Part 2 in a series
By M.E. Jones
SHIRLEY -- George Callahan met Helen O'Malley on a blind date in 1942. A good friend, Mary Dolan from Billerica, introduced them, he said, during a recent interview in the home they've shared for 34 years, half their married life.
He was in the Army at the time. They went to a movie, starring a popular singing duo of the day, Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. "It was the worst movie ever," he recalled. They dated for four years before they got married.
It was a good match and his family approved. "Being an O'Malley, she has to be good," Callahan recalled his father saying about Helen. "He was right."
The couple celebrated their wedding anniversary on Saturday, July 27, marking 68 years together.
Settled in Shirley
Asked how they came to Shirley, Callahan said they were living in Westford, had been for 14 years, but the town was growing fast and they were looking to move. During a drive through Shirley, they spotted a gracious white colonial on Parker Road.
He said to the Realtor, "I want that house." It wasn't for sale. "Oh, everything's for sale," Callahan responded.
Stanley McNiff owned the place then and rented it out. He agreed to sell. "We became friends ... he wanted me to take his buffalo, but I said no," Callahan recalled. The late businessman owned a buffalo then, he said, that might have grazed in his big backyard, especially once he started buying up the land around it. Now, the property borders the backyards of many of his neighbors, he said.
Talk turned briefly to the challenges of aging and his wife's illness, which he seems cheerfully matter-of-fact about. Having battled cancer three times and lost a kidney, Callahan said he has no health complaints to speak of now and can do what he needs to do, including drive a car. He "drives all over ..." he said and gets around just fine.
Four years ago, before Helen's condition made travel too difficult, they visited Alaska. He'd like to take another trip there, but it's not a must-do, he said.
Besides tending to his wife, housekeeping chores he's taken on include dusting his collectibles, cherished treasures that line the walls and skirt the ceilings in the rooms of this old house, which is filled with handsome, vintage oak furniture and oriental rugs.
Gallery of memories
A black lacquer panel with an oriental scene stands in the front hall. Royal Dalton mugs with famous faces, including Henry the Eighth and two of his ill-fated wives; Winston Churchill with his trademark cigar and bowler hat; and dozens of others adorn the parlor and other rooms. Pretty china plates, pitchers and cups line a ceiling-high shelf in the kitchen and an array of unopened, classic-car-shaped whisky bottles top the front entry. In a cozy study, among other art and artifacts, Callahan proudly points out a magnificent brass wall hanging with delicate painted figures: a gift from the former Shah of Iran.
While he was in the Army, he was stationed in Iran for a while, Callahan said. The Shah was in power then. As an officer, he and his family were assigned a beautiful house with marble floors and walls. The post also came with servants, a car and driver. The Iranian people were friendly and living there was wonderful, he said, although one of his sons didn't think so, at first.
Just 17 at the time, his son was dismayed to learn that in Iran, he was still too young to get a driver's license. "He didn't want to go" Callahan said. But he met a girl and things got better. She was an American whose father was a big-time movie producer and the romance apparently came with perks, such as getting picked up in a chauffeured limo.
Another son, Mark, divides his time between his family home in Shirley and Seattle, Washington, where he's vice president of a firm in the fishing industry. "He's a collector," Callahan said, noting framed works on the walls that range from watercolors to prints to eye-catching paintings of wolves and whales to an arresting sketch by Picasso. All Mark's, Callahan said, as his son bustled through the house and grounds, apparently preparing for his parents' anniversary party the next day.
Responding to a comment about how many family members stop by regularly, Callahan said he tries to be circumspect about allowing too many visits that might disturb his wife. But Mark, of course, is around a lot. "He's good with Helen," he said.
Told his home is like a gallery, Callahan said guests often make that comment.
Though not a photographer himself, Callahan loves pictures, all sizes, shapes, colors. His showcased collections attest to his penchant for antiques as well as curiosities, from his eye-catching mugs to a vintage oak bedstead, secretary and other second-hand finds to a massive oak coffee table he cut down to size from his mother's dining table. An array of graduation tassels hangs on a wall in his study, 1996 to 2013. Outside in the driveway, a classic red Volkswagen Beetle convertible looks as good as new. Duly registered to drive in Massachusetts, the car still sports its original German license plate underneath.
Inside the house, among the family photos artfully arranged on tables and walls, was a photo of George Callahan as a dashing young soldier in uniform and another with his lovely bride in a long white gown on their wedding day, 68 years ago.