Saturday, February 17, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

From This Day: from ice cream aisle to wedding aisle

TAMPA — This town was Robert Soukkala's 40th since he was born in Montana.

He came to Tampa to help out his mom and for about a year divided his time between work and home.

One afternoon in January 2012, he was shopping at the Fresh Market when he spotted something he couldn't ignore.

Cynthia Hernandez stood in the frozen foods section pondering two cartons of ice cream, French silk and rocky road.

"If it's that important, why not just buy both?" he said, gesturing at the flavors she held.

Taken aback but not offended, Cynthia turned to see who exactly was this weird guy talking to her in the grocery store like they were starring in some sort of romantic comedy.

"Then I saw he was cute and thought, 'Maybe I should say hi,' " said the 34-year-old criminal defense lawyer from Tampa.

"She has a really inviting tone and is very down to earth," said Robert, 32, vice president of consumer lending and default services at HSBC in Tampa. "There was no hidden agenda."

Robert and Cynthia talked near the ice cream for 15 minutes before he asked her out for coffee that same day. Both rushed home, put away their groceries and met at a coffee shop at 5 p.m.

Coffee turned to dinner, which turned to drinks, and at 4 a.m. Robert and Cynthia parted ways vowing that that night would not be their last meeting.

"He was new to the area and every place we went was new to him," Cynthia said. "It turned into me showing him around."

Though they are both very independent, their mutual interests and the ones they didn't share had the couple coming together frequently.

"She likes horses, nature, fishing and the outdoors," Robert said. "We were having conversations on various topics and she has a knowledge about things I don't know much about. I'm the guy who knows everything about everything. She kind of filled in that gap."

Nearly a year later, they were talking about moving together into a house Cynthia owned in Beach Park.

"I had renters and they destroyed the place," Cynthia said. "Rob suggested we fix it up and move in after they left. He is really handy in everything construction. So he gutted the house and put it back together. That's when I knew I had to marry him."

Robert used sweat equity and 15 gallons of paint to get the home in some semblance of shape before they moved in in December.

Settled in, the couple went looking for new cars in hopes of finding Cynthia a sports car and Robert his dream, a Shelby Mustang. At the dealership, the salesman said he had something better.

"It was cool Corvette in a special edition color," Robert said.

He asked her opinion. She agreed it was a must-have.

"Then you'll have to marry me," Robert blurted.

"I thought, 'Are you talking about me or the car, silly?' " Cynthia remembers.

The excitement of finding a car had mixed with Robert's feelings that he had definitely found the right woman and erupted in a proposal that he hadn't remotely planned.

Once Cynthia realized he was serious, there were tears and acceptance.

"The salesman came back and we were smiling and I was crying and he was like 'Oh. Okay. I missed something,' " Cynthia said.

On Aug. 10, 30 close friends and family members gathered at the Chart House restaurant overlooking Old Tampa Bay.

Cynthia's best friend, actor Diana Durango, brought her dramatic flair to the role of officiant for the outdoor ceremony. The couple selected Chart House because the venue allowed their chihuahua, Rocky, to serve as the ring bearer.

The outdoor ceremony gave way to an indoor dinner, where the couple spent hours talking about how happy they were to have found one another.

"I'm somebody who has been around, like a gypsy," Robert said. "I had no expectation that I would be here. This is really where I feel complete with my life. That's something I never imagined in my entire life."

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