You would think the high school quarterback and head cheerleader would be a likely couple. And you’d be right.
In 1952, Al Sirois lead the Salem (Massachusetts) High School football team and Shirley Chouinard was the head cheerleader. But the love match between the East Boothbay married couple took almost 50 years to materialize.
The two grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, a coastal community located 16 miles north of Boston. They lived about 500 feet from each other. They were both Class of 1952 Salem High School graduates. As youths, they attended the same ballroom dance classes and were regulars at the city’s local teen dances.
But the two never dated or ran in the same social circles in Salem. The closest they ever got in high school was on fall Friday nights. Al was completing his third season as the starting quarterback and Shirley cheered on the sidelines.
“We knew each other in high school enough to say hi in the halls, but we really didn’t know each other that well,” said Shirley.
The romance blossomed when they joined the Class of 1952 reunion organizing committee. The class began preparing in 2001 for their 50th reunion.
As committee members, they corresponded by email on a daily basis. The first email was on May 18, 2001. The two continued communicating solely by email for the next five months.
The relationship began as committee members, progressed to friendship, and finally to husband and wife.
“It was a progression,” Shirley said. “At first, Al would end his message ‘Stay well.’ Next it was ‘Fondly,’ and after five months it was ‘Love, Al’.”
When Al and Shirley joined the reunion committee, they were living on different coasts. Al had lived in East Boothbay since 1961. Shirley was living in Southern California. She moved west in 1952 after marrying her first husband.
But in 2001, the two were in the same emotional place. They were both widowers.
In 1998, Al’s first wife, Agnes, succumbed to an 18-year battle with bone cancer. Shirley lost a daughter and her husband in successive years. Her daughter, Jo Caron, died unexpectedly at age 42 from an aneurysm. Her husband of 47 years, Lenny Caron, died in 1999.
“My life had become fractured,” Shirley said. “So one day I turned on the computer and checked out the high school website. And I started connecting with some old friends.”
When Al began corresponding with Shirley, one of his first questions was what her husband did. This led to their discovery that both classmates were widowers.
Later, Al asked why her photo wasn’t in the yearbook.
“I left school early and didn’t graduate with the class,” she said. “I sent my photo to him and explained what happened.”
In her email, she wrote: “Al, I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. I’m sending you a picture that should’ve been in the yearbook. I would like a copy of yours as well. I appreciate you taking the time to inquire about the reunion. I would like to talk in more detail when time permits. Are you working or retired?”
Al said he asked about the missing photo because he wanted a face to go along with the name.
“I didn’t really know who was answering my emails,” he said. “I didn’t see a Shirley Chouinard in the yearbook. I was trying to put a face with her name.”
The two exchanged yearbook photos and Al sent her a surprise. He mailed her a reproduction of their high school yearbook.
“He sent every page of the yearbook in an one-inch thick booklet. It just blew me away,” Shirley said.
Al had never attended any of his previous school reunions when he was married. He went to his college reunion in 2000. Al was in the midst of getting past the unbearable grief of losing the woman he loved for 40 years.
Doctors advised him to keep his “hands and head” busy. He learned to square dance. Al also became a chaplain and pursued becoming a deacon. He was devastated to discover he couldn’t become one due to his age.
When it came time to attend his 47th college reunion, his pain worsened.
“It was one of the worst experiences of my life,” he said. “I didn’t bring a date so I danced with a few of my classmates wives. It was a terrible experience, and one I’ll never do again.”
Despite the bad experience, Al set his sights on attending his 50th high school reunion. He reconnected with old friend Sam Angelico on the high school website. Angelico was on the reunion committee and friends with Shirley. This began the daily ritual of Al, Shirley and Sam conversing regularly by email.
After five months of email correspondence, Al picked up the phone and called Shirley. He wanted her to be his date at his 47th college reunion.
“Hello, this is Al Sirois from sunny East Boothbay, Maine,” Shirley said, recalling their first phone conversation.
Al asked her to his Massachusetts Maritime Academy reunion in September 2001. Shirley was pleased with the invitation, but wasn’t sure she was ready to date.
“I was nervous about it,” she said. “I hemmed and hawed before deciding to accept.”
She accepted Al’s offer after consulting with her daughter Sheila. Shirley confided her concerns about dating so late in life. But Sheila told her she nothing to worry about.
“Don’t worry. You’ll knock his socks off,” Sheila said.
And Sheila was right. Al and Shirley had a marvelous time. The couple attended to some high school reunion business before heading off to Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts for the college reunion.
Shirley said she was attracted to Al by his compassion and willingness to help her grieve. She said nothing in her life was the same since losing her daughter and husband.
“Al was grieving too, but he was willing to listen to my story,” Shirley said. “He is so sympathetic and loving and has a great sense of warmth.”
On the night of the college reunion, Al asked Shirley to marry him.
“He showed up in a suit and tie and I go ‘whoa’ I’ve found love,” she said.
As the couple spent more time together, they discovered more about each other. They recalled taking ballroom dances lessons at Miss James Dance School in Salem. Al also remembered dancing with a girl in a bright pink angora sweater. Shirley remembered wearing pink angora sweaters to dances.
“But we don’t remember dancing with each other at Miss James or that night at the teen dance,” Shirley said.
As they got to know each other better, Shirley had a question for Al. She wanted to know why he didn’t ask someone from Maine to the college reunion.
“Well, I couldn’t find anybody who could knock my socks off,” he said.
An amazed Shirley recounted what her daughter told her about dating Al.
Shirley returned to California with an engagement ring. The Sirois married after they attended their high school reunion the next year.
The Sirois have been happily married for 12 years. Shirley said she has found peace, happiness and love by marrying Al and moving to East Boothbay.
While Al said he found a girl who continually “knocks his socks off” on a daily basis.