A staple of Beach Boulevard, Taso Papargiriou works day in and day out at his Gulfport convenience store, TLC Foodmart.
The candy cane-colored building has sold cigarettes and milk since 2010, but Papargiriou lost some of the light in his eyes when his wife of 50 years, Claire, passed away last year.
“I thank destiny everyday for sending her to me,” Papargiriou said.
Born into poverty, Papargiriou left his hometown of Kavala, Greece following his mother’s death at the age of 14.
“Greece wasn’t big enough for me anymore – I just had to leave, I had to run, I had to go,” Papargiriou said. “But I always had my first girl at my side, destiny.”
The Greek native became a merchant marine and joined a United States Cargo Ship that shipped supplies into Vietnam during the late 1960s. In the aftermath of a tumultuous storm, Papargiriou’s ship crawled into Boston for repairs.
It was at a 1967 Boston party that Papargiriou first met his wife, Claire. They were both still teenagers.
“In a room full of people I looked across the room toward a couch and there was an angel sitting there, all alone,” Papargiriou said. “I went back to sea, and we started writing letters back and forth.”
In 1969, she asked, via letter, if he was going to marry her.
“I went to my captain and told him I needed to go back to Boston, that my sweetheart wants to get married,” Papargiriou said. “He says to me ‘Do you know you’re in the middle of war?’”
America and Vietnam may have been at war, but Papargiriou wasn’t.
With his captain’s approval and a two-week release, Papargiriou and Claire got married in the Pocono Mountains in July of 1969.
Boston Creations, Florida Dreams
The newlyweds saved $1,000 for a down payment on their first home in Boston.
“As my wife would tell you, we ate lentil soup for a year,” Papargiriou.
Papargiriou suffered an injury at work, and house-bound, he began working on a wooden windmill for their front yard. With extra time and lumber on his side, one yard fixture turned into four, and he began selling his creations at $75 a pop.
“My wife says to me, ‘We have to create a name for our woodcraft creations,’” Papargiriou said. “I already had it. I told her, TLC – Taso Loves Claire.”
Long Boston winters became too much, and in 1994, the Papargirious, with their son and daughter, two dogs and a bird, set out for sunny Florida.
Papargiriou blindly bought a convenience store on St. Pete Beach, coined TLC Convenience Store. After owning and selling the first food mart location as well as a St. Pete Beach hotel, the couple purchased the current TLC at 2822 Beach Blvd. S. and remained in Gulfport.
Claire was a chain smoker who picked up the habit at 10 years old. The cigarettes eventually created a domino-effect of health issues.
“We got in a lot of arguments because she could not stop smoking,” Papargiriou said. “I knew why she wanted to take the dogs out at night, but the woman was trying.”
On February 10, 2019 Claire was admitted into the hospital with four clogged arteries, and underwent open-heart surgery.
“I said doctor, ‘It’s my wife. I need you to do everything you can better than you can,’” Papargiriou. “I was in the little chapel on my knees begging God to let me keep her.”
Two years, numerous hospital changes and multiple resuscitations later, Claire was back in the Papargiriou’s home.
She was frail, but she was home.
In the midst of coronavirus, Papargiriou would change his clothing and hose off outside in the couple’s backyard after working at TLC in an effort to protect Claire’s weakened immune system.
She would leave a set of clean garments outside, and welcome him when he finished his nightly ritual.
One afternoon in June of 2020 there were no clothes hanging in the backyard. The back door was locked, and Papargiriou knew something was wrong.
“I saw her oxygen line leading into the bathroom,” Papargiriou said. “I called out to her, no answer.”
On June 23, 2020, Claire passed away from pre-existing health complications.
“I did everything in the yard she ever wanted me to do after she passed,” Papargiriou said. “I planted roses, I planted palm trees. I cut roses for her urn almost everyday.”
“When it was all over, I went home to an empty house,” Papargiriou said. “I never wanted to go home, because I didn’t want to be alone.”
When night hit, Papargiriou sat in front of his computer and wrote to Claire: letters, stories, memories and poems.
By the end of February, Papargiriou will have his first book, “Living with an Earth Angel: Loving an Angel” out on Amazon.
“I took all my memories and put it into paper,” Papargiriou. “I want the world to know what an amazing lady she was.”