Loonan Family Anthology

by Jean Loonan Taylor


Born on a farm two miles east of Hudson, I was 5th of the 6 children of Lloyd and Elizabeth (Besse) Bedford Loonan. This was the birthplace of all of us except Martha, the oldest. Grandpa and Grandma Loonan farmed just one mile east. As each new baby arrived, the older children stayed with Grandma for a few weeks to give Mother and babe a chance to get acquainted.

At two, I was bundled off to Grandma's, along with the other four, to make room for a new little brother. As the days passed my brothers and sisters were eager to return home--not me, I begged to stay. Each time we went to see the new baby I couldn't wait to get back to Grandma's. I stayed on after the others went home, and gradually my clothes and toys accumulated there. I lived at Grandma's almost continually until I went to college. Days were spent happily tagging Grandpa and Uncle George. When the car went anywhere, I was the first one in. If anyone asked who I was, I was quick to explain, "I'm Jean, one of Lloyd's kids."

I felt I had the best of two worlds--the advantages of being an only child, while just a mile away were all those brothers and sisters! Several years ago, after I was married and had been living in California three years, Martha told me she had always felt sorry for me as a child-missing the companionship of the family while I was growing up. I have given this much thought and it rather shakes me up. While I thought I was to be envied, perhaps I missed more than I will ever know.

I recall several incidents of those early years. Once when Grandpa and Grandma were helping at my folks', it came chore time, time to go home. We were playing a game, and I wasn't ready to leave. The kids suggested I stay all night. At the time it seemed like a good idea, and I agreed. I awoke in the night, so homesick Dad dressed and took me back to Grandma's. I never like to stay overnight anywhere.

Childhood diseases can play havoc in a large family. This was before immunizations had almost eradicated measles, mumps, chickenpox and whooping cough. It was just a part of being a child. If one were lucky, he had them in the summer or before starting school. The year before I was to start several of the older kids contacted measles. After some discussion, my parents decided I might as well have them at this time, too. The blinds were drawn to shield their eyes. The kids were miserable with fever, runny eyes, all broken out with a rash. I'm sure they didn't appreciate my bouncing about on the foot of the bed getting exposed. It was in vain, anyway, for I didn't have measles until several years later.

Arrangements had been made with the school bus driver to drive the extra mile to pick me up at Grandma's the year I was 5. The first day of school finally arrived. I was nervous; I cried; and I refused to board the bus. Grandma gathered me in her arms and said, "She doesn't want to go.... she is so little....let her stay home." So I did. It didn't work the next year. I started school at 6.


The growing depression reached our family during my first year of school. When the Hudson bank closed, my folks lost their farm. Fortunately, they were able to rent a farm two miles west of Cedar Falls for a year. They moved there in March.

Martha and I finished the school year in Hudson. In the fall Dan, Ruth and I went to country school. Martha and Jim attended Campus school in Cedar Falls. Bub was not in school yet.

Cedar Falls Twp., District No. 7

The little school was the typical one-room country school, though it had a furnace. Once a week we had hot lunch. Sometimes we had baked potatoes. They were placed just inside the furnace door and by noon they would be just right. The butter was kept cold outside or on a window sill.

Our teacher tried to teach more than just the basics. I remember singing Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies and learning how to embroider. When we moved back to Hudson, I forgot to take home my fancy work. I wonder if anyone finished it.

The Cedar Falls farm must have had cockle burrs as I remember we used to pick the blossoms. When fresh and green, they are quite pretty and pliable. They were green with lavendar at the top. We'd gather them by the basketful, stick them together to make play fences, houses, barns, etc. One day we made a large flat circle design. It looked like a plate or a rug. Someone said, "I think it would fit on Bub's head." And he patted it in place from ear to ear. Now, the reason the blossoms stick together is because they are a little like arrows or fish hooks--you can stick them together easily but you can't pull them apart. We couldn't get the thistle cap off Bub's head. As I recall, it had to be cut off, hair and all.


Money was scarce in the years after we moved into Hudson. It was a time of hand-me-downs, long underwear, slips and nightgowns of bleached flour sacks, hand knit mittens, scarves and stocking caps, four-buckle overshoes.

Often my sister, Ruth, and I were dressed alike, as she was just two years older and we were about the same size. Our dresses were made of cotton print using the same pattern; hers blue, mine red.

I remember a dress given me by an older cousin who had outgrown it. Made of red taffeta, it had a skirt of ruffled tiers. I was cautioned to "save it for good." Consequently, I wore it only for Sunday-best and before long I, too, had outgrown the beautiful dress. We passed it on to a neighbor who lived across the street. How upset I was to see her outside playing in it.

And the long underwear! How I hated it! At the beginning of the week it fit quite tightly around my ankles and it was easy to pull the stockings up over the knit legs without too many lumps. As the week wore on, the legs stretched and I had to fold the underwear around my ankle and try to pull the stocking quickly over it without having it slip up in a bunch at mid-calf. If a dress sleeve was the least bit short, the dreaded underwear would hang below the cuff.

Once I had a sleeveless dress and matching jacket made over from one handed down by my Aunt Node. Wife of a school superintendent in northern Iowa, her clothes were likely to be "good" dresses: ready-made, not home sewn cotton housedresses. Since this one was wool, I wore it in cold weather, which meant I also wore the dismal underwear. Grandma would pin the jacket at the shoulders so there would be no chance it would slip.

One day, I decided to pretend I didn't wear long underwear. Arriving at school, I went to the restroom, removed the dress, slipped out of the top of the undergarment and tied the sleeves around my waist. Next, I dressed, added the jacket without pinning it at the shoulders. Taking my seat, I casually let my jacket slip off my shoulder a little and my bare arm could be seen. Surely everyone would see that spring had come early. I guess it didn't occur to me that anyone might notice the roll around my waist or my still lumpy stockings.


"I just don't feel like making homemade ice cream today!" My ten year old granddaughter said this as matter-of-factly as though she has said "Today is Tuesday."

Times have changed, I know. What with a Dairy Sweet on every other corner and ice cream stores with 57 varieties, it takes a much more sophisticated activity to catch the attention of youngsters. But it is inconceivable to me that a child would miss an opportunity to make homemade ice cream and a chance to lick the dasher!

I remember how we enjoyed the special occasions when we had homemade ice cream. It was traditional for our Fourth of July family picnic.

First was the matter of the ice. The ice truck carried 25, 50 and 100 pound cakes of ice, covered with canvas. We tried to be home when the ice man delivered the ice because he often had to chip it to fit into the icebox and we liked to catch and eat the chips. When we were going to make ice cream we needed an extra 25 pound cake. It was carried to the basement and put in a gunny sack, to be crushed with a sledge hammer. Fresh, thick cream, milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla were combined in the center container of the freezer and the crushed ice and coarse salt added around it. With the lid securely fastened, we took turns turning the crank and adding more salt and ice. There was a drain hole in the side of the wood drum. By the time the ice and salt had melted enough for the ice water to drain from the hole, the handle was getting very hard to turn. It was time to lift the lid and remove the dasher. Shouts of excitement rang out as Mother scraped "too much" of the delicious ice cream off the dasher. At last she would hand the dasher and spoon to one of us. We'd all crowd around for a taste. There was nothing to compare with that first taste of homemade ice cream.

Meanwhile, Mother had replaced the lid and packed the freezer with crushed ice and more salt, then covered it with an old rug. Again, we had to wait. It had to season!

Several hours later, when our patience was exhausted, the freezer was opened and the delectable dessert was dished out. Oh, such joy! (such ecstasy!)

In winter, after a fresh snow, we made snow cream. Mixing a little cream, sugar and vanilla with new snow. Sometimes we added a little cocoa. It was not as tasty as freezer ice cream, but a treat anyway.

No, I can't imagine anyone of my generation saying "I just don't feel like making homemade ice cream today!"


Sandi was lamenting how difficult it is for her to organize her housekeeping. She reasoned it was because I hadn't taught her or insisted she do things herself. She added that she had never been hesitant in bringing her friends home, for our house always looked presentable.

I laughed, and assured her that that was a comment I never expected to hear!

Gene and I had been married somewhat over a year, had a beautiful baby, and had moved to California when I made a startling discovery. Housework doesn't get done by its self!

I guess I had just never given it much thought as a child I unless in irritation if something was put away before I finished with it. My bed was made, clothes hung up, shoes in a row under the bed, drawers straightened, lights and radio turned off, but not by my hand. I wasn't particularly messy: I didn't scatter clothes, shoes, books, etc around, but whatever I neglected to pick up would vanish. Likewise, dishes magically were washed, dried and returned to the cupboard. Sometimes I helped, but if not, they were always ready before the next meal.

Occasionally, I was asked to vacumn the house, but since Friday was cleaning day, normally I was in school. Washday fell on Monday, consequently, I was in school and didn't learn much about the laundry. As a rule, my clothes were washed, ironed, folded or hung in the closet without effort on my part.

Gene and I lived in an apartment in Waterloo for the first year after we were married. Many times if I left the dishes while I went shopping or visiting, miraculously, they would be washed and put away when I returned, Mother having been there and instinctively busied herself with anything left undone.

In California, it was another story. If the dishes were left in the sink, there they stayed until I did something about them. The same was true for cleaning, dusting and laundry. It was a long time before I made my startling discovery about housework; even longer before I acknowledged that I wouldn't be surprised to come home to a spanking clean house. In fact, I still half expect it.

It was certainly a surprise to learn my daughter felt I had done the same to her!