Choosing to Age in Community: 1 — Introduction

An Interview With Tom Hungerford
(Spring 1995)

Introduction

Twenty years ago, some visitors arrived at Light Morning from a group house in a nearby city. They said they wanted to see what life was like in a small, rural community. We gladly obliged. Soon they were hard at work, helping us set the locust posts for a new woodshed.

Mostly they were our own age–in their 20s and 30s. One of them, however, Tom Hungerford, was 60. We wondered what had attracted someone our parents’ age to a communal lifestyle. During his many subsequent visits, and more fully after he moved here several years ago, we drew out portions of Tom’s remarkable story.

Finally, on the eve of his 79th birthday, Tom and I sat down with a tape recorder and he reminisced about the path that had led him to choose community as a place to both live and age.

* * *

Tom–I was born in 1916. I grew up in northern Arizona, 60 miles east of Flagstaff, in a small town called Winslow, that was a combination of Indian trading post and a repair point on the Santa Fe railroad.

In the early part of the time when we were in Winslow, there were no telephones, no radios, no automobiles. Everything was related to a farm type life and the material that came into town from distances came in on the railroad. Otherwise, it was all horse and wagon. There were dirt roads. There weren’t any paved roads until I was 8 or 9 years old.

Tom's notation on the back of this photo says Kingman, Arizona   Miss Anderson's 8th Grade Class   June 1928 There's a boy with a white shirt sitting in the front. Tom is two students behind him, also in a white shirt, with another boy's arm around his shoulder.
Tom’s notation on the back of this photo says Kingman, Arizona Miss Anderson’s 8th Grade Class, June 1928. There’s a boy with a white shirt sitting in the front. Tom is two students behind him, also in a white shirt, with another boy’s arm around his shoulder.

Periodically, a big bunch of Indians would come into Bachman’s trading post. We were very curious about them. We’d go out to the Trading Post and stand around the edge and look ‘em over, and they’d look us over. There were lots of interesting things about what they’d do with their clothing. They’d use American coins—dimes, quarters, half dollars—to serve as buttons on their shirts and jackets.

Later on, as I got up to around to 8, 9, 10 years old, we used to go out to the reservations which were near us. Navajo and Hopi. Particularly we went to the Hopi reservations, because they had dances at seasonal times of the year. They’d dance for crops and dance for rain. They were very colorful. Often they’d dance in the early evening around fires.

Tom’s mother was concerned about raising children in a rough, frontier town. So the family moved to California when he was twelve. Tom went to high school, college and graduate school there, majoring in zoology.

A 21-year-old Tom with his 1931 Model A Ford Convertible (circa 1936-37)
A 21-year-old Tom with his 1931 Model A Ford Convertible (circa 1936-37)

Tom got a teaching job in 1941, but Pearl Harbor changed his career plans and he enlisted in the Navy, eventually going ashore as part of the Normandy invasion. Toward the end of the war, he got married. Later, he took a job with a publishing company in Chicago, and had two children.

Then, in the mid 1950’s, Tom went through a painful divorce. During this traumatic period in his life, a friend introduced him to the mystical teachings of Edgar Cayce and Joel Goldsmith.

Tom–I came upon the Edgar Cayce readings when I was involved in my divorce. I was quite beside myself and didn’t really know what to do. One of the girls working with me gave me a book about Cayce by Gina Cerminara, called Many Mansions. The same girl also introduced me to Joel Goldsmith. She gave me his little book, The Infinite Way.

Robert–This kind of thinking was something new in your life?

Tom–Never heard of anything like that before. Anything in terms of spiritual development would be the normal church. And I didn’t have very much of a background in that either. At the time I pretty much was just going to church to keep peace in the family…

I really was in very bad shape when these two things showed up. I’d gotten to the point where I thought one morning [that] instead of going to work, I’m just going to jump in [Lake Michigan] and start swimming [until I sink].

Then when the Cayce material and Joel’s material showed up, it constituted a real turnaround for me. I began to see that there was something more to life—at least the possibility of it—than birth to death. And that you couldn’t really get out of your responsibility for your part in the whole process by suicide.

After his divorce, Tom moved to New York City. He found, however, that, due to his age, no companies were willing to offer him a position comparable to the one he had left in Chicago.

Tom–I was really non-plussed. This was the first time that I’d personally come in contact with what happens to you when you age. I really hadn’t seriously considered it. It didn’t seem to me that at 50 I was very old; yet [from another perspective], it was somewhat reasonable that I’d have only 15 years to contribute to a company, given the pretty much standard mandatory retirement age of 65.

Robert–So you suddenly found yourself being perceived as old?

Tom–Yeah, I’ll say! I hadn’t any notion of that. I didn’t relate to the kinds of things I was experiencing; yet there they were. This is society and this is how it works with this view of the aging process.