Thomas and Joanna Costello-Saile
Their global romance began in an Irish pub.
From the February, 2019 issue
Chance encounters--meetings that could so easily have not taken place--can end in love stories. Thomas and Joanna Costello-Saile's began in an Irish pub--in Germany.
"Sometimes, it's all down to accident," says Thomas, marveling at their improbable meeting. They're telling the story around the kitchen table in a small rented house near Kerrytown, as daughters Cecilia, ten, and Anna, eight, listen raptly.
It was the fall of 1997, and both had recently moved to Stuttgart. Joanna Costello was taking a year off from her Irish college. The middle of five children of a veterinarian and a pharmacist, she'd been struggling in her German classes, and her professor had suggested a year of language immersion.
The professor knew a family in Stuttgart that needed an au pair, so she had a place to stay and a small income. But she was homesick, and wrangling the family's three preschoolers left her so frazzled, she says, that in the beginning, "I cried every single day." The Irish pub was a respite.
Thomas Saile (SIGH-la) was there to watch a cricket match. Then twenty-eight, he'd grown up in a small German village near the French border, playing in abandoned WWII bunkers. His father, who is deaf, worked in a chair factory; his mother, also hearing-impaired, stayed home with Thomas and his two younger siblings. "We had"--he pauses, searching for the English term--"outhouses!"
He left home at seventeen to apprentice as a draftsman, did national service caring for senior citizens, and went on to become the first in his family to graduate from college. Afterward, an internship with Bosch, the German multinational engineering company, took him to Wales for a year. That's where he learned about cricket--and, as he left for a job at Bosch's Stuttgart headquarters, got a tip about an Irish pub.
When the young Irishwoman walked in, Thomas recalls, she "was much more interesting than the game." They had a friendly talk, then many more. "I grew fonder and fonder of
him," Joanna says. By spring they were dating.
What attracted them to one other? "Oh, I don't know--he's kind," says Joanna. "He has a big heart."
Thomas echoes that: "She's such a kind person."
When Joanna's job ended, it became a long-distance relationship. "She went back to Ireland for a year," Thomas says. "Then she studied to be a teacher for a year. When she was done, I rented a car." He took a ferry to England, visited friends in Wales, then took another ferry to Ireland. "I drove to [County] Kerry, and I picked her up.
"I remember when we drove off, her mom was standing outside the house and looking, and I somehow felt like a thief."
"Oh, my mom was crying," Joanna says. "She said, 'You don't have to live in Germany, you know.'"
But by then Thomas was a manager at Bosch, so they did. Joanna taught English and on a visit to Ireland in 2004, Thomas asked her mother for permission to marry her. (He felt he already had her father's approval.) With her mother's blessing, he proposed.
"It was on Valentine's Day, or very close," he says.
Joanna hesitates as if unsure.
"It could have been Valentine's Day," he insists.
Cecilia interjects: "You haven't told about the marriage!" She announces, "My mom wore a pink dress!"
Not to be left out, Anna adds, "My mama had long hair. To her butt!"
"That was when I was a kid!" Joanna protests. (She now wears her rich brown hair shoulder-length.)
The wedding was at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, in the country outside Tralee. Afterward, they combined their names. As far as they know, they're the only Costello-Sailes in the world.
Bosch sent Thomas to Chicago in 2005. He worked with the engineers developing new products, helping figure out the best way to protect them with patents. The couple lived across from Ernest Hemingway's home in suburban Oak Park, and Cecilia was born there--"She's our only American," Thomas says.
"I had to leave my friends behind" when they returned to Germany in 2009, Cecilia adds reproachfully.
"You were a year and a half!" Thomas replies.
Anna was born soon after their return to Stuttgart. "We say that she was made in America and born in Germany," Thomas says.
Just four years later, the company asked Thomas to return to the U.S. as director of patents for Bosch North America in Farmington Hills. The family rented an apartment near Briarwood while deciding where to live permanently.
Joanna had enjoyed being part of an international women's group in Germany. When she Googled similar groups here, she found Ann Arbor's International Neighbors. She also appreciated the extensive bus system. (She arrived here a non-driver but has since learned.)
They decided to stay and rented the Kerrytown house. It was only after they moved in that Joanna learned that the nearby Kerrytown Market & Shops was named for County Kerry. (Kerrytown founder Art Carpenter's mother was also from Kerry). The move to Ann Arbor, she says, "seemed like it was meant to be!"
Joanna is active in the Bach School PTO as well as International Neighbors; she and the girls attend the nearby St. Thomas Catholic Church. Anna and Cecilia are Girl Scouts and attend "German school" on Saturdays to keep up their language skills (though Anna complains that "my German is terrible").
Joanna says she mostly feels at home here, "except for the odd times when someone comments on my accent." She's intrigued that Americans, learning where she's from, are eager to tell her about relatives, past and present, in Ireland. "They seem to want to make the connection."
The Costello-Sailes have taken family vacations everywhere from the Grand Canyon to the Florida Keys. On his first U.S. tour, Thomas made it a goal to visit all fifty states. He got twenty-five in before they returned to Germany and has since added thirteen more.
For a time last year, when it appeared that Thomas might be called back to Germany, it looked like the rest might have to wait. But the transfer was put on hold, to the family's relief. "We still have a ton on our list," Joanna says--including New England, Alaska, and Hawaii.
[Originally published in February, 2019.]
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