Editor’s note: Over a period of years we watched our friends Jeff and Paulette get ready for retirement. They thought about it a lot, made field trips, and discussed it thoroughly. Not without a little trepidation, their careful plans to retire to Greenville, SC came to pass this last summer. We are very pleased that Jeff was willing to contribute his account of how a Minnesota boy came to be retired in the heart of the South.
By Jeff Alden:
January 6, 2017 — I first started coming to the Upstate of South Carolina in the seventies to visit my future wife’s family on holidays. She was a young professor at the University of Minnesota, where I was in graduate school. I grew up in St. Paul and never questioned that I’d spend the rest of my days up North, in the country I knew so well. But every Christmas or Thanksgiving, we’d travel down to Greenville to spend time with her folks in her hometown.
My only familiarity with the South to that point had been through literature — To Kill a Mockingbird, Absalom, Absalom!, The Sound and the Fury, You Can’t Go Home Again. I already knew there was something about the South — its complex stew of elegance and tawdriness, tragedy and burlesque, warm hospitality and occasional viciousness — that exerted a magnetic pull on this young man from the Midwest.
Approaching the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport from ten thousand feet, there it all was, laid out below me like a foreign country — hardwood forests and thick stands of pine, fast-running rivers, the blue wall of the Blue Ridge, red dirt everywhere. To me this land was full of beauty and intrigue before I ever set foot in it. I knew I was about to enter a place very different from my world of ice palaces and progressive politics, blue lakes and corn fields.
Now, over forty years later, we’ve come back. This past summer, I retired after thirty-five years as an attorney. Paulette and I sold our house in Minneapolis, the one we’d lived in most of our adult lives, and bought a townhouse in old Greenville, not far from where her parents lived those many years ago.
A changed city
The city has changed greatly. The downtown, which was dying back in the seventies, has been completely revitalized –lots of trendy restaurants featuring upscale Southern fare, Main Street crowded with people listening to live music and sipping craft brews, the national and international faces BMW and Michelin have brought to the area. New apartments and condos are springing up at a stunning pace. Falls Park, with its handsome Peace Center for the Performing Arts and Liberty Bridge, has transformed the sleepy Reedy River into a destination for locals and tourists alike.
An intelligent retirement plan?
I know there are all sorts of guiding principles to help you make an intelligent retirement plan. But I can’t say we followed many of them. There were the easy and obvious reasons for us to retire to Greenville. It isn’t Minnesota. Paulette had been away from home for a long time, and part of her wanted to come back. It would be easier to get to the beach and the mountains, and anywhere else for that matter. On the other hand, by the time we left Minneapolis, we’d built our life there and had close relatives and many old friends — something you don’t leave behind lightly.
But for both of us it was time for a change. We felt we knew everything we’d ever need to know about life in Minnesota. I couldn’t see spending my retirement years going to the same Lunds supermarket at Fiftieth and France, having the same familiar, comfortable conversations with the same people even though I loved them, and shoveling the same snow despite the fact that as a true Northerner I’d always welcomed the changing seasons — even the big one. I couldn’t really visualize my life there if I no longer went to the office every day.
There was no real question Greenville was where we’d go, and not just because it’s high on the lists of places to retire. In Greenville we had a natural option — as opposed to, say, moving to Santa Fe where we’d never been and knew no one. We had friends in Greenville, Paulette’s from childhood, and we’d visited many times over the years. We’d be going to a place we knew well, that knew us well.
Or an adventure
But I had my own reasons for wanting to come to Greenville. I’d never forgotten how I felt the first time I flew into the airport there, never forgotten that sense of mystery and excitement. I still feel it. For me, moving to the South is an adventure. The way I see it, I have a third of my life left, God-willing, and there’s still time for one more big thing.
I know I’ll be challenged by Greenville. There are the small things, like the way the streets seem to go around in circles whereas back home they’re laid out in rectilinear grids. There’s nothing like a deep Southern country drawl to strain your ability to communicate with another human being. I’m a blue state liberal now living among Southern conservatives. I’ll never really comprehend how Clemson football can be a religion, and as far as that goes I’ll never be a Southern Baptist. But the people here are friendly and warm (a few of them right out of Tennessee Williams!) and it turns out I have a natural affinity for grits, country ham and sweet tea.
I don’t know how long my big Southern adventure will last. Now that I’m all set with a South Carolina driver’s license, a new dentist and doctor, and can find my way out to Home Depot without asking Siri, I hope the thrill of it doesn’t start to shrivel up and deflate like a month-old balloon. But a sense of adventure is in no small part a state of mind — one I intend to keep nurturing as long as I’m able. I guess you could say that’s my retirement plan. Right after we arrived, I joined a high country hiking club to get into those magical mountains that started calling me such a long time ago.
TR: Thanks so much for sharing Jeff. We love your story. You are obviously on to something – this NY Times Travel article lists Greenville as the #12 Place to Go in 2017.
How does your approach to retirement planning campare to the Aldens’? Have you made a smooth transition to a very different environment, or one very similar? Any tips you would share, or similar/different experiences? Feel free to comment below.
For further reading:
Judith Reports Back: Her Two Week of South Carolina