The Closing of the Commune


“Members of the community I have an announcement to make”, said the aging and bearded John Humphrey Noyes.  He had the full attention of the one hundred and fifty or so members of the Oneida community.  Numbers had been dwindling for the past ten years as the current membership was about half the amount of the peak years.

“The commune, as we know it, will cease to be in the very near future.” A murmur spread through the crowd.  A few knew this was coming and they sat quietly on the ground looking around to gauge reactions hoping their advanced knowledge did not give them away.   Many gasped and looked at each other with bewildered looks.  Some of the younger men, gathered near the back of the ground, wore the same expression as before John Noyes began speaking.

‘We are going into the business of making silverware.  That will be our new focus.  We will be the Oneida Silverware company.”

The leader of the community continued, “You are all welcome to help in this new ‘family business’, but from this point on all of you will be entering society and living by their rules.  For some of you, this is old stuff.  You younger folk, well, this will be a new experience.  Our Relocation Committee, headed up by Edna here, will help you with logistics.”

Edna Parsons stood up and nodded at the crowd.  They were accustomed to her leadership inside the commune.  She was smart, and could be trusted, which is why John Noyes asked for her leadership.

Noyes went on about the accomplishments of Oneida, as well as the new direction, trying to muster excitement tempered with the sadness of dissolution of the Oneida community.  But there was no disguising the sadness etched into his voice as the founder of the commune knew that his community was forever changed with this announcement.

Some of the faithful hung on every word.  Others were so shaken; they hardly heard a word.  Both men and women fought back tears during the very poignant portions of Noyes comments.  At the very back of the group the young men, one by one, closed ranks and formed a small circle of 18 to 20.

“It’s like I told you brothers, this decision has been in the works for pert near two months.  We knew it was coming.  Now, I’m going to ask you to think about something.  I don’t want you making no snap decision.  This is about your life and what you are gonna do with it.  You have at least two options, as I see it.”

Jason Evans stood five feet ten inches and weighed about 175 pounds.  He was old enough to vote, and young enough to cut and chop wood nearly all day long.  His sandy brown hair was long, tucked behind his ears, and he sported a full beard as did many of the men in his circle.  His bright blue eyes seem to be forever smiling, even as he addressed this splinter group.

‘Nothing wrong with making silverware gentleman.  It’s respectable and will earn a man and his family a decent income.  I’m not asking any of you to leave the only thing we’ve known all our lives, ‘the big family’.”

“Tell us more about that baseball game you saw when you were in the big city”, chirped one of the younger boys.  “The one in the ballpark.  I don’t want to be no silverware maker.”

A few voiced agreements with the young man, but they all were waiting for Jason to share the second option.  The chance to do something other than make silverware.

‘All right, you all know about the game of baseball.  We’ve been playing a little right here in our community for almost two years.  Some of you have gotten quite good.  We’re no strangers to the game of baseball, but the game of baseball doesn’t know of us.”

Jason scratched his beard and looked around at his brothers.  He was not an eloquent speaker, by any means, but he always spoke from the heart.  He loved these guys and couldn’t imagine a life without them.  They had built houses, planted crops, raised farm animals together their whole lives.  He knew the commune was coming to an end but that didn’t mean he would have to lose his brothers.

“Here is the deal.  You guys all know Jacob, right?  He left Oneida just last year.”  The men either nodded or verbally confirmed.  “Okay, Jacob and his group have been playing ball just outside of St. Louis for fun and exercise.  Most of em work a day job, but, then they get together and play ball on weekends and some weeknights.  They are playing a few other ball clubs that have their own teams.”

“That’s how they make their money?”, yelled out one of the young kids.

“Jason quickly answered, “No, they are not getting any money for this.  They are doing it for fun.  It’s not the big league, you see?  But, some of the scouts of the teams in the big league, well, they come out and watch these games.  And the fella’s they like, they signed them to contracts.  Those guys are the ones making the money.”

“So, you have to kind of work your way up”, confirmed Adam, one of the older boys who had chatted with Jason many times.

“Adam is right.  The thing is, this group Jacob is part of, well, they want to grow.  Add more teams.  They are looking for good ball players.”

Jason had the complete attention of the group at this point.  If John Noyes was still talking it would have been news to any of the young men.  Their imaginations starting to create visions in the minds.  Visions of a new life, outside the commune, playing this new game called, baseball.  It was both exhilarating and frightening.  Many wondered how they could survive outside the security of the commune.

The group was now seeing the white, almost perfect teeth, as Jason allowed himself a big smile.  He was going to enjoy this next part.  “You know what guys?”

‘C’mon, Jason, don’t tease us.’

‘Yeah, how is this gonna work?’

Jason spoke, “So, the name of Jacob’s company is the ‘Good Earth Flour Mill?”

‘We know that, Jason.’

‘What’s that got to do with us playing ball?’

“Well, guys, the Good Earth Flour Mill is just finishing up a new expansion to the old mill.  It’s going to be three times larger than what it was last year.  They are going to double the mill workers.”  Most of the young men let out sounds of either awe or surprise.

“I got word from Jacob that the mill will hire all able bodied and hard-working men in the next two weeks who appear to fill out a formal application.  All we got to do is hop that train to St. Louis and Jacob will practically guarantee the mill hires all of us.”

Adam said, “Geez, we could make good money and play ball.”

Jason had only planned out one line of his talk to his brothers.  If the conversation went well, and, he judged that it went extremely well.

In his best inspirational voice, he posed the question, “What’s it going to be?  You want to make silver in Oneida, or earn money and play baseball in St. Louis?”


Steve Meyers

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