If you’ve walked along the bike path near Sebastiani Winery anytime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you’ve seen it – the scrawny pine-like tree decorated with baubles. And if you are at all curious, you wondered how it came to be.
Well, I’ll tell you.
The tree has become a tradition since 2010, when it was first transplanted from the yard of a neighboring house. Both the house and its owner have a long and rich history in Sonoma, Howard Costello has lived there for 64 years, and it seems fitting that he looks across the road onto the “Historic Mission Vineyard, est. 1825” sign. At 90, he’s not quite that old, but Mr. Costello is one of our most senior, but still very active, residents.
It was he who had the idea of a “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree”, and moved a sad little fir to the bike path, decorating with a few scattered ornaments. Comically, his original idea has morphed over several seasons into a rather splendid sight, with lights and shiny ornaments contributed by well-meaning strangers.
But Mr. Costello has done much more for the area. He planted and cares for 15 gorgeous rose bushes along the bike path near his home. His first rose bush was in remembrance of his wife of sixty-four years, Marge, who passed away in 2010.
From their house, which used to belong to August Sebastiani, and later, Sebastiani’s housekeeper, they would watch the passers-by on the path, so Howard donated a bench and a plaque for Marge Costello, who herself worked for thirty-two years as a volunteer for Friends In Sonoma Helping (FISH).
After serving in the Army in WWII as a weather forecaster, Howard came back to California as a student at UC Berkeley, class of 1949. He is still a staunch supporter of the Cal Bears, always carrying a walking stick with a carved handle of Oski the Bear, UC’s mascot.
Then, from 1950 to 1982 he taught math, and later became head of the Math Department at Sonoma Valley High School, AND coached the football and baseball teams. After “retiring”, he still stayed on for twenty-five years as a consultant. Still, Howard believes that his most important life decision was marrying Marjorie Hughes in 1946, when he met her as his sister’s roommate. Their wedding, he said, “cost $10, and that included flowers!” No need for a fancy wedding for a marriage to last 64 years.
Marge and Howard had one son, who went on to become a Federal Circuit Judge for the Indian Nations in Oregon. Don Costello visits often with his family, and helps tend the roses.
Very likely, there are readers who might remember Mr. Costello from their high school days, and who may have wondered how he was getting on.
Wonder no more. Howard walks on the bike path most days, to water the roses or to leave water bowls out for thirsty pets. And he has lunch on his porch most days where he also holds “consultations” for ten cents, a la Lucy in the Charlie Brown comics, and donates his yearly take to FISH, in honor of Marge.
Visitors would not be turned away. In Howard’s opinion, “The best possible gift you can give is to give your time”.