Our first home was a commune. After marrying, Bob and I first globe-trotted a bit, renting in two university communities and in then-peaceful and unknown Afghanistan, where we loved the easy bonding of a small ex-patriot community, all of us strangers in a strange land.
Returning to the United States, we felt acute culture shock in our parents’ suburban neighborhoods. Ironically, I had been excited about moving to Kabul, but I worried about feeling isolated in the suburbs. We wanted something different, so when we could afford it, we looked for a large house and planned to find friends to live with us.
A perceptive realtor quickly brought us to a three-story Victorian in Groton, extolling the town’s benefits as she drove. The house’s three units seemed to offer the ideal combination of privacy and togetherness for three family groups. We bought it, advertised for kindred spirits in an alternative newspaper, and soon had a family with two kids on the second floor and a divorced mom with part-time kids on the third.
We worked out a schedule of shared cooking and cleanup for group dinners about four nights a week. We planted a garden, built a compost pit, and played cards together. We also joined a food co-op and began making friends. Our hippie living arrangement was a source of curiosity, and some envy, especially the part about arriving home after work to a cooked meal and good companionship around the table.
In the spring, the second- and third-floor families opened up the stairs between their units and combined their food and cookware in the larger kitchen. Soon after that, they went camping for a weekend together, without us. Bob and I felt left out of our own commune.
But then the truth came out. Rather than being excluded from a happy family commune, we’d been oblivious to the soap opera unfolding above us. The second-floor dad and the third-floor divorcee abruptly moved out together, and our communal life ended.
But our lives as members of our community were just beginning. We welcomed our first child, met other young parents, and started learning about local political issues. Soon, we were serving on town committees and speaking at Town Meeting. We joined a church and attended virtually every cultural event in town, many of which featured performances by friends.
Our need for kindred-spirit housemates declined as our social network expanded. We became normal (capitalist?) landlords, seeking tenants who led quiet lives, paid the rent on time, and didn’t ask much from us. The house served us well; the apartments got smaller as we opened and closed doors in different space configurations to house three kids, two exchange students, and two home-based businesses.
Those long-ago communal dinners were delicious, but being part of a community is what has truly nourished and enriched us over the 42 years we’ve lived in Groton. We would never consider leaving, though we did move — across the street — after 30 years, to a big house with more land and a fabulous view. And who knows: As we and our kindred-spirit friends age, this could be the perfect place for the Groton Golden Girls and Guys Mutually Assisted-Living Commune.
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