Maria sat on the train watching the beautiful spring landscape roll by. It was odd to be alone. She had never gone anywhere without her family and now she was traveling half way across the country, alone. But, the war effort had called and she was on her way to Wisconsin to help the Navy set up a factory to spin hemp for shoelaces for the troops and rope for American ships.
In 1942 the US had grown approximately 14,000 acres of hemp and the government wanted 300,000 acres grown in the upcoming year. The stumbling block was that this raw hemp needed to be processed before it could be spun. From the letter she had received from the president, Maria had learned that the country’s hemp processing equipment hadn’t been modernized with the beginning of the new century like the processing of cotton and wool, because cheap fiber had been available from the Philippines.
Now that the Filipino supply was in the hands of the Japanese, Maria had some ideas. After all, she was a Lunatic. Yarn was in her blood. And she was the sister who loved to invent things. She knew how to make a new style of breaker, the apparatus used to separate the woody outer layer of the hemp stalk from the long, strong fiber inside: a dusty, filthy process. She and Grandpa had been working with that new synthetic rubber substitute, in the Lunatic Factory back home, and they had developed ways to mold it into various shapes. Why not use shaped nubby rubber wheels to break the fiber sheath and a vacuum to pull the chaff out from below? Maria was sure the men at the factory would be thrilled to hear how she could make production cleaner and more efficient.
While she planned, she pulled her knitting from her bag, a lacy lavender hemp edging, the same hue as the wisteria on the fences outside her bedroom back home. She would send the edging to each of her sisters when she got to Wisconsin. They would be just the thing to decorate the pillowcases she had woven and left on her sisters beds when she departed for the west.
And if the fiber processors in Wisconsin didn’t like her ideas, the cord manufacturers in Providence, Rhode Island wanted her to come work with their spinning equipment. She had ideas for them too. Maybe this summer she would head back east to Rhode Island…