Storyteller Jay O'Callahan - Home Page

Table of Contents

Going Home

Hometown Barber

Peacemakers at Home

Awakening on Pill Hill

Alzheimer's Wisdom

Tales From Two Rivers

Ted and Laura Roam From Home

In Brief


Going Home


Last fall a wonderful thing happened. I got to tell stories at the house I grew up in. Our old thirty-two room house on Pill Hill in Brookline, Massachusetts had recently been bought by Benna Kushlefsky and her husband, Seth Hamot. For Seth's birthday, they decided to have a Grand Evening, in which I would tell "Pill Hill" stories after which everyone would enjoy beautifully catered food.

I loved growing up in that house and neighborhood. So did my brother and sisters. When I was fourteen, I started telling stories to my younger brother Chris and my sister Mickey in that house. I have them to thank for my being a storyteller.

My sister Maureen and her husband John Madell came from Chicago for the Grand Evening. My brother Chris and his wife Diane came from New Hampshire, and Mickey and her husband Chip Steimle, and Sheila from closer by. The last two times we'd been all together in the Pill Hill house was for Maureen's and Sheila's weddings. I must tell you of those weddings.

My sister Maureen woke on her wedding morning in February of 1962 to see the snow piled high. One of the biggest snowstorms of the century had fallen during the night. Only the blue jays could move. Dad,who acted in lots of plays, got busy. He called one amateur actor friend who was head of the D.P.W. Soon giant plows arrived on Pill Hill. Dad called another actor friend who ran a funeral home and asked if he could send a funeral limousine to take the bride to the church. But could the limousine get there? Boston and the suburbs were immobilized.

Neighbors and family gathered nervously in our front hall. Could the wedding go on? My sister Sheila said, "We have to have the wedding. I want a party!" "Button your lip," said Dr. Madell, the groom's father who'd come from Chicago.

The funeral parlor limousine arrived. The bride rode to the church. The rest of us walked down Pill Hill into the silent, snow-filled village. After the wedding ceremony we all walked back up Pill Hill laughing and talking and throwing snowballs. The sun was out. It winked. It was one of the merriest walks of my life.

Our house on Pill Hill
Our house on Pill Hill

Back at our house a magical party began. Maureen, a radiant bride, sang. We all sang and danced. The grandfather clock rocked in the hall. The crowd swelled. Hour after hour, guests arrived with stories of braving the snow. Bob Conley, a family friend, arrived with the violinist. Bob, a small man, told of his car getting stuck in the snow. The violinist, a great steel ball of a man, wouldn't help push. "My hands," the violinist said,"I have to take care of my hands." Bob, who weighed as much as a broom, pushed the car out of the snowdrift. Heroes abounded!

At around one in the morning, Sheila and I stood on the kitchen table and sang, "Chicago! Chicago! I saw a man who danced with his wife."

We sang in honor of John's friends who'd driven twenty hours and outraced the snowstorm. The party went deep into the night.

John's Chicago friends slept under our dining room table. People slept all over our house. John's parents, Dr. and Mrs. Madell, slept across the street at the Grahams', unaware young Charlie Graham had lost his boa constrictor. People stayed for days after the wedding. Mother was not pleased.

A year later came Sheila's wedding. Another wedding party. Sheila, a fearless dynamo and very much in love, decided during the reception party she didn't want to be married. She went up to her room. A problem. Mother went up and pleaded, cajoled, entreated and finally said, "Sheila, you're married, now go." Sheila came down stairs and went off with Kevin for their honeymoon.

Sheila and Kevin lived in our Pill Hill house while Sheila finished college and Kevin finished at the Harvard School of Architecture. Their son, Kevin E., spent his first two years there. John and Maureen also lived in the house while John finished getting his doctorate at M.I.T. The house was sold while I was in the Pacific with the Navy.

The five of us at Pill Hill.
The five of us at Pill Hill.
Back: Jay, Maureen.
Front: Mickey, Sheila, Chris.

So, it was very special for my brother and sisters and I to be back on Pill Hill for Seth Hamot's birthday party. For the first time in forty years, the five of us, Chris, Mickey, Sheila, Maureen and I were together in the house we grew up in.

As I began to tell stories that night at Seth's party in the piano room, I played a recording of my dad playing a song he'd composed on the piano fifty years ago in that very room. Dad died twelve years ago.

After my storytelling, people were in several rooms eating, talking and laughing. It was elegant and very beautiful. The house was unchanged. It was one of those rare times in life when you realize time isn't what you think it is. It's true we change and grow older and yet that evening there was a sense that the forty years had not existed. My brother and sisters and I all felt that when the party was over we could just go up to our bedrooms and go to sleep. The house welcomed us. The walls, the woodwork, the banisters and the wide front stairs were like old friends.

Sheila and Kevin E.
Sheila and Kevin E.

Sheila came to Seth's party with her son Kevin E. because her husband, Kevin, died unexpectedly two years ago. They had a terrific marriage. Kevin was as dramatic, sophisticated and fascinating as the Pill Hill house. Before and after my storytelling, Sheila walked through the rooms telling stories to her son, Kevin E. Sheila told stories of her growing up in the house, stories of meeting Kevin at a party in the house, stories of Kevin courting Sheila, Mother and Father and stories of Kevin E. as a baby in this very house. Sheila woke the next morning feeling a lightness she hadn't felt since Kevin's death. In some mysterious way Kevin had become part of the story of the house. And the story of the house was going on with Seth and Benna.

We had a magical time. It was beyond my expectations of what being "back home" would be like. It was as if the great house was whispering, "As I was saying..."

I'm deeply thankful to Benna and Seth. The great house on Pill Hill is in the hands of two spirited, generous people.



Hometown Barber


There are places in every city and in every town that are alive. You walk in and you feel something special is happening. So it is with Denny's Barber Shop in Marshfield, MA. Denny is a handsome, silver haired man who looks in very good shape. He's a true professional.

Whoever is sitting in Denny's chair having his hair cut is the center of attention. Denny is a master of conversation. Last time I had my hair cut I told Denny I'd been reading about Truman's dislike of Eisenhower, and Denny said, "Yes, Truman was an earthy man. And those big generals back then were almost kings." Denny had it just right. You can talk to Denny about politics, how to get your pumpkins to grow bigger or about the latest decisions of the Planning Board. Denny will bring a high school athlete alive saying, "That was a terrific tackle you made in the third quarter in that game against Duxbury."

Denny works ten or twelve hours a day but still manages to golf, garden and go skate boarding down on the Cape with his grandson. In May, he'll be celebrating his twenty-ninth year at that barber shop. He's one of the best and he's made Marshfield a real home town.

Denny the barber
Photo of Denny the barber by Jay O'Callahan





Peacemakers at Home


Friday after the destruction of the World Trade Center Towers, I was in the airport in Providence, Rhode Island. It was wild. There was a sense of war. The curving line up to the ticket counter was the longest I'd ever seen. People burst into applause when an American flag was hoisted. It was very moving and made me want to cry. And stomp. I was also furious at the way the United States has misused its power for half a century in Latin America, the Middle East and the Far East. I was sad and angry.

Months later, I was sitting with Claire and Scott Schaeffer-Duffy on Mason Street in Worcester, Massachusetts. They are true pacifists and I told them how angry I was at our government. Scott agreed and added that it was good for a pacifist to be peaceful. It came as an astonishing revelation that it's good for a pacifist to be peaceful.

Now when I get furious at small things like my shoelace knotting up I say, "I can chose peace." Who are the peacemakers? I'll tell you a few in my life.

My wife Linda and I often go to The Mug for breakfast. Ginny Hartwell, a waitress, greets us with bubble and laughter. It comes from deep inside. She's a peacemaker.

Before telling stories at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire last month, I went for soup and a sandwich at a local spot. The young waitress behind the counter was moving to music. She had green hair, a stud in her nose and was full of spirit. She's a peacemaker.

Storyteller Judith Black's laugh makes peace. Brother Blue's ability to listen to a story and respond to its beauty is a wonder to behold. He's a peacemaker.

Peacemaking has got to come from deep inside. Some people are called to be global peacemakers like Nelson Mandela, Scott and Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, and the Israeli pacifists who are holding huge demonstrations in Jerusalem. Others like Ginny Hartwell, Judith Black, Brother Blue and the waitress with the green hair are daily peacemakers. They live in the present and change everything around them.


Awakening on Pill Hill


I finished the first draft of a novel. The temporary title is "Awakening on Pill Hill."

What an experience. For months I felt I was wandering in a dark labyrinth, the walls of which were high and the floor muddy. Occasionally there'd be bits of light and I'd laugh at a scene or be moved by Professor Harry Hutchinson's morning trolley ride to work. Or the grandmother's musings. If nothing else, the novel made me laugh.

The novel begins on a Friday morning in the fall of 1949 and it ends the next morning. I've always admired James Joyce's "Ulysses" capturing the swirl of Dublin life in a single day. Mine is the world of Pill Hill and the village below.

When I work on a story to be told, the story keeps growing because I tell it to friends and learn with each telling. The novel has been a solitary experience. The constant encouragement of friends has been crucial. I've sent the draft out to a couple of friends and hope to complete Draft Two by the end of summer.



Alzheimer's Wisdom


A friend of mine said she called her husband and asked him if he remembered where she was. He replied, "Of course, you are wherever you are."



Tales from Two Rivers: Sacramento Gold

Patty Theilen and Russ Wyluda at 5:00AM leaving Jay at the Sacramento Airport.
Patty Theilen and Russ Wyluda at 5:00AM leaving Jay at the Sacramento Airport. Photo by Jay O'Callahan.

Patty Thielen and Gail Catlin of the Uptown Arts District organized Sacramento's first storytelling festival in November, 2001. Tales From Two Rivers was a great success. I was lucky enough to perform at it and even more fortunate to have my old hometown friend, Russ Wyluda, helping with the festival. The storytelling festival was even more exciting, because it was part of the revitalization of North Sacramento. For more information, e-mail Patty at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.













Ted and Laura Roam From Home

Ted O'Callahan between expeditions.
Ted O'Callahan between expeditions.


Ted O'Callahan's home is earth. Ted is leading National Outdoor Leadership School expeditions (NOLS) in Mexico and Alaska. Ted's poem "Icarus Dreams" appeared in the winter edition of Fourteen Hills. Poet Carol Burnes took a manuscript of Ted's poetry to England as her reading material. He's everywhere. Ted's e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Laura O'Callahan is interpreting for the Deaf in New Jersey. She interpreted the Governor's inaugural. Laura is also a NOLS instructor and an illustrator of an award winning book, 'Herman and Marguerite,' and two award winning cassettes, "The Little Dragon" and "Earth Stories."
E-mail Laura at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In Brief

mary stewart
Mary Stewart


*In Barbara Lipke's cassette "From Off-Island," she tells of girlhood summers on Martha's Vineyard. Barbara has the poet's ability to trust those moments that are full of beauty. Her work is spare and beautiful. The images linger. Get it for your summer drive. E-mail address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

*Mary Stewart has a show called Woman to Woman. It is full of emotional and spiritual fire. Her work touches the heart and soul. People come up to Mary after her show and want to talk because they are so deeply touched. She is a powerful artist. E-mail Mary at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

katie green
Katie Green

* Katie Green has created a show of Eqyptian mythology. The struggles and passions of ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses are those we face oday. Here's an example of an artist who really committed herself. Katie went to Egypt, developed the stories, raised the money and got costumes and a musician to put on the show. Amazing. Katie Green and musician Tony Vacca will transport you to the sparkling Nile. Visit

*Kathryn and Chris Cooper went to the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee a few years ago and decided to create their own festival in Athens, Ohio. Their festival is the essence of storytelling. It's full of imagination, creativity and people gathering together. The 2002 Athens Storytelling Festival will be in October. Kathryn's email is: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Jack Langstaff
*Jack Langstaff brings us all to our deeper home with his songs, spirit and imagination. Jack's concerts of traditional songs and ballads are magical. They would make a perfect PBS special.  

Search Site

Go to top