Memories of World War II


Collecting Milkweed Pods During World War II

We lived in a small, prosperous town in the middle of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, a very fertile valley, good for growing fruits and vegetables, still an area of small farms and truck gardens, with a range of mountains to the north and south. We were a family of seven and lived just at the edge of town. All the property beyond our home was open land with trees and fields.  
At school we heard about the uses of the milkweed silk for the war effort and were asked to pick the pods and bring them in for collection. As children we spent a lot of time outside in spring, summer, winter, and fall. We had a large barn on the property that was used as garages and storage for garden equipment and we used the cement floor as a rollerskating rink in bad weather. We played with neighborhood children through the orchard and fields around our home and had discovered the wonders of milkweed and shredding the pods every fall, so we knew where to go to find it. The milkweed grew along the edges of the roads and in the fence rows around our part of the edge of town and that is where we picked it.

I think my mother thought this a grand idea, getting us out of the house, and sent us out with old pillow cases to collect pods. We then delivered all our pickings to school. 
Everyone Did Their Part 
Father was a physician, and at the outbreak of World War II already had five children, so the younger doctors went to war and left him with several much older doctors to take care of the town and nearby country. Our home was across the street from the county hospital and beyond our street was farmland and undeveloped town.  
The neighboring farmer gave up his field closest to the street for anyone who wished to plant a victory garden. I believe he may have plowed it in the spring and then it was divided into garden plots. But we had our own large vegetable garden planted and cared for by my mother and all of us able to be helpful, but not father.
He was not the garden type, and he was very busy. He made house calls every day, had office hours five days a week with Thursday off, but was in the office Saturday when farmers came to town. He delivered babies at home or in the hospital, set bones (some of them ours), and sewed people up (sometimes us), at home and in the office. 

-Story contributed by Smithsonian Gardens volunteer Nora W.

Photos Show

Milkweed growing wild in a field

Milkweed growing wild in a field

Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection. [View Additional File Details]

Cite this Page

“Memories of World War II,” Community of Gardens, accessed May 30, 2024, https:/​/​communityofgardens.​si.​edu/​items/​show/​12395.​
View a Random Garden