Winston-Salem: A “Just Right” Retirement



BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON

When it comes to the question of retirement, almost everyone has a Goldilocks story. Here’s mine:

Arizona?

Too hot and remote

Florida?

Too humid and crowded

Costa Rica, maybe?

Too unknown. Period.

Winston-Salem, North Carolina?

Just right.

Okay, okay, I know that natives often retire in place, right here in the familiar, with their tribe nearby. Others move on to retirement oases replete with clubhouse, golf, bocce ball, and all of the rest. For me, neither option draws a “just right” reaction. Instead, when my artist-husband, Dean, and I thought about how to ease our way into retirement, we immediately thought of Winston-Salem, a true city with a hometown feel. We didn’t arrive here blindly. Dean had lived here in the late 1970s when downtown was far from being a positive draw. Even so, the people were friendly, the climate was great, the drivable proximity to the mountains and the beach was a plus, and the city’s size was, well, “just right.” Over the past 20 years, we’d visited a few times, and with each visit, the city became more attractive and more alive with restoration and innovation, as well as artistic, cultural, and culinary diversity.

For Dean, the choice was a no-brainer, especially since he could immediately immerse himself in the local arts scene. The potential dealbreaker was me:

  • I was still working, albeit from home.
  • I had only ever lived in my home state, Connecticut.
  • Most of my family and friend-tribe was in the Northeast.
  • I was “a Northerner” (whatever that means).
  • My life, all of it, was there, not here.
  • Dean worried and fretted. My sister was hesitant. My tribe whined.
  • We came anyway. Packed up our senior canine, our SUV, trusted the movers with our stuff and landed.

“How is the adjustment?” I had but one response to this oft-repeated, projection-laden but well-intended question: “What adjustment?” Here’s why:

  • First, I was R-E-A-D-Y for a new, semi, sort-kinda, easing- my- way- into- retirement chapter.

Arriving with an open mind and an open heart,

  • I didn’t expect “things” to be the same here.
  • I did expect to find new experiences, discoveries, and a few surprises.
  • I didn’t expect to experience the interpersonal norms and manners that I was accustomed to.
  • I did expect to find “the good and the bad” when it came to people, just as I do everywhere.
  • I didn’t wear blinders or expect instant perfection.
  • I did expect that by doing my part, I’d stumble a bit, but find my way.

Second, Winston-Salem blew me away. I wanted a city with history, neighborhoods, and a vibrant, honest pulse. And it is. But the more poignant and personal part is that, as a “transplant,” I am putting down roots. In a literal sense, I am creating gardens in a formerly barren backyard, but it’s more than that. In the end, a place, any place, is about the people who make it so:

  • My neighborhood is awesome: “What took you so long to get around the block?” Dean asks.
  • In the three short years I’ve lived here, I have come home to a bouquet of get-well flowers, six homegrown tomatoes, a metal peacock figurine, and countless other gifts of pure kindness.
  • My small network of new friends, mostly, but not all transplants, are welcoming, inclusive, and ever-so-helpful at a moment’s notice. “You’re coming for the holidays again, aren’t you? My Uncle George keeps asking about you guys.”

I don’t need to say more, but I am not alone in my personal assessment: Forbes once again included Winston-Salem in the “Top 25 Places to Retire in 2020.” That’s sounds “just right” to this Goldilocks!

This conversation is just beginning! Stay tuned for a new series of retirement-focused articles in upcoming issues of Forsyth Woman. Be sure to check out page 74 in the February 2021 issue of Forsyth Woman.


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