Tom Koulouris hadn't been on a date in more than half a century when Sandra Pupello and her sister-in-law asked him out to dinner.
Once the trio was a six-pack. Three couples, friends for decades, frequently getting together for steaks at Malio's or driving to Tarpon Springs for Greek food overlooking the sponge docks. Some of their kids were friends, too.
That night in 2004 they reminisced about the good times and mourned their spouses recently lost to cancer and Alzheimer's disease. After months of gloomy medical conversations, they welcomed the diversion.
Koulouris, now 81, enjoyed the outing, his first as a single man since he drove a 1948 Buick and danced to Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey tunes.
Pupello was also tickled with the attention. She hoped they could continue spending occasional evenings together. Maybe more than occasional.
• • •
Pupello arranged a few more dinners before Koulouris left on a cruise to the Greek isles with two grandchildren.
"I wondered if he would even call when he got back,'' said Pupello, 72, a lifelong homemaker with a flair for entertaining.
A former owner of Hunt Truck Sales in east Tampa, Koulouris is soft-spoken, cautious, an avid fisherman and bookworm. His motto: "If in doubt, don't."
Kim Grandoff, the oldest of Pupello's three daughters, loves telling the next part of the story. "Tommy did call and asked her to something at the yacht club," Grandoff said. "I kept telling her that it was a date and she kept insisting, no, it was just dinner.
"Well, the next morning she calls me, all giggling and positively giddy, saying, 'You were right, you were right!' "
Pupello might not always remember where she put the car keys, but that date — on April 17, 2004 — is etched in her mental diary. The night they started going steady.
"It was our first time being alone,'' she says. "From then on, it was just us."
Weeks later, when Pupello kept her company on an 11-hour drive to North Carolina, Grandoff said, her mother never got off the Tommy channel.
"All she talked about for 10 hours was Tommy. I was so happy when she finally fell asleep for an hour," Grandoff said teasingly.
Somehow, seven years slipped by. The couple vacationed in Paris, sailed off on two cruises and celebrated many family milestones. They leaned on each other, dividing their time between her Bayshore Boulevard condo and his Sunset Park home.
Any talk of marriage was nebulous, on the "been there, done that" wavelength.
"I had a very happy marriage for 52 years with all the ups and downs that marriage brings,'' says Koulouris. "I wasn't thinking of remarrying."
Pupello, divorced once, then widowed after 24 years of marriage, seconded the emotion. "I would hate to be alone, but I didn't think I ever wanted to be married again."
The easy status quo might have continued just so, if not for a girls' trip in mid March to Winter Park.
To Tom, that was the never-ending weekend. Boy, did he miss her. Was it Sunday yet?
"I sat home drinking Scotch, listening to Nancy Wilson. And eating worms,'' he says, a twinkle in his eye. Finally, his gal called to say she was back.
"Come right over, I have dinner for us,'' Koulouris said. "It's time to make some plans."
It took a couple of days for the engagement shock to subside, says Pupello. But her daughters grabbed the reins. Grandoff walked her mother down the aisle just two months later.
Mr. and Mrs. Koulouris wed at noon May 28 in the chapel at St. John's Episcopal Church in Hyde Park. About 50 guests, including a combined nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter, followed them to the yacht club for a luncheon reception.
Grandson Tommy Koulouris, 26, the best man, and grandson Thomas Grandoff, 25, led the toasts. The bride wore something blue, a St. John Knit gown, shortened to tea length. Something borrowed was a handkerchief.
As for something old and something new, that was obvious. Two old friends, starting anew.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3332.