Brian Sullivan: Long walk, beers and wedded bliss
PITTSFIELD -- Respect for each other, said the husband, and good overall health have been the key to their longevity as a couple. But the beginning? Ah, now there’s our story.
Buoyed perhaps by the beer, and flush with both money and confidence, Homer "Ho" Ouellette reached across the table in the soda fountain section of Elser’s Drug Store on Tyler Street and took the hands of a beautiful stranger during a chance meeting in March 1946. Those hands belonged to Muriel "Murph" Dupuis, a North Adams girl who had moved to Pittsfield with her family when her father became employed by General Electric.
Ho and Murph have never let go, and on July 23, they celebrated 65 years of married life together. They had planned a trip to Atlantic City, but Murph suffered a slight medical setback, and the pair settled for a couple of lobsters at the Hopewell Avenue home where they have resided since being married a few years after they met.
Ho, a 1944 Pittsfield High School graduate, had enlisted in the Navy and was honorably discharged two years later. His older brother, Paul, met him at the former city train station at the bottom of West Street. Paul had also served his country and the two had been apart for almost five years. A celebration was in order.
"We lived on Grove Street, off Springside Avenue," Ho said. "I was in uniform and had my sea bag, but we walked home from the train station and I think we stopped at every tavern and bar along the way."
That list, said Ho, included the Busy Bee (then on West Street), the former Wendell Hotel on the corner of South and West streets, and North Street restaurants The Hub and The Rosa.
"There was an auto dealership near the corner of North and Tyler streets," Ho recalled. "Paul and I walked in and made an offer on the car that was being displayed in the showroom window. The guy who owned the place just laughed. But we were serious. Neither of us had driven a car for years."
So, walking and beers were going to be the orders of the day. By the time the brothers reached Elser’s, Ho said, "we were feeling pretty good."
Added Ho, "Paul had a crush on the owner’s daughter, so we went in for an ice cream. The daughter was sitting there with another girl, so we went in and sat with them."
The other girl was Murph. The 1947 PHS graduate said her future husband was rather romantic on that day. "He reached across the table, took my hands in his, and told me how beautiful they were. We lived on First Street, across from the Common, and he walked me home. Paul had taken his sea bag home and I was just hoping that Homer would make it home, too.
"The grandchildren always get a kick out of that story. They always ask me if granddad was drunk the day we met. But all these years later I just tell them how glad I was to meet him."
Murph, if nothing else, respected the uniform. Four of her five brothers served in the military.
"We put flags in our window," she said. "People did that back then to show how many children they had serving."
Ho’s military life is a story all its own. When he first enlisted he was declared 4-F during his physical at the St. Charles Hotel in Springfield. A heart murmur was detected by the doctor on duty. Devastated by the rejection, Ho was able to arrange for another physical, and this time the doctor at St. Charles pronounced him to be OK for service.
"I had to fill out some paperwork in advance of that second physical," he said. "There was a question that asked if I had ever been turned down or rejected by the military. I should have checked "yes," but I checked "no."
Ho saw action during the Battle of Okinawa, serving on a small landing ship. Fortunately it was not considered a high-priority target by the Japanese kamikaze pilots who buzzed and destroyed bigger U.S. Navy ships.
"I was lucky," he said.
Money was tight upon his discharge, and Homer joined the Naval Reserves. That resulted in a three-year return to active duty during the Korean War. He would get the occasional shore leave, but it was Murph who did the traveling. Ho rarely, if ever, was able to get home during that time. Both worked and retired from GE. They have two adult children; Mark, in Seattle, Wash., and Monica, in Hebron, Conn.
Paul, meanwhile, is 92 and lives in Lanesborough. He didn’t marry the drug store owner’s daughter. But had he not made that suggestion to stop in at Elser’s that day ... Well, that was more than 65 years ago. No reason to dwell on what ifs.
"I think that building is a tanning salon now," Ho said. "We drove by it the other day and I made the signs of the cross. Murph asked me if we had gone by a church. I said no, that we had just gone by the place where we met."
Murph, he said, just laughed.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.
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