I grew up in a home environment where it was every body for himself. I don’t think our sainted mother intended our family to end up that way; our intense sibling rivalry just got the better of us. Even to this day my two half-brothers and I compete and argue more than share and dialog. Communication among us is rare. In spite of our more than humble beginnings all of my family members are well paid professionals, workaholics and extraordinarily creative. Competition in my family is brutal! Twin Oaks renders such revisionist behavior moot.
The communal kitchen, bathroom use, library everything was shared. Compared to what I was used to life at Twin Oaks was culture shock in the extreme. I deduced that living in such a positive environment should be the new societal norm though I have extreme doubts such a lifestyle would work in larger human society initially. Twin Oaks reminds me of the time I once considered a Franciscan Monastery. Communal living is wholesome. Though non-sectarian, Twin Oaks reminded me of the very first Christians who shared everything. This attitude insured that nobody would be in want. Complete sharing was emphasized; salaries, personal possessions, food; EVERYTHING. Given those times sharing on a more intimate level…well…I have no idea. I wasn’t there long enough to find out.
The great American ideal of individuality goes against to grain of life in communalistic Twin Oaks. Like monasteries the Twin Oaks experience isn’t for everybody no matter how ideal this scenario may seem. Knowing the person I am I wouldn’t survive in such a community in the long run. Like that Franciscan monastery in Wisconsin I’d wash out after a few months. I’m spoiled rotten. I’m hooked on the concept of dogged American individualism. I have a deep admiration for the Twin Oaks model. I consider it vastly superior to our gimmie’ mine acquisitive society where greed is the order of the day. Our mother tried to tell me that sharing is better than hoarding but I didn’t listen; after the short time I was at Twin Oaks I wish I had listened to her.
Twin Oaks resides on 450 acres of lush green farm land. As with the Skinnerian model residents are paid with standardized labor credits though money is used to conduct business with the outside world. Jobs considered low status in modern contemporary American society pay more in the commune. This is done to instill in residents that no job should be considered undesirable or beneath ones dignity as a human person. It felt funny living in a community where everyone shared, never showed hostility or even raised their voices in anger. It was odd living among people who practiced original Christianity. Twin Oaks had a plethora of religious people of all persuasions and more than its share of non-believers all of whom from my observations all got along quite well. What I found strangely embarrassing was the genderless bathroom facilities.
Conflicts are solved by a board of mediators. Non-members live dormitory style. Residents with full membership with aims of making Twin Oaks a life long commitment have private rooms. People who are into the Twin Oaks ideal but somehow don’t go in for communal living may live in private residences in nearby towns and cities; they contribute a certain sum to maintain the commune. After a few days of living like 1st century Christians it was time to go back to dog-eat-dog Chicago.
The drive back was more exciting than the trip over. We drove back across the Maryland panhandle and on through West Virginia when we caught up with that damn storm that roared its way west. Since we had to be back in Chicago we were hard pressed for time. Again we were forced to sleep in our car during another rain storm. We woke up to the radio playing ‘Country Road’ a popular tune in those times. It was ironic that we drove through the actual Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia mentioned in that song as we drove.
The Creator’s designs are wonders to behold. Our party of four made a side trip to West Virginia’s Shenandoah National Caverns. The caverns have wowed visitors globally since 1922. This national park displays Nature’s natural wonders in all her majesty and beauty. The crystalline rock formations will take your breath away as the old cliché goes. Being a serious ‘foodie’ the rock formation I enjoyed most was the famous ‘Breakfast Bacon’ a thin slice of rocks that looked like cooked slices of juicy fried bacon my favorite food. The other formations of interest is Rainbow Lake, Diamond Cascade, Capitol Dome, the Cathedral Room, Long View Hall and many other separate but inter connected caverns; don’t forget to bring your camera.
At one point into our East Coast odyssey we almost didn’t get back home; the reason racism. Finding ourselves back in the sovereign state of Ohio I had a run in with a local lawman; my ‘crime’ driving while black with a pretty white girl resting on my arm as I drove. Here’s what happened one bright sunny hurricane receding day on a lonely road in Ohio. As I was driving back towards the big windy there was this civilian car close behind me honking his horn. The guy was driving so close behind me if I were to sneeze he’d hear it. At first I thought it was some clown who wanted to pass us up. I ignored the guy. With the right lane free he could have passed me up without any problems. I kept driving and continued to ignore the clown trailing close behind. Then he flipped on his Smokey the Bear hat. The guy was a local ‘Law.’ I was driving through his territory! I pulled over on the shoulder and parked. Seeing him in uniform approaching my car unnerved me though I tried not to show it.
“Good morning Officer; any problems?”
“Where you from…boy?”
“What’s on this cracker’s mind with that ‘boy’ s..?” I thought. “We’re on our way back to Chicago Officer.”
Then this guy got in close…real close enough to stick his head through the window. “I don’t know how they drive where you from but us-ens’ here in O-hi-hoe have rules. You drivin’ too slow! I oughta’ arrest you!” then he turned towards the girl in the passenger’s seat. “Miss you alright?” the cop asked her.
“Yes sir I’m okay; thank you Officer,” she coyly replied.
The he turned towards me. “Why didn’t you stop?”
“I didn’t see any mars lights so I thought you were…”
“Like I said I oughta’ arrest you; now git!’”
The cop tipped his hat towards my pretty passenger, returned to his car and slowly drove off. I resumed driving once he was several blocks ahead of us. My two back seat passengers were mum throughout my ordeal.
The drive back to Chicago was a quiet one. When we approached the city from the high bridge on the Skyway we were safe. Seeing the majestic Chicago skyline from the bridge on a bright sunny day was a sight to behold. A month later the semester ended. I received an ‘A’ grade in that class though I never drove back East again.
If you want to know more about the Twin Oaks community and Shenandoah National Park Caverns please go to:
Both sites will recommend places to stay and how to get there. Enjoy your stay at both of these scenic places but I highly recommend that you fly, dog it (Greyhound) or go Amtrak. Driving is not a good idea; gas too high, stressful and the small town constables can be a mite rough. I hope you have better weather than I did when I made the trip.