GMN Contributors

One For All – Gloria Celestial

This post is from Gloria Celestial, about her communal experiences in 1981 when the commune was located in Stockton, CA. It’s 3 excellent stories, and you can get a real feel of what our life was like then.


Del, Gloria, Dian, Alphonse at a Rally

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
By Gloria Celestial

You can smell the bread baking as you cross the lawn. Bob G and Alphonse are whipping up batches of their special walnut waffles while the bread is doing its thing in the oven. That means when we stop by for bread, we’ll get some ready made waffles for the freezer.

There are usually two bread shifts a week producing about 22 loaves each. While the rich whole-wheat recipe is always the same, the bread never is. Each baker adds a special touch like when Dennis first signed up for a bread-baking shift. His “special touch” was that he forgot to add the salt. Everyone is so polite and takes their share never mentioning the tasteless bricks he handed out. Without salt, bread doesn’t rise—they really were bricks. Dennis eventually mastered bread. Of course, to this day, he only knows how to make 22 loaves.

Bill S is an unforgettable baker…he becomes one with the bread and the bread loves it. His loaves nearly float off the table spread with fresh ground peanut butter and strawberry preserves, still warm…. I never liked peanut butter and still don’t, but on Bill S bread day, it melts in my mouth.

One of the important ingredients that made the commune function was the SHIFT SCHEDULE. Without it, our daily needs would not be met. Everyone participates – love is service done for one another. Each person is expected to contribute approximately 5 hours a day toward the common good. So we all took turns at everything. No one “made” you do things you didn’t want, but because we were doing it for each other, with love, it seemed no one minded doing anything (at least not too much). Behind the shift schedule is the person who’s job it is to create the shift schedule. This job also shifts frequently because it’s not easy. The shifts-to-be-done list is posted each week and we sign up. What’s not accounted for is filled in by the scheduling person who assigns someone to the rest of the jobs. The list is posted and we’re off and running for the week.

Today Bill, Patti, Dennis and I are harvesting. I remind them that before we even left Seattle, I had announced gleaning, harvesting, etc., was not on my list of services. But…I go along…just for the ride! The sun is hot probably 85 and it’s so clear. Another sunny day, just like yesterday. I can’t get over this weather..so different from Seattle. Every day is pretty much like every othe summer day from May to the first of November. You can plan a picnic and know the sun is going to shine. The only thing that changes is the temperature, each day it’s slowly climbing.

Our first stop is a tomato field at 8-mile road—u-pick. Well, I’m not pickin’. I stroll out in the field with Patti as she starts to fill her basket. The warm sweet tomato sweat smell assails me. Patti hands me a tomato and as I bite it, the red, warm juice runs down my arm. Suddenly I’m in Kansas once again. I remember tomatoes tasting like this from my daddy’s garden in Muncie. The next thing I remember is returning to the car with our crates full and I feel so high—about 8 miles at least! I can’t even describe how exhillerating pickin’ fresh food for my new family feels. We picked our tomatoes and ate them while the life was still in them.

On to Lodi-about 12 miles north of Stockton, up I-5 past miles and miles of pink oleander blooming down the middle of the freeway. The smell drifts in the window and mingles with the scent of tomatoes—best aroma therapy I ever had.

We pull into an orchard—a peach orchard. I’ve never seen peaches like these before—fat and ripe. It reminds me of my mother’s story about driving home from Arkansas in an old Ford and stopping by the road to buy peaches. They put them in the trunk and forgot them while they baked in the hot Ozark sun. When they got home there was nothing left but the skin while they had left a Hansel and Grettle trail all the way from Pochohontas to Kansas City. The smell of peaches left forever in the back of the old car.

After we pick enough peaches for each of the 7 households, we shop in a roadside market. We get enough stuff to feed 30 people for about 4 days and then we stop at each house and drop off their share. Avocados by the case, oranges for $5.00/box and dozens of honeydews or Crenshaw melons at great prices because we picked them ourselves. It’s hard to beat vine-ripened fruit o’ the vine. The best food I can remember eating and we had a great time getting it. What was I thinking, not go harvesting, well I’m signing up for this shift next week.

I’m exhausted, having all this fun is wearing me out. How nice that all I have to do is go out to dinner at Altamedia (the main communal house). We walk past Victory Park and look at the yards full of roses. The air is heavy with the scent. One of the things I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is the many smells..everything in California seems bigger than life and smells to high heaven!

I hadn’t realized there was a pool at Altamedia. Wow, after working up a sweat in the fields, a dip is going to feel really good. Guess I’m not that tired as a lively game of water polo with the kids ensues. Boy am I hungry.

Rex is on dinner shift tonight and Robin is assisting. He’s made fish sandwiches and fries..a meal the kids will like. Of course, we don’t eat fish..it’s tofu. He slices firm tofu in thin squares like a fish sandwich and browns it in a little tamari. For those who do dairy, there is some raw milk Cheddar to melt on top. He serves it on a whole-wheat bun with tartar sauce, a sliced tomato (yeah one of mine) and some lettuce. You can hardly tell the difference and his “fries” are baked—no fat. I’m impressed and as at all communal meals, there’s the ever present salad. Robin has made avocado dressing, and with Bill and Patti’s home grown sprouts it’s a gourmet feast.

Each night is like this. We eat out, great food, no bill and no toil. Since Rex and Robin cooked, Thera and Michael B will clean up. Thanks to the shift schedule, all these details are worked out in advance, total cooperation.

We take our plates and wander out onto the covered patio in back of the house. The garden is lush and buzzing with twilight creatures. We sit on futuristic furniture made by the shop guys on their woodworking shifts. We call them yoga benches. They are padded on top and covered with beautiful fabric, leftovers from the sewing school. Nothing is wasted.

Tonight we’re doing some music. This should be interesting. Mikes and stands are produced, and hooked up to the amps and a keyboard appears. There are hand instruments like tambourines and marrachcas and there’s a song book with some tunes. The songs have all been created by different members of the music school and produced as a book by the publication’s school. This is so amazing. I’ve really got to look into these “schools”. Together they comprise the University of the Universe…that sounds good to me!

We gather around the mikes and the harmony begins to build. How odd…this is the first time I’ve heard this music but I already know the tunes and immediately add my voice.

Bill and Patti are suddenly inspired to bake gingerbread (with whole- wheat flour and honey, naturally). After this treat we call it an evening and head home. What a truly beautiful day. One thing about this communal living, there is never a dull moment.

There are lots of different things on the shift schedule like child care. The commune has lots of kids and so child care is always included. Depending on how many kids there are, one or two people would be assigned a 2-3 hour shift with the kids. This allows the parents to do other projects or spend time in one of the other creative schools. Because you only do one or two shifts a week, it was more fun to plan something special to do with the kids that was participatory rather than just sit them down in front of the TV.

During the summer, many child care shifts were spent at the Altamedia pool or at Pixie Woods. The kids also liked to join with the adults in activities like baking, or air- brush painting in the art studio. Craft activities were big and could involve making a puppet show and then putting it on for the grownups or other kids. Music was another hit and the kids liked experimenting with the hand instruments and the mikes.

A child care shift wasn’t like any babysitting I’d ever done. The kids really blossomed under this plan because there was lots of stimulation and different adults to interact with or to entertain you that weren’t burnt out on watching kids. Because of all this extra love and attention received by the kids, they are really articulate, and bright and fun to be around. Many child- care shifts ended up in the communal garden with little towheads pulling weeds or picking goodies for dinner.

Gardening was on the shift schedule too whenever possible, the One World Family has always gardened. Stuff grows so well with all the California sun, there is instant gratification. Besides organic gardens produce really good tasting vegetables with no pesticides. Bill and Patti have offered to help me start a garden and compost pile at Placentia. They stopped by today and planted some geraniums they have started from cuttings at Aquarius. It sure makes the front of the house look good. Even though the area we have set aside for a vegetable garden is small, it gives me great satisfaction to know I will be growing my own food.

There’s a big family garden at Altamedia and it really flourishes with all the love energy poured into it by those on the schedule. Or perhaps from someone who’s stopped by for a little grounding therapy. Since all gardens are organic, it contributes to a healthy family life.

Let’s Play

Today is another beautiful, warm, sunny day. The delta breeze has brought fresh clean air and its joyful to be here. I have decided it would be fun to have a picnic at Victory Park and play volleyball. We brought our equipment with us from the farm in Monroe and I know it will be great to play.

I call the other houses and everyone agrees to picnic. Every house comes up with a contribution to the dinner. I’m making old- fashioned potato salad the new-fashioned way with no eggs or mayonnaise. I get out the giant laminated salad bowl and fill it with chopped, cooked red potatoes with the skins still on. I also chop up some tofu in small bite-sized pieces as though it were cooked egg. I add some minced sweet onion, some chopped up dill pickle and dress it with a combination of plain yogurt and sour cream. I stir in some mustard and fresh dill, sea salt and pepper. Let it sit all day in the fridge and it’s as good as mom used to make, but a lot healthier. Kathy brings of bowl of marinated sliced tomatoes, some of the ones we’ve just picked in the field. Aquarius brings a rice and tofu casserole, while Novida provides a tossed salad. Acacia brings bread.

I can hardly wait to play. The spirit of competition is rising. After all I was on the volleyball team at school, I know I’ll be on the winning side.

We quickly choose up sides and the game begins. Our side serves, we volley back a forth a couple times until they miss. Everyone cheers, even the folks on my team. I don’t get it. I call out 1 to nothing. I get strange looks. I serve again, it’s an ace. 2 to 0, I say. Nobody cares. Someone shouts “we don’t keep score, it’s just for fun”. I can’t believe it, how can it be fun if we don’t keep score. Someone has to win, right? Wrong.

We played for the better part of an hour and it was the most fun I’d ever had playing volleyball. Some serves were met with the challenge to see how long we could keep it going. Others were met with teasing and tripping. The kids were included and rotated in and out. I can’t remember when I had laughed so much. It was truly in the spirit of play when the face of competition was removed. There were no losers, only winners because everyone was on the winning side and had such a good time.

We sat on blankets in the warm grass and you could smell the earth. Guitars appear and we gather to sing. There’s such a feeling of love and companionship. I really feel like these are my sisters and brothers, my family.

This is another story I wrote soon after coming to the commune in 1981.

It’s very scary giving up everything I’ve ever known about how to live. In the same way there is no competition in the communal volleyball game, there is no attachment to possessions. This really bothers me because I’ve already attached to all the stuff I brought with me.

I have a nice set of dishes, bowls, kitchen utensils. I have a lot of music albums I’ve been collecting over the years. And, I’m beginning to notice certain ones missing. The same thing began to happen in the kitchen. Then I notice that while some of the matching dishes are missing, there are still plenty of dishes. In fact, many more than when we moved in.

While some of the albums are gone, they have been replaced with different albums. Ones I’ve not heard before and I didn’t have to spend any money to get new music. Wow, what a new concept.

I realized that it really didn’t matter if the dishes matched, as long as I had a plate for my dinner. It didn’t make a difference that the albums had changed. There was still plenty of music to listen to and I knew that eventually the others were drift back through the collection.

Learning to share was a challenge, but I was sure having fun letting go. It really isn’t necessary for each of us to have a car when we can share them. The commune owned two campers so we could trade the station wagon and have a camper for a weekend. So many times in life, cars just sit there. If we shared fewer cars, we’d all have the transportation we need, and there wouldn’t be so much waste. So we had transportation to sign up for, but it worked.

The same was true for the lawn mower or the washers and dryers. Everyone didn’t need one, we just shared what we had. This really is ecological, economical and working.

I thought letting go of the car would be a hard one, but it wasn’t. We arrived at the commune with a Volare station wagon, red, of course, and agreed to add it to the commune fleet. We, however, would remain the principle coordinators for the vehicle. Things were going fine until one of the teenagers borrowed the car while it was loaned to another commune member. Unfortunately, the kid totalled the car by running into a tree.

The car was gone, no insurance, luckily no one was hurt. We did, however, get a bill from the City of Stockton for the tree. The kid had to pay that. I was really stressed at first to have lost “my” car. But the other vehicles were shared with us and so we had what we “needed”. To each according to ability and to each according to need. We got what we needed.

Because Stockton was so flat and the weather was warm a lot, biking was a major activity. Many communal members or households had bikes. One day Beldon showed up at my door with a bright purple 3-speed old fashioned girls bike. He brought it for my birthday. He’d paid 5 bucks for it, cleaned it up and got it going and I loved it. It may have been old fashioned, but so was I. I had a big wicker basket I fastened on the handlebars. I could be seen pedaling all over town doing my grocery shopping and bringing it home in my basket. Of course, since we bought in bulk, my daily needs were small and would easily fit in to my basket. I even did the banking by riding my bike up to the drive-in window. I sold the bike a few years later to upgrade to a 10 speed. You guessed it, it was never as good as my purple people eater. To this day, I wish I could find it. The cool part to the story, however, is that what I needed was provided. I wanted a bike and God gave me what I needed.