First in a two-part series
By M.E. Jones
SHIRLEY -- Three of George and Helen Callahan's five sons are married, and two still live close to home, as do some of the grandchildren. After 68 years together, the couple now has five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, with two more expected soon.
Not surprisingly, the guest list for their 68th anniversary celebration, held July 27, was long: 100 people or more, including four generations of the Callahan clan.
Two of the five grown Callahan boys settled in New England. George, the oldest, lives in Carver. Tim lives in Rhode Island. John lives in Alaska. The youngest, Peter, lives in San Francisco. And Mark lives in Seattle and Shirley.
The day before the big shindig, George Callahan, a retired Army officer, invited a Shirley Oracle reporter to the antique home he and Helen have shared for 34 years to talk about their long, eventful marriage.
Comfortably seated on the spacious enclosed porch -- an addition he built himself and expanded over the years -- the big back yard looks like a fine and private place to host a party. And it provided a peaceful backdrop for conversation: rolling vistas of lush grass, mature shrubs, plants and shade trees and a white canopy perched on the hill. Not another house in sight. "We never have to go out front," Callahan said.
"It's all fenced," he said, as two standard poodles, Molly and Bella, went in and out through a screen door one of the tall, friendly dogs nudged open by herself.
Some of the trees he planted himself, Callahan said, including one he bought for 98 cents that a granddaughter helped him plant when she was 4. She's 39 now and the tree has thrived.
He's done some landscaping, but his true hobby is building, he said, including doors disguised as bookcases, shelves, modern kitchen improvements and additions to this old house. The spacious enclosed porch, for example, which includes a playroom-family room with a huge map of the world on the far wall that his grandchildren love to explore. It extends beyond into another room full of surprises. Recently, he made some doors for his granddaughter, who lives next door with her three kids.
A long marriage
Before recounting highlights of their long history together, Callahan introduced his wife, Helen, who has Alzheimer's disease, briefly waking her as she slept in a plush reclining chair in another room. "Sixty-eight years ... a lifetime," he said of their enduring union. "What did you say it was?" Helen asked the stranger her husband brought into the room. The answer surprised her. It was, she agreed, quite a long time to be married.
Helen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's four years ago, said Callahan, who is 92. He said he absolutely plans to keep his 91-year-old wife at home, with aides to assist her and cleaning services to help him keep house. He does the cooking, though. "It's payback time," he said, explaining that in the earlier years of their marriage, his wife took on the full-time job of homemaker and at-home mom.
George Callahan's career was in the military and he loved it.
It was a good life for both of them, he said. It was only half hyperbole when he said that if the Army would have him now, he'd re-up in a heartbeat.
It was a somewhat peripatetic life and they changed abodes several times over the years, including stints in Japan, Panama, where two of their sons were born, Alaska, where another son was born and now lives, and Iran. But Helen and the boys stayed in the states when he went to Korea for 18 months. "I built a house in Bedford," he said.
A native of Somerville, Callahan was one of 13 children, three of whom joined the armed services during the World War II era. Two went into the Army, but one brother joined the Navy, he said, pulling out a newspaper clipping from the 1940s when his rank was Tech. Sgt.
Callahan enlisted in 1941 "before Pearl Harbor." Starting as a private, he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel when he retired after 31 years. "I worked for it," he said. At the beginning and at the end of his career he was stationed at Fort Devens, where he commanded Special Troops as Battalion Commander. He held the post for two years, from 1969 to his retirement.
To be continued.
Next: First date.