Thursday, February 22, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

From This Day: Mom's dress, Gran's spirit, one happy couple

TARPON SPRINGS — Even before they met in person, Stephanie Collins already thought Greg Becker was an unusually patient man.

Maybe because as an auto mechanic he's attuned to listening for pings and grinds. Maybe from living with his ailing grandmother the last year of her life.

"It took him two months of chattering on a dating website to convince me to come out and meet him," she said, his perseverance noted.

A few beers and a bite to eat that night in January 2013 and neither wanted the evening to end. Greg kissed her goodbye at the Clearwater bar — her friend, the bartender, would become her maid of honor — and called her cellphone before he'd left the parking lot.

They talked for hours, "and every day since," said Stephanie, 27, a veterinary assistant at Southern Eye Clinic for Animals in Tampa.

Greg, 31, moved from Reno, Nev., to St. Petersburg in the fall of 2010 and works as an assistant manager for NAPA Integrated Business Solutions, facilitating auto parts for the city of St. Petersburg's utility vehicles.

Being near his grandmother, Margo Johnson, was a major draw. Their special bond — she was "like a second mother to me" — was especially meaningful given that he never knew his biological father growing up.

Their relationship reminded Stephanie of her closeness to her own maternal grandmother in Palm Harbor, who often pitched in for her parents. Both were musicians with nighttime gigs, she said.

The more time Stephanie and Greg spent together, the more she admired his attention to Granny. Greg felt the same way about her "amazing single mom" skills. Most dates were kid-friendly outings, like bowling and going to the beach, with her 7-year-old son, Carter.

In June, the couple drove to Kentucky to pick up her younger son, C.J., 6, who lives there with his father.

"He slowly warmed up to Greg on the way back to Florida," she said. "By the end of the visit, C.J. loved him, too."

The summer that began so promisingly took a drastic turn. Greg took care of Granny after a knee replacement in June 2013. The surgery went fine, but recovery left her weakened. She was diagnosed with cancer a month later. Greg said, "Just six months together and Stephanie was helping me take care of my grandmother," who lived through Thanksgiving, "telling us the turkey was dry, like her old, feisty self," She died a week later at age 72.

Sadness made the couple even more appreciative of each other. Greg took advantage of a family photo opportunity while his mother was still in town, taking care of Granny's affairs, to tell Stephanie how he felt with a diamond ring.

"We were all gathered in her parents' back yard in Tarpon Springs," he said. Suddenly, cameras were flashing, her brother was videotaping, and Greg was on one knee asking her to be his wife.

Planning commenced immediately for a June 28 wedding. But there would be no dress shopping.

"I always knew I would wear my mother's wedding gown," Stephanie said.

Out of the preservation box it came, as beautiful as she remembered.

But oh, so '80s.

"Puffy shoulders, long sleeves, cap veil . . . but it fit perfectly," she said.

Riverview seamstress Calista Thomas came highly recommended. She listened to Stephanie's ideas and added her own suggestions. In short: sleeves off, train trimmed, bling added.

The next time the bride stepped into the gown, a month before the wedding, the vision made her mother, Amy, and grandmother cry.

Pastor Mike Oliver and youth director David Bolton, who has known Stephanie since she was a teen, officiated at First United Methodist Church in Tarpon Springs. Guests proceeded to the charming 1910 Inn for the afternoon reception.

Something startling happened as the ceremony ended.

"Stephanie gave me a little pin with a picture of me and Granny on it," Greg said. "When I walked over to my mother and stepfather, it just popped off my tux. It was eerie, almost like she was sending us a message."

After the first dance with her husband, the bride slipped away to change into a short, white lace dress. "I didn't want anyone to step on the gown or damage it," she said.

It's packed away now, for a daughter she hopes to have who will wear it someday. "She'll probably say, 'Oh my gosh, you actually wore this? It's soooo 2014."

Contact Amy Scherzer at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.

Comments
As spring approaches, parties, food festivals bloom at Florida’s theme parks

As spring approaches, parties, food festivals bloom at Florida’s theme parks

Can you feel it? The air is gradually thickening with humidity and the layers of clothes are getting thinner. Spring has almost sprung and with it brings a bumper crop of festivals in Florida’s theme parks full of food, wine, concerts and parades. Th...
Published: 02/21/18
Plan your weekend Feb. 19-20: Monster Energy Supercross. Gasparilla Distance Classic, Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival, slam poet Neil Hilborn

Plan your weekend Feb. 19-20: Monster Energy Supercross. Gasparilla Distance Classic, Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival, slam poet Neil Hilborn

Plan your weekend ExtremeMonster Energy Supercross Championship: The action-packed dirt bike stunts and racing returns to Tampa for the first time in two decades. Each track in the 16-city series is different, so competitors will ride between 15 and ...
Published: 02/21/18
In theaters this week: ‘Annihilation’ based on Florida author Jeff VanderMeer’s book, ‘Game Night,’ ‘Every Day’

In theaters this week: ‘Annihilation’ based on Florida author Jeff VanderMeer’s book, ‘Game Night,’ ‘Every Day’

ANNIHILATIONAuthor Jeff VanderMeer told me at last year’s Times Festival of Reading that Annihilation (R) is going to blow everyone’s mind. The Tallahassee author is biased, of course, having written the novel it’s based on, but there’s some reason t...
Published: 02/21/18
Top things to do this weekend: Supercross Championship, Olate Dogs, Gasparilla Distance Classic

Top things to do this weekend: Supercross Championship, Olate Dogs, Gasparilla Distance Classic

BIKE RACE: Monster Energy Supercross ChampionshipThe action-packed dirt bike stunts and racing of the Monster Energy Supercross Championship return to Tampa for the first time in two decades. Motorcyclists will race at more than 60 mph and fly off ju...
Published: 02/21/18
This week’s top concerts: Willie Nelson, Los Lobos, Clearwater Sea-Blues and more

This week’s top concerts: Willie Nelson, Los Lobos, Clearwater Sea-Blues and more

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Willie NelsonI’m sure that when Willie Nelson had to postpone his recent Clearwater concert after a bout with the flu, you, like me, took the news well, spitting through clenched teeth: "OH NO YOU DON’T, 2018. YOU WILL NOT TAKE WIL...
Published: 02/21/18
Green Thumb, Flamingo Festival and more spring festivals coming to Tampa Bay

Green Thumb, Flamingo Festival and more spring festivals coming to Tampa Bay

spring eventsFlamingo FestivalHelp celebrate the young flock of flamingos that recently arrived at Sunken Gardens at a colorful festival with live music, kids activities, and beer and wine for sale. Wear pink for $1 off admission. $10, $8 seniors, $4...
Published: 02/21/18
5 things to do under $5: The Romantics, Free Hugs Guy, Ybor Fiesta Day

5 things to do under $5: The Romantics, Free Hugs Guy, Ybor Fiesta Day

1 Blast Friday: This block party in downtown Clearwater brings a free show by the Romantics, right, the power pop new wave band that brought us What I Like About You and Talking in Your Sleep. There’s also a family-friendly food and craft vendor fest...
Published: 02/21/18
SeaWorld uses food, concerts as bait for Seven Seas Food Festival

SeaWorld uses food, concerts as bait for Seven Seas Food Festival

Seaworld Seven Seas Food Festival at the Orlando park with an expanded menu celebrating two of Florida’s most popular types of food: barbecue and Latin-inspired dishes.DateSWeekends now through April 15.EntertainmentLike its sister park Busch Gardens...
Published: 02/21/18
What to expect at Universal’s Mardi Gras party of parades, food and pop concerts

What to expect at Universal’s Mardi Gras party of parades, food and pop concerts

Universal studios MaThe annual Mardi Gras celebration is up and running at Universal Studios, bringing the Big Easy’s charm and food out every night, and this year it tosses in new floats and music.Six new constellation-themed Mardi Gras floats have ...
Published: 02/21/18
What to expect at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival 2018

What to expect at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival 2018

International Flower and Garden FestivalCelebrating the big 25 this year, the International Flower and Garden Festival is one of Disney World’s longest and oldest celebrations, on par with Epcot’s popular Food and Wine Festival. Lately the two have s...
Published: 02/21/18