had volunteered, and that he had been chosen for some of the ads or commercials, but he wasn’t sure when any of them would come out. He also told us that he had signed a release, and that HL&P would be able to use his name and his pictures for all time.
On November 27, my parents started getting phone calls from friends and family from all over. They had all seen the signs and the newspaper, and had recognized Jesse and everyone was calling our parents to talk about it. My parents were always very proud all their children, but during this time, they were extra proud of Jesse and they sure enjoyed the extra attention they were getting because of Jesse being in the paper. (Note: there will be more about this photo later in this story.)
After Jesse’s Unexpected Death Decisions Had to Be Made
After his death, I helped my siblings to clean out his house and the shop next door to it. Since Jesse had gained a lot of weight in the few years before he died, he had lots of clothes of the Big & Tall variety; however, all his clothes were so large that none of my other brothers wanted any of them. During the cleanup, I asked the family if anyone wanted any of his clothing, otherwise I was going to donate it all to the Goodwill. All my brothers told me they didn’t want any of it, so I proceeded to separate all the jeans from the shirts, and jackets, etc. While I was doing this, I noticed that Jesse still had several of the shirts that I personally had gifted to him during his life (albeit it some of them were torn and tattered), so I decided that I’d keep all those shirts and any of the ones that I knew were some of his favorite shirts, or that he had worn most often.
This is how and when I decided to make a memory quilt with his old t-shirts, and this is how Karen Overton comes into this story.
Time to Visit The Quilter Again
Since Karen had already previously made me two other quilts – a queen-sized quilt using my son’s high school spirit shirts that seldom got used because it doesn’t get cold enough, and a “lap throw” using my Mom’s old clothes that gets used very frequently, I decided that I wanted another lap throw using Jesse’s most favorite t-shirts.
Once I knew the size of the quilt that I wanted, I decided that I wanted to include those shirts that conveyed what I considered to be the four great passions of my brother – those being: the U.S. Marines; his job; Chevy Camaros; and The Dallas Cowboys of course!
The quilt I decided to have made was another 3X4 quilt (also called a 12-square quilt), meaning it was 3-squares wide and 4-squares long. Approximately 53″ x 70″.
During the planning time of making this quilt, I knew that Karen would need to know what color scheme I would want, and it was too soon to tell yet, but I knew that she would be working on the t-shirts first, cutting them into squares, etc., and that I still had time to choose the colors for the sashing, the cornerstones, and the backing.
Once I had chosen the theme of the quilt, which was to use only those shirts that I felt would emphasize his passions in life, I could already envision the final product in my mind’s eye.
Below is a photo of the completed memory quilt that Karen made using my brother’s old t-shirts. The finished product speaks for itself.
Each Quilt Block Tells Jesse’s Story
Each t-shirt square used in this quilt tells a story about my brother by itself, but pieced together with all the other squares, I think it paints the perfect picture of who my brother was. I’m very happy and pleased with the way it came out and I have this quilt on display on a quilt rack in my living room.
Although I had several t-shirts to pick from, and because I wanted to use only those that most represented the things that I felt were most important to my brother, I felt the theme of the quilt coming to life. In the end, we used one t-shirt for the square with a reference to Chevy muscle cars; and we used other t-shirts for the various squares with a reference to the U.S. Marines, Harley Davidson, and the Dallas Cowboys, which would create four of the needed twelve squares.
Since Jesse had worked for HL&P for so long and because the company had changed names several times, and because he had acquired work shirts from each of the new companies, we were able to use a combination of smaller pieces of his various shirts for three more squares each representing the original HL&P, Reliant Energy and CenterPoint Energy to fully represent the entire 28 years he had with the company. This was important to me as I knew how proud he was for having had only one job his entire adult life.
Picking The Right Shirts Can Sometimes Be Challenging
As it turned out, this was not a simple project by any means. In fact, it turned out to be very complicated and tedious for both me and Karen. During the planning and preparation phases of this quilt, we encountered several obstacles that I feel the need to explain to fully appreciate Karen’s workmanship and the sentimental value I had already invested in this memory quilt.
One issue was that not all of his work shirts had large enough logos or artwork on them to be able to make one full square (this is important because all the squares must be the same size to make the finished product); however, because Karen is so experienced and knowledgeable in making custom quilts, and because she knows how to improvise so well, she was able to “piece together” the smaller logos from both the pockets and/or the sleeves of his various work shirts to “create” additional squares of the proper size.
Another issue was that I knew that we were going to need a total of twelve squares to finish the quilt, and at one point, we discovered that we only had eight full squares, which meant we were going to be short four squares to finish the quilt that I wanted. Luckily, as previously stated above, Karen could partially solve this issue by piecing together those smaller pieces from the same shirts to create two additional squares for a total of ten squares, which still left me short two more squares to finish the quilt.
By this point in time, I was at my wit’s end. I was frustrated with myself, and disappointed that may have to revise my theme and use other shirts that would not convey what I had imagined in my mind. Thankfully, Karen was not worried at all. She gave me time to mull it over, she told me to look around for more shirts – she told me that not all the shirts had to had specifically belonged to my brother, and not to stress too much about it – she was confident that it would all turn out.
This part is a little bit off-topic, but it serves as additional background. There is a local biker bar called, “Ronnie’s Hog Heaven” in town that is owned by some long-time friends of ours, and it was not unusual for Jesse to stop by there several nights a week to have a few drinks and visit with friends after work. As luck would have it, I had previously purchased a bright orange t-shirt from Ronnie’s bar that I thought could be used as one of the missing squares that I still needed for the quilt.
Persistance Pays Off
As one last ditch effort to find a t-shirt I could use for the last remaining square, I started going to local resale shops and several of the Goodwill stores around town looking for men’s t-shirts that might work.
It just so happened that on one of these trips, I came across a shirt that quite literally jumped out at me and I knew it was the exact shirt that I was looking for. My heart started pounding, and I was actually giddy as I was walking to the register to buy it, and I was grinning from ear to ear.
Finding this last shirt at a random Goodwill store is how and when I decided to use the Harley Davidson color scheme for my brother’s memory quilt.
Below is a picture of the artwork from that shirt that we needed and used for the last, center square to finish my brother’s quilt.
The Tasmanian Devil Utility Worker T-Shirt Reflects Jesse’s Life
To better understand and appreciate the significance of why I chose this shirt with this picture on it is to know the following things about my brother Jesse: 1) Jesse had a tattoo of the Tasmanian Devil on his back right shoulder and he wore a small gold Tasmanian Devil on a gold chain around his neck; 2) Jesse was a long time employee of HL&P and was therefore a “utility worker” for many years; 3) the photo that HL&P used of my brother in the newspaper in 1997 shows him wearing his hardhat and also with a roll of power lines resting on his shoulder; and 4) my brother used to carry his tools and wore a utility belt around his waist when he was working. Now, look at the Tasmanian Devil picture on the quilt again and then look at the first picture at the beginning of this story and tell me that you don’t recognize the uncanny resemblance!?
It was simply amazing to me that the Tasmanian Devil on this random shirt was posed and dressed as a utility worker, and it instantly reminded me of my brother, so that is why that very last square on this quilt means so much to me.
When I found that shirt, I immediately called Karen to inform her that I had the last two shirts that we needed for the quilt, and she let me come over to drop them off, and that was all she wrote… or in this case, that was all that Karen need to start stitching.
T-shirts and Clothing Are a Reminder of Those We Love
As with the other two quilts that Karen made for me, I was very pleased and thrilled with the finished product. The Harley Davidson color scheme came together after adding my orange t-shirt from Ronnie’s bar, and it was an easy choice to go with orange and black for the rest of the quilt.
Since my brother was also an avid supporter of the local football team, I used one of his Dickinson Football shirts as the last corner square on the quilt, and the photo below shows the monogram that I had put on it.
My brother was cremated, and in my house, I have a small urn engraved with his name containing a small amount of his ashes in a cubby hole that I keep as a small memorial for him. Inside that cubby hole is also a U.S. Flag and a copy of the photo that I took and used in his obituary. Coincidentally, the black Marines t-shirt that he is wearing in that picture is also on my quilt. I miss and think of my brother every day. This memory quilt is the final piece of the puzzle that I was missing, and it is proudly on display on a quilt rack in my living room for all to see and admire when they visit.
The photo below is an updated copy of the original picture published in the paper. Notice that the original “HL&P” logo on his hardhat was been changed to “CenterPoint Energy” in this copy. I found this copy one day at work on the back of an old Directory for the Hispanic Legal Association for 2013. When the new directory for 2014 arrived in the mail, and I was going to discard the 2013 directory until I noticed his face on the back of it. Wow!
This concludes my story of all the quilts that Karen Overton made for me. I have a sneaky suspicion that I will find a few other projects for us to work on in the not too distant future.
That’s all, folks! Irma Cortez
Once again, thank you Irma for sharing your stories with us, and for being such a faithful customer!
This is Karen Overton, The Quilt Rambler Telling YOUR story one quilt at a time.
As always, we appreciate your comments and feedback.