Shirley Uphouse, past Program Coordinator and present Yahoo e-group moderator for Netwest, has been published in numerous magazines. Shirley is a professional dog show judge and spent many years flying around the country judging the top breeds. Presently she is working on a book about all the wonderful dogs who played a part in her life. The following non-fiction piece takes us back to her childhood growing up in the finger lakes region of New York state.
River Cane Walk and Memories
by Shirley Uphouse
While, on a lovely fall day, I walked through fields and along a creek lined by river cane, I plucked a variety of small, low growing delicate plants and dried weeds of interesting color or shape. And as I did I remembered when I was a young girl during WWII. With the attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941 we were at war. I was six- years- old. I attended a one room country school in upstate New York in a farming community. During the war, in the fall, our teacher took us into the fields around the school where milkweed pods had dried and popped open. We pulled the white, silk-like bolls from the pod and put them in sacks. It was a fun respite from the three R’s.
The military used the silkweed bolls to fill life jackets. A pound and a half of milkweed floss would keep a 150 pound sailor afloat for ten hours. During 1944 and 1945, throughout North America, more than twenty-five million pounds of milkweed silk, enough to fill 700 freight train cars, was collected.
During these years the home front supported our men and women overseas in every possible way. Everyone who could, grew Victory gardens because so much grown commercially was needed for our troops. It was my sister’s and my job to squash potato bugs between two rocks in our vegetable garden. They were big, green and juicy. We tried to do it with eyes closed, but when we hit our fingers we gave that up.
Uncle Lawrence was called to service. Because of his experience as a contractor, he served with the Navy Sea Bees. The Sea Bees played a critical role during World War II in all theaters of battle. They built hundreds of advance bases, roads, bridges, their most famous being their participation during the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Most Sea Bees were the first ones to come ashore, so they suffered heavy casualties from German fire. Uncle Lawrence was in that bloody invasion. My Aunt Thelma heard nothing from him for months. But he came home safe. He rarely spoke of the atrocities he saw while there.
Looking back on those years, when the whole country pulled together to support our home land, I feel a sense of pride for helping by collecting those fluffy bits of silken boll. It mattered not that what I collected may not have weighed enough to move a fraction of a mark on a scale, it mattered that I did what a young school girl could do to end that awful war.