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Alex & Mary Costa: Valentine sweethearts in love 60 years later
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Alex and Mary Costa, who were engaged on Valentines Day 60 years ago, walk hand-in-hand after a late lunch at In-N-Out Monday afternoon. - photo by GLENN KAHL

It had been months since I last saw Alex and Mary Costa when I saw them walking hand-in-hand toward me in the parking lot of In-N-Out Burger late Monday afternoon. They were smiling like young kids totally involved in their conversation with each other.

They did not see me until they got to the door of the burger shop.  We chatted for a couple of minutes and I learned they had gotten engaged on Valentine’s Day some 60 years ago.

After I had gotten in the car and started to leave, it dawned on me that they had a great story of love and perseverance. They had gone to Atlanta Elementary School together, married and had four children, and are still exhibiting a love for each other that had not lost its original spark.

Wow, what a sweet story. I knew I had to go back.

I went back into the restaurant, sitting down next to them with pen and pad in hand.  They weren’t sure they wanted to talk to me about their story - a true love story.

 “He is a very sentimental man – he’s a hardworking farmer,” Mary said of her husband and soul mate.

 “You’re telling stories out of school,” Alex countered with a sheepish grin.

“We’ve had a great life – we still hold hands,” Mary added. 

Her husband chimed in saying they still go to drive-ins for a malt or a soda and a hamburger as they did in the ‘50s.  Their rich memories include many Saturday nights when they went dancing at the Playland in Modesto.

“I’m very proud of my husband – so proud of our marriage and I’m just happy!” she said in an ever broadening smile.  No one would ever guess he’s 83 and she’s 81 as they don’t act their ages. They’re still teens at heart with a definite spring in their step.

They had announced their engagement at her sister Lucy’s home on Murphy Road.  It was during a cocktail party where the norm of the day was to pass around a box of chocolates and the groom to pass out cigars.  Mary’s sister had cut out little red fold over hearts from construction paper.  On the outside was written “Engagement” and on opening the hearts their guests saw the names of “Alex and Mary” inscribed inside.

The two had grown up living next door to each other and had gone to elementary school together. It took cupid’s arrow years, though, to find its mark. It happened when she was 22 and he was 24 years old.

Mary said she didn’t care for Alex in grade school. 

“For years she didn’t even look at me,” Alex quipped.

Mary had been working in the office at the nearby Franzia Winery while Alex had already been farming for a few years when they were engaged in 1952.

It all came about after Alex had hired Mary’s brother Joey to work with him on the ranch.  Alex would drive the boy home and somehow manage to run into the woman who would someday be his bride.  It was just small talk they shared at first with each other, day after day, when he drove into the driveway of her family home. 

Mary said she knew Alex was really serious about getting married the following April when he gave her an expensive wristwatch for Christmas. 

“I knew he wouldn’t give me such an expensive gift unless he really was serious.  He wasn’t just taking me out to be taking me out,” she chuckled.

Alex said they have never gone to bed mad at each other during 60 years of marriage. 

Mary noted they did have one disagreement over what color they were painting their house – he wanted green and she wanted it to be an off-white.   She explained that the green would have been the same as the outbuildings on their Highway 120 ranch.  The house was finally painted off-white with its brick trim in contrast to the other structures.

Mary smiled across the lunch table again as she commented on their love for each other. 

“He liked my talk, he liked my walk and I was his Miss Congeniality,” – she said as she reached around his back and gave him a hug.

“He’s the one that’s spoiled,” she said, “and he will admit it.

“We have to treat our husbands right as long as we have them!”

As they left the restaurant, they were again walking hand-in-hand, smiling and chatting with each other like old friends.