75 years of marriage, and still holding hands PAUL GRONDAHL Published 9:05 pm, Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Joseph and Sarah Hrachian have been married for 75 years, and they have the mighty old pipe organ at the former St. Peter Armenian Apostolic Church on Fifth Avenue in Troy to thank for bringing them together.
You could say it was a match made in heaven, or at least the celestial upper register of ecclesiastical music.
In 1935, Adrena Hrachian, Joseph's older sister, was the organist at the church and 15-year-old Sarah Kenosian was her assistant who turned the sheet music pages during Sunday services.
"My sister told me there was this pretty young girl working with her, but I said she was too young," recalled Joseph Hrachian, 98.
His sister countered: "But she's growing up, she's beautiful, and she's from a good family."
Hrachian finally relented and went to meet Sarah. "My sister was right," he recalled. "She was beautiful and utterly wonderful. I was hooked."
And was it love at first sight for the future bride?
"I liked him because he had a car," recalled Sarah Hrachian, 94. "Anyone who had a car in Watervliet in those days was special."
They got married on Sept. 3, 1939. He was 23 and she was 19. Theirs was a chaste four-year courtship. He bought her a gold cross necklace for her 17th birthday.
"But our first child was born nine months and 20 minutes after the wedding," he said with a roar of laughter.
These days, she's hard of hearing and he has to shout across the room and often repeat his punch lines for her. He does not seem to mind.
On the couch, posing for a photographer, he needed no prodding to caress her hands and give her a loving kiss on the lips.
Times were tough in 1939 for both families — working-class Armenian immigrants who fled persecution from the Turks and settled in Watervliet — and they held a double wedding with Hrachian's sister, Vergin, to reduce costs. The groom's mother made all the food for the reception, including the Armenian delicacies and desserts.
But when the wedding flowers arrived and the florist demanded pay for the $25 bill before he would release the arrangements, nobody had the cash.
"I was so sad when I saw him taking the flowers away," Sarah recalled. Just then, the best man,Ernie Kershaw, stepped forward, pulled out his wallet and paid the florist without saying a word or making the family feel ashamed.
"Ernie was a wonderful guy and my friend for life," Hrachian said.
The Hrachians sat together in their Guilderland home recently and reflected on the remarkable longevity of their union that has produced three children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren and a tight-knit family that still centers around their church, St. Peter's, which moved from Troy to Watervliet. Joseph Hrachian, whose given first name is Suren, was a longtime trustee of the church and assisted its construction.
The couple graduated from Watervliet High School, he in 1934 and she in 1938.
He is a gregarious fellow possessed of a sharp wit and deadpan humor. He owned dry cleaning businesses: Master Cleaners in Albany and Guilderland and later Executive Cleaners at Stuyvesant Plaza. His wife raised their kids and worked part time on bookkeeping for the business.
Both are in relatively good health and are still in their home, with daily visits from their children. They are considering moving into an assisted-living center early next year because their large yard is a challenge to maintain and his doctor advised him to stop chopping firewood a few years ago.
"We look great and nothing hurts," he said. He added that his stylish cravat is less a fashion statement and more to keep the chill off a stiff neck.
"Oh, c'mon, that's a little much," said his wife, who uses a walker and has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
She is the great leveler to his emotions, which he wears on his dress-shirt sleeve.
He gave a speech for the 100 or so guests at their 75th wedding anniversary party on a recent Sunday, which was held at their church. His basement is filled with an archives of his speeches, which he gave at every birthday and special family function.
"He missed his calling. He should have been a minister with all his sermons," joked their daughter, Lucille. "In all seriousness, they've been wonderful parents."
"They've been so supportive to everyone in the family," said their daughter, Barbara. "They held us all up and they've been the hub. Everyone gathers at their house for every big event."
For more than 50 years, their mother made a large family supper each Sunday with spaghetti and meatballs and the sweet, sugary scent of katah, an Armenian coffee cake.
"After 50 years I quit and I never made spaghetti and meatballs again," she said with a satisfied shrug.
Hrachian noted that the couple was married on the same day that Britain and France declared war on Germany in response to Hitler's invasion of Poland.
"Our marriage was a glorious battle ever since, which she usually won," the groom said with a laugh.
Much like life itself, his stories are full of asides and detours and digressions, anything but linear.
"I could talk and talk and talk," he said. And one is inclined to believe him.