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My Big Southern Retirement Adventure

Category: Retirement Planning

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.

Poinsett Hotel and courthouse

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.

Falls Park

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

Posted by Admin on January 5th, 2017


  1. You’re a very good writer, mister!

    by Barbara — January 6, 2017

  2. Exactly our sentiments, moving from Mn to TN, except for the politics; we were outstate.

    by Caps — January 6, 2017

  3. Nice story — it sounds to me like you have possibilities in your new home! :<) I too was a transplanted Northerner (or rather a lifetime, military-based, world-traveler at 13 when my family moved to NC). Unlike you I didn't want to be here and had that youthful easy rejection of what I didn't like. But I WAS young and I adjusted and 12 years later after HS, college, military service and with a new family, I realized that I had become a Southerner. (Remember that old Shake and Bake commercial? "Ah lo-o-ove Shi-ike 'nn' Bi-ike! I realized it actually sounded right!)

    It is an adventure as you say — and after 55 years I feel I'm still living it… Best of luck!

    by Rich — January 6, 2017

  4. We are planning a similar adventure, only in the other direction. We have lived in SE Tenn. for work, these past 10 years and found we do NOT have an affinity for the heat, grits, ham or sweet tea. Due to a diagnosis of Parkinsons 3 years ago, my husband (just 60) will be forced to apply for disability with in a year or two and our plans are to pack up and go north – out of this debilitating heat and humidity.

    I did research and started a spreadsheet to compare locations and with family up and down the east coast we were open to suggestions. We decided that we cannot afford to go back to Connecticut or Rhode Island where we lived previously – they tax EVERTYTHING, so our plan is to head to Portland, Maine. There are still more taxes but SO much more to do! We have spent some time there checking out the medical and other things we want to do and hope to go house hunting some time this spring. The internet has allowed us to reach out and “meet” people – we had several lunch dates with new friends. We are very excited to make this change and like the folks above we hope it goes well.

    If there is anyone from Maine on this site – would love to “meet” you too!!

    by HEF — January 6, 2017

  5. Jeff,
    Perhaps a new vocation calls. A Minnesota Yankee barrister deliberately finding his way in the heart of the Southern Tier. Perhaps a yarn with a legal spin. The imagery of your prose is vivid and compelling. So, when will you publish?

    by Colorado Living — January 6, 2017

  6. We don’t claim “Yankee, ” we’re Midwesterners!

    by Caps — January 6, 2017

  7. Jeff,
    Some nearby neighbors (from MT), tease us by telling us to “get our hillbilly on ;*)” when we act like invaders from the Northland. We just laugh!

    by Caps — January 6, 2017

  8. Thanks, Barbara and Colorado Living for those generous comments. Really nice of you!

    by Jeff Alden — January 6, 2017

  9. Enjoyable article and similar to our move from Maine to Beaufort SC. We had not checked out Greenville in our searching days a few years ago. However, during Hurricane Matthew we evacuated to Greenville and loved it, especially the downtown area. Very lively, many restaurants, and options for exploring nearby. We did not enjoy the heavy traffic however – we were glad to return to our island in the slow lane! We do plan to return to Greenville and to Asheville, NC, an hour away during the summer. Keep us updated with your suggested activities in the area! By the way, did you bring your snow shovel for this week-end’s “BIG” storm?

    by SandyZ — January 7, 2017

  10. Enjoyed the article. We just returned to KY from SC as getting older and family felt we needed to be closer to them. But, I miss SC every day. Beautiful area, beautiful people and lots to do. We lived at Keowee Key, Seneca SC about 45 miles from Greenville. Greenville is a fun city, booming downtown with lots of great restaurants, friendly city etc. Seneca is only about 1.5 hours from Asheville-another wonderful retirement city. Seneca is also close to Atlanta-about 2 hours. Great area for retirement.

    by Bob Porter — January 7, 2017

  11. Sad to say Greenville has been “discovered”. We also fell in love with the place after we visited. The town has been on so many of the “best places” lists that the real estate “vultures” have invaded. We have been monitoring house sales. Folks are buying up run down houses, doing cosmetic renovations, and flipping them for literally $100s of thousands of dollars more. Buyer beware, as these overpriced houses will become anchors if there is another crash. Rentals are also ridiculously high priced. I think this happened in Asheville, too.

    by Lynn — January 7, 2017

  12. HEF, I live in Maine – work in Portland, as a matter of fact. We have been back home after spending 12 years in the Memphis, TN area. We are both very much happy to be back in Maine. If you have any particular question, you can reach me by email at 🙂

    by Norma — January 8, 2017

  13. Jeff,
    Okay Jeff want to meet some like minded friends? Look and see if Greenville has a Drinking Liberally group.
    If not start one. Look up Drinking Liberally.
    Here in Wi.. I Live in the reddest part of the state and we have a group. Supposedly it’s the largest Drinking
    Liberally group in the country.

    by Steve — January 11, 2017

  14. Jeff as my wife and I are in the initial stages of planning our retirement and move south I keep coming back to Greenville as the logical spot. We are currently in Ohio and have visited Greenville once. Since we do not have any friends in the area we would love to be able to reach out to you with questions as our retirement approaches. If that is something you would be willing to do let me know.
    Thanks for sharing your story above it sounds very similar to the journey we are on.
    Kevin January 21 2017

    by Kevin — January 21, 2017

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