Monday, July 20, 2009

Communal living

Star has asked twice now for me to talk about being a hippie, which I was in the early 1970s (a little later than most). As you can see from my wind spinner above, I haven't changed that much in my tastes. It hangs outside on my front porch.

I had separated from my then-husband and given up completely on marriage. I was living in Sacramento, California, working for the Department of Education, and my young son went to live with his father and his new wife and baby. Chris (my son) was ten and needed more stability than I was able to provide. Suddenly I was without any obligations and decided to pursue meditation and the counterculture, which I felt I had missed out on. I was getting ready to turn thirty, which can seem pretty scary (it sure did then, what was I thinking?). I quit my job and decided to live on my savings.

My meditation teacher introduced me to Sufi dancing and some of his hippie friends, who lived in a huge old house in downtown Sacramento. The old mansion had a ballroom in the basement, where the dancing was held. Before long I had been introduced to the people who lived there, and I petitioned to join the commune. I decided that people should call me "Sunshine."

Twenty-four people lived in the house together, sharing all the duties of keeping it going, and we all paid rent for our room. I don't remember how much I paid at the time, but it wasn't much. Most of the people who lived there had money from somewhere, I guess, and a few people (fewer than a dozen, I think) actually held down jobs. The rest of us played, meditated, and took care of the household duties.

The kitchen was also huge, and the meal duties rotated weekly. We ate one meal together, in the late afternoon (dinner). If it was your week to cook, you and the others assigned to the task decided what to have for dinner, bought the groceries, prepared the meal and cleaned up afterward.

We had mandatory "house meetings" every week, so things could be discussed, assigned, and any concerns addressed. If there were problems between us, we had small group meetings. And as you might guess, problems arose almost constantly. I remember one time when I confessed that I had once tickled my little sister until she fainted. They must have discussed it, because a week later I was accosted in the kitchen and tickled until I couldn't stand it any longer. When the ordeal was over, they told me that they had helped me repay a karmic debt.

I lived there for two or three years, I'm not sure now from this place in time. But I loved some of the people dearly and could not stand some of the others. I learned how to share my living space in a new way, although anyone from a large family would not have had nearly the adjustment that a single child would. Women who have taken care of large families didn't have serious culture shock either.

I learned that the peace movement, the desire to raise environmental consciousness, even back then, excited my spirit to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. It's been almost four decades since that part of my life, but it will always color the way I see things. Being a hippie seeped into my genes and now I'm just a flower child with forty years practice.


  1. I've been waiting to hear about your hippie days myself. Wow! That is something I don't see myself ever doing, although I sometimes think I could live in a convent or beguinage... I wonder if you could write something longer about this. Not necessarily a blog, but a short story or essay. The tickling incident was fascinating and complex.
    Thanks, Sunshine, for sharing this. You contain multitudes...

  2. I somehow think there is an inner flower child in me.


  3. Wow, thanks for sharing! I lived in a very old house with a bunch of people the summer of 1971. I think I have always been a hippie at heart, but lived a very different lifestyle over the years. Now I'm becoming one again. Or maybe I'm just reconnecting with who I really am. But we have been playing with the idea of living in a "sharing of resources" manner when we retire. The New York Times recently had an article about a housing development that encircles farm land that everyone shares. I think the time has come to look at ways of taking care of ourselves that is also more environmentally friendly.

  4. Fascinating.
    I was a hippie-wanna-be that had an Air Force father. What a contradiction, right???

  5. The song Flower Town just popped into my head... What does that mean?

  6. I never lived in a commune, but spent much of two years visiting various ones. Now, I guess I want things my own way too much. Maybe a shared community though in which everyone had their own living spaces...

  7. Great story, I never lived in a commune. Around that time I was in college and I did a few sit-ins and such. It all took on a different feel after Kent State.
    I'm looking forward to hearing more of your stories from that time.

  8. What a great story! I'm loving all the posts you put out.Your are a facinating lady!I think may be you could put all your adventures in a book and i think it will sell....I'll buy.

  9. (singing) "Are you going to San Fransisco?" "be sure to wear some flowers in your hair!" I love the name Sunshine. It suits you. Thank you for your post. It is fascinating, more, more, more! I (and my eldest son) are both hippies. It is inside you, isn't it and it has to come out some way or other. Now, I never took the step to live in a commune (I got married too young), but I often wondered what it would be like.
    Blessings, Star

  10. I was in San Francisco for nearly 10 years in the 60s and lived near the Haight’s. My hair was coming down to my waist, and yes, my husband placed flowers in it. I also lived for a while in Berkeley. I’ll make a post about it when I get past recollections on my mother’s youth, so it may take a while!


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