Last Sept. 28, Steve Wrubel, 103, called a cab to his home on Melody Lane in Holiday. He paid $6 for a ride to a nursing home in Tarpon Springs, his daily routine for two years as his wife, Vickie, needed special care for a broken hip and other problems related to old age.
They sat together in silence. They held hands. She told him, again, that she just wanted to come home. He told her, "Soon.''
He didn't bring roses this time, but they kissed as he told her "happy anniversary'' for the 83rd time. He told her everybody was making a big deal out of it again, that their story had made the front page of the newspaper. She smiled.
"It made her feel special,'' recalled her niece in Michigan, Jane Messing. "Like a princess.''
The Wrubels didn't know it, but six days earlier, a woman named Winnie Kuykendall, also 103, had died in New Mexico. She and Marshall Kuykendall, 105, had been married seven months longer than the Wrubels, and when she passed away, the Holiday couple moved atop the informal list recognizing the most enduring marriage in the United States.
Steve Wrubel never seemed all that impressed with the list. "It just means we're old,'' said the retired General Motors worker who moved to western Pasco County in 1978.
They never had children, but nieces and nephews back in Michigan kept track of them and begged them to move closer.
"They made a mark,'' said Messing, 70, who has been married only 50 years. "They took care of each other. They loved each other and set an example.''
In February, Steve finally agreed to move to an adult living facility in Romeo, Mich. "He did it for Aunt Vickie,'' said niece Carol Essenmacher of Harbor Beach. "He adjusted to not living in his own home. He was happy because they were finally back together. He was always holding her hand.''
Essenmacher imagined her uncle was doing just that early Monday morning when Vickie Wrubel silently slipped away. She had not been ill. "She just wore out,'' her niece said.
Vickie Wrubel turned 102 in December. At that age, death is never unexpected. "But it's still a sad day,'' said Jane Messing. "Thank God she and Uncle Steve were finally together at the end.''