'The Olive Jar' | Circle Round 108

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(Courtesy Sabina Hahn)
(Courtesy Sabina Hahn)

What’s something you can do to be a good neighbor?

Maybe you can bring your neighbor some fresh flowers. You can leave a hand-drawn card by their door. Perhaps you can just wave and say hello the next time you pass by.

Today’s story is all about neighbors. But while one of them is very sweet… the other, it turns out, is very bitter!

Our story is called “The Olive Jar.” Versions of this folktale come from old Jewish texts, as well as One Thousand and One Nights, a compilation of folktales collected across North Africa and much of Asia.

Voices in this episode include Santino Fontana, Maggie Siff and Denim Richards. Santino won the Tony Award for Tootsie on Broadway, and stars in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on the CW; you kids can hear his voice as Hans in Frozen. Grown-ups, you can see Maggie Siff in Billions on Showtime and Mad Men on AMC, and Denim Richards stars in Yellowstone on the Paramount Network; watch for him in the upcoming feature film, The Chickasaw Rancher.

Coloring Page

(Courtesy Sabina Hahn)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

David had a big adventure when he traveled across the country for his apprenticeship. Real-life travel may be a bit more complicated these days, but how about creating and writing your very own postcard?

First, think about where you want to write your postcard from. It can be a place you’ve visited in the past or a spot you hope to see in the future… it could even be an imaginary location you’ve read about in a book… or your very own home!

The U-S Postal Service asks that postcards be no bigger than 6 by 4 ¼ inches. So find some posterboard or cardboard and have a grown-up help you cut your card to just the right size. Then decorate one side: you can use markers, crayons, stickers, even pictures from old magazines.

On the flip side of your card, draw a line down the middle. To the left of the line, write about the location you’ve chosen! If it’s your house, describe something fun you’ve done at home these past months. If it’s a place you’ve traveled to in the past, recount some of your favorite memories. And if it’s an imaginary location, or a spot you dream of checking out some day, write about what it might be like to pay a visit.


After that, decide who you’re sending your postcard to. Have a grown-up help you write that person’s name and address, then stick on a stamp and pop your postcard in the mail! But before you do, feel free to snap a photo of your postcard and send it to us. Grown-ups, our email address is

Courtesy: Shannon Bettridge
Courtesy: Shannon Bettridge

Musical spotlight: The Clavichord

In Latin, clavis means “key,” and chorda means “string.” As it happens, the clavichord uses both keys and strings: every time you press down a key, a brass blade on the end of the key pushes up against pairs of strings. The clavichord was especially beloved in the late Middle Ages, then through the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical eras.


NARRATOR: There once was a young man named David. David had inherited a small cottage from his parents, along with a generous amount of savings. But rather than live off his parents’ money for the rest of his days, David felt he ought to pursue a trade.

DAVID: Let’s see… My brother seems happy as a baker, but I’m hopeless in the kitchen. And my sister loves her job as a teacher, but I’m not sure I want to stand in front of a classroom all day...

NARRATOR: David was wandering through the village when a well-dressed couple strolled by. The man was wearing a smart wool suit, and the woman wore a stylish dress dripping with lace.

DAVID: Hmmmm… I know! I’ll become a tailor! I’ll make and mend beautiful clothing! (beat) But first, I need to get myself an apprenticeship. I’ll find the most talented tailor in the land, and he’ll teach me everything I need to know! Then, when I come back home again, I’ll use the savings my parents left me to start my own business!

NARRATOR: David asked around and learned that “the most talented tailor in the land” lived all the way across the country, in the capital city. So David applied for an apprenticeship.

One morning, he received a letter. The apprenticeship was his! He would get three whole years of training, along with a place to stay and food to eat… and it all started…

DAVID: (reading the letter) …Tomorrow?!???? (beat) Oh my! I must pack up my things and leave right away! (beat) But first, I have to figure out what to do with the savings my parents left me. I’ll need those gold coins to open up my tailor shop when I get back — and I shouldn’t leave them in an empty house. What if someone comes along and steals them?

NARRATOR: David glanced around the cottage. When his eyes fell on a big jar of olives on the kitchen shelf, he suddenly had an idea.

DAVID: A-ha!

NARRATOR: He grabbed the jar, unscrewed the lid, and emptied the olives into a bowl. Then he took his gold coins and dumped them into the empty jar. After that, he filled the rest of the jar with olives, and closed it back up again.

DAVID: Okay… now I just need to leave this jar with someone until I get back. (beat) (thinking) Let’s see... I don’t have any family members nearby… but how about my next-door neighbor? Nathaniel the shoemaker! We’re not super-close, so maybe I won’t tell him about the coins... but at least he can watch my jar for me until I return!

NARRATOR: So David tucked the jar under his arm and knocked on Nathaniel’s door.

[SOT: knock]

[SOT: door opens]

NATHANIEL: David! Greetings! How’s it going, neighbor?

NARRATOR: David told Nathaniel about his apprenticeship, and how he must depart for the capital city immediately.

DAVID: I’ll be gone for quite a while, Nathaniel — three whole years — so while I’m away, would you mind watching...

NARRATOR: He held up the olive jar.

DAVID: … this?


NARRATOR: Nathaniel cocked his head.

NATHANIEL: You want me to watch a jar of olives…?!?

NARRATOR: David shrugged.

DAVID: (not wanting to tell the whole truth) Well… I know it may sound odd, but this jar is rather special to me. Could you please keep it safe until I return?

NARRATOR: Nathaniel was perplexed by his neighbor’s request, but he took the jar and placed it in his pantry.

NATHANIEL: It would be my honor to hold on to your jar for you, David. After all, what are neighbors for?

NARRATOR: Well, a year went by… then another… and two-and-a-half years after David left town, Nathaniel received an invitation to a dinner party. It was a potluck, so all the guests were expected to bring a dish.

Nathaniel wasn’t much of a cook, but he knew the host of the party adored olives. So the shoemaker decided he’d make something delicious and simple: an olive salad.

The day of the potluck, Nathaniel ran to the market and bought some onions, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. He picked up some garlic, parsley and spices. But just as he was about to start mincing the vegetables, he groaned and smacked a palm to his forehead.

NATHANIEL: Olives!!! I forgot to buy olives!!! And how can I make an olive salad… without olives?

NARRATOR: Nathaniel glanced at the clock.

NATHANIEL: (beat) Oh, man. The party starts in half an hour! There’s no time to run to the market and buy some olives now! (beat) What am I going to do?

NARRATOR: Nathaniel bit his lip and drummed his fingers on the kitchen counter. And that’s when...


NARRATOR: ...he remembered!

NATHANIEL: David’s olive jar! Of course! I’ll use David’s olives for the salad, then replace them with new olives. He won’t be back from his apprenticeship for another, what, six months? I doubt he’ll even notice!

NARRATOR: So Nathaniel opened the pantry door and brought out the olive jar. But the moment he unscrewed the lid…?

NATHANIEL: (ad-lib reacting to bad smell) Peeeee-yewwww!

NARRATOR: ...he wrinkled his nose and stuck out his tongue.

NATHANIEL: These olives smell terrible! They must have gone bad since David went away! It has been two-and-a-half years, after all... (beat) But maybe the ones on the bottom aren’t so bad…?

NARRATOR: Nathaniel grabbed a tray and began spilling out the rancid olives. But as soon as he did, do you know what he saw?

You guessed it!

David’s gold coins!

NATHANIEL: Woowwwwwww!

NARRATOR: Nathaniel’s eyes widened as coin after glittering coin tumbled out of the jar and plinked onto the tray.

NATHANIEL: This is unbelievable! (beat) Now I understand why David said this jar was so dear to him! It’s full of money!

NARRATOR: All at once, Nathaniel was struck by an idea.

NATHANIEL: What if… I keep all these gold coins for myself? I’ll buy new olives, and fill the jar up to the top, and when David comes back, he’ll be none the wiser. Meanwhile, I can get out of the wretched shoemaking business and become a wealthy gentleman! (laughter)

NARRATOR: Well, wouldn’t you know it... that’s exactly what Nathaniel did. He emptied all the coins from David’s jar, and replaced them with fresh green olives from the market. Then Nathaniel used David’s money to buy an elegant new suit, and fancy furniture for the house.

Nathaniel was having so much fun with his new riches that he lost track of time. And after six months had gone by…

[SOT: knock]

NARRATOR: ...he heard a knock at his door.

[SOT: door open]

NATHANIEL: David! You’ve returned!

DAVID: That’s right, neighbor! Can you believe it’s been three years already? (beat) Anyway, I’ve come to get my olive jar back. Thanks for keeping it safe!

NARRATOR: David looked Nathaniel up and down.

DAVID: (innocent; not at all suspicious of Nathaniel) To show my gratitude, I was going to offer to make you a new suit... but it looks like you’re all set! Love the spiffy duds, neighbor!

NARRATOR: Nathaniel adjusted his silk tie and fingered the pearl buttons on his satin shirt.

NATHANIEL: (nervous) Um, thank you, David… your olive jar is just over in the pantry. Come with me.

NARRATOR: David followed Nathaniel to the kitchen. Along the way, the tailor noticed the shoemaker’s plush velvet sofa and gleaming mahogany dining table.

DAVID: Wow! You got new furniture, too, huh? Very swanky!

NARRATOR: Nathaniel rummaged around in the pantry, then handed David the olive jar. As David took hold of it, he slowly lifted it up and down.

DAVID: That’s funny. I seem to remember this jar being heavier back when I gave it to you! Did it somehow get lighter…?

NARRATOR: Nathaniel tried to act casual.

NATHANIEL: (not wanting to get caught) Oh, I think your memory is just playing tricks on you, David! After all, your apprenticeship did last three whole years… (desperate to change the subject) And how was it, by the way? Did you learn all the secrets of the tailoring trade?

DAVID: You bet I did! This guy I apprenticed with was a genius! Seriously! I can hardly wait to take everything he taught me and open my own tailor shop. (beat) Anyway, thanks again for guarding my olive jar, neighbor!

NARRATOR: So David went home, unscrewed the jar’s lid, and turned it over. But as he emptied the jar’s contents into a bowl, a chill ran down his spine.

DAVID: Wait a minute! Why am I only seeing olives in this jar? Where are my savings? Where are my gold coins?

NARRATOR: Without missing a beat, he raced back to Nathaniel’s house.

[SOT: pounding on door]

[SOT: door opens]

NATHANIEL: David! You’re back!

DAVID: You bet I’m back! Where are my gold coins?

NARRATOR: Nathaniel cocked his head.

NATHANIEL: (playing dumb; laying it on thick) Your gold coins...? What gold coins...?

DAVID: The gold coins I was keeping in the olive jar! The ones I was going to use to open up my own tailor shop!

NATHANIEL: (totally lying) I’m sorry, neighbor, but I have no idea what you’re talking about! You left me an olive jar, and I returned the exact same jar! I don’t know anything about gold coins!

NARRATOR: Then he slammed the door in David’s face.

[SOT: slam]

NARRATOR: As David trudged back to his cottage, he thought about his missing gold coins. Then he thought about Nathaniel’s silk tie and satin shirt… his velvet sofa and mahogany table…

DAVID: That thief! He stole my gold coins! (beat) But I have no way to prove it. The only people who knew I was hiding money in that olive jar were Nathaniel and myself! It’s his word against mine. (devastated sigh) Uch!

NARRATOR: David didn’t sleep a wink that night. Instead, he paced around his cottage, feeling as bitter as a rancid olive.

He puzzled and pondered, mulled and mused… and by the time the sun came up, things seemed a little bit sweeter.

For David knew exactly what he would do!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think David will do?

What would you do if you were the humble tailor?

We’ll find out what happens, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “The Olive Jar.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, David the tailor was convinced that his neighbor, Nathaniel the shoemaker, had stolen the gold coins he’d been hiding in an olive jar.

The problem was, David had no way to prove it! But after a sleepless night, he had an idea.

DAVID: I know! I’ll go see Miriam!

NARRATOR: Miriam was the kindest person in town, and the most talented cook. But most of all, she was an extraordinary problem solver. Whenever someone was stumped by a question they couldn’t answer, or a puzzle they couldn’t crack, they turned to Miriam to help them out.

So David visited Miriam’s bungalow at the edge of the village. It was lunchtime, and Miriam was simmering a pot of vegetable stew on the stove. She ladled David a big bowl of soup as he told his story — how three years ago, he got a tailoring apprenticeship, then had to leave town right away, so he asked Nathaniel to watch his olive jar for him...

DAVID: ...But when I got it back, the gold coins I’d been hiding inside the jar were gone! And when I asked Nathaniel about the coins, he had the gall to tell me he’d never seen them! He said he didn’t even know what I was talking about! (beat) This soup is amazing, by the way…

NARRATOR: Miriam grinned.

MIRIAM: Thank you! I grew all the vegetables out in my garden, next to my little olive grove. (beat) But back to your story, David. Are you saying Nathaniel is lying…?

DAVID: Of course he’s lying! I mean, the guy’s a shoemaker! And yet, all of a sudden he’s prancing around in extravagant clothing? With all of this fancy new furniture in his house? How do you think he bought all those fine things? With my gold coins, that’s how!

MIRIAM: I see…

NARRATOR: Miriam handed David a slice of fresh-baked bread.

MIRIAM: Tell me, David. Do you have any witnesses to prove that you were, indeed, hiding gold coins in that olive jar?

NARRATOR: David slumped his shoulders.

DAVID: No, I don’t. It was my own little secret, to keep my money safe!

MIRIAM: And do you have any witnesses to prove that you left your olive jar in Nathaniel’s keeping?

NARRATOR: David hung his head.

DAVID: No, I don’t. (beat) He’s my neighbor! I trusted him!

MIRIAM: Of course you trusted him! And it sounds like he may have betrayed that trust. We just need to prove it.

NARRATOR: Miriam’s eyes twinkled.

MIRIAM: ...And I know exactly how!

NARRATOR: After lunch, Miriam and David fetched the olive jar from David’s cottage, then headed next-door, to Nathaniel’s house.

[SOT: door knocks]

[SOT: door opens]

NATHANIEL: Oh! David! It’s you again! (beat) And you brought a friend! Good day, Miriam!

MIRIAM: Good day, Nathaniel. May we come in?

NATHANIEL: Of course! Of course!

NARRATOR: Nathaniel led David and Miriam to the plush velvet sofa.

NATHANIEL: Please. Sit down. What can I do for you?

NARRATOR: Miriam rummaged around in her bag and held up the jar.

MIRIAM: Well, Nathaniel, David here says he asked you to keep this olive jar safe for him.

NARRATOR: She handed the jar to Nathaniel.

MIRIAM: ...Is that true?

NARRATOR: Nathaniel’s heart began to race. But he did his best to appear calm.

NATHANIEL: (trying not to show nervousness) Why, yes, Miriam! What you say is true. David asked me to watch this olive jar for him, and I kept it safe in my home for three whole years. (beat) After all, that’s what neighbors are for!

MIRIAM: I see…

NARRATOR: Miriam looked into Nathaniel’s eyes.

MIRIAM: Nathaniel... I wonder… how much do you know about olives?


NARRATOR: Nathaniel shrugged.

NATHANIEL: ...I know they’re delicious! I’m not much of a cook, truth be told, but I do know that you can marinate them, you can press them into a fine oil…

MIRIAM: (about to trap him) Indeed you can! (beat) So, then... given how fond you are of olives, Nathaniel... I want you to open this jar, and tell me what you see.

NARRATOR: Nathaniel nodded, then unscrewed the jar’s lid and peered inside.

NATHANIEL: Alright… looking in this jar, I see a bunch of fresh, plump olives! They have a salty, almost fruity smell, as all fresh olives do!

MIRIAM: (knowing she’s got him) “Fresh olives,” you say?

NATHANIEL: Absolutely! Look how bright green they are! It’s like they were just picked yesterday!

MIRIAM: “Just picked yesterday,” you say? Well… if that’s truly the case, Nathaniel...

NARRATOR: Miriam fixed him with a steely gaze.

MIRIAM: (slowly, deliberately) ...then you most definitely stole David’s coins.

NARRATOR: Nathaniel’s face went pale.

NATHANIEL: “Stole David’s coins”?!? Whatever do you mean?!?

MIRIAM: (carefully, so our youngest listeners can put it all together!) You said it yourself, Nathaniel! You kept David’s olive jar safe for three whole years. But olives in a jar don’t last longer than two years! After two years, the olives expire! They get all spoiled! And rancid! (beat) Yet the olives in this jar are so fresh that — what did you say…? — “it’s like they were just picked yesterday”...?

NARRATOR: Miriam smiled.

Nathaniel squirmed.

MIRIAM: The only way the olives could be that fresh, Nathaniel... is if you emptied David’s jar, took the gold, then threw away the old olives and replaced them with fresh ones! (beat) Which is exactly what you did… is it not?

NARRATOR: Nathaniel knew his goose was cooked. So what else could he do… but confess?

He also apologized for letting his greed get the better of him… and he worked extra hard to pay David everything he owed.

But then Nathaniel took things one step further: the shoemaker promised his neighbor a lifetime of free shoe repairs… a most generous offer with no expiration date.
This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Katherine Brewer. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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