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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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
*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
* 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 www.katiegreenstories.com