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The Old Mill: Life on the homefront

June 11, 2014 - In 1941, Mary Alice Jesse was 10-years-old and living in the rural central Michigan community of Harrison.

"Mom operated a party store on Bud Lake," said Mary Alice. "I used to go down there and help her. The ice cream came in metal tubs and I was too short to reach the bottom, so I had to stand on a chair. In 1941 we were limited to vanilla ice cream. That same year they started rationing because of the war."

Mary Alice is just one of millions of Americans in the early 1940s that were impacted at home due to World War II.

In 1941 the war in Europe was escalating—President Roosevelt established the federal Office of Price Administration, sparking the first rationing program in support of the American effort in World War II. Coupon books were issued to American citizens after homegrown and imported goods became scarce as the country fought a war in Europe.

At 7 p.m., June 18, Mary Alice, hosted by the Ortonville Community Historical Society, will share stories on life on the home front during WWII at the Old Mill Museum, Mill Street, Ortonville.

"Tires were rationed, then sugar, butter, meat and gasoline," said Mary Alice. "In 1944 our family moved to Harrisville on Lake Huron. We collected milkweed pods to be used for the war effort."

According to newspaper accounts, the milkweed pods were used to produce life jackets that were normally filled with floss from kapok trees, but the kapok supply was cut off when Japan gained control of Indonesia in WWII where kapok was plentiful. The white, wispy floss inside the milkweed seeds is also buoyant, making it a well-suited substitute for life preservers used by airmen and sailors. Similarly, Japanese occupations in the Far East had made it impossible to get rubber from plantations in the Dutch East Indies, and what little rubber was available went straight to airplane and munitions factories. Tires were limited to five per household.

"Your rations were based on the number of people in your family," she said. "The farmers in the area had it better, they had more gasoline than others. They were told to produce as many crops as they could to help feed the troops. Also about that time, dry milk came around. 'We had to drink it a lot. To this day I'm not a real fan."

"During World War II, we all read journalist Ernie Pyle, a popular war correspondent, and listened to the fireside chat radio addresses given by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1944," she said. He kept us updated on the American war efforts."

Mary Alice moved to Ortonville in 1948 and married Arnold Seelbinder in 1950.

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