Updated: Nov 11, 2020
We moved to the coastal town of Wilmington, NC 27 years ago because Briggs flew over it. We were in our early 30s with a one-year old, 2 professional degrees and no jobs. Jim and I met in grad school in DC, he was in med school and I was in law school. When we got married, it was the era of the yuppies, young urban professional couples, also called dinks, dual-income-no-kids. Before our kids were born and our degrees started making us money rather than costing us money, I called us ninks, no-income-no-kids. When we told my husband Jim’s college friend, Peter - sharply sarcastic like all of his school friends, who are very entertaining - that we were moving from big city Boston to small town Wilmington, he dryly replied, what you want to go sit on a rocking chair somewhere in NC and live an Andy Griffith rerun? Turns out, we sorta did and it wasn’t a bust or boring. I’m writing from the patio next to our lap pool - I swim a lot but that’s another story - in the backyard of the house we had custom built affordably 25 years ago - that’s another story too - on a gorgeous sunny day - they happen here all year - and tomorrow will meet up with friends at an oceanside restaurant with, you guessed it, rocking chairs! And yes, Andy Griffith is from Wilmington, NC.
At the time we moved here, a local news article reported that the neighboring county almost (almost) bounced a check and it was front page news when Talbots opened next to what is still our only mall, still only one-story. Shopping there for the first time, I asked how to get to the second floor and was told there was no second floor, unless you count Sears. Coming from 2, 3 and 4 story-malls, I called Wilmington retail wasteland, but that wasn’t why we moved here. From my first legal job as an associate in a large, downtown Boston law firm, where there were 3 shifts of secretaries for 1 shift of attorneys, with so many meals provided by the firm or by clients when working late that one female associate didn’t buy groceries for 4 years, I noticed that the only difference between me as a young associate and a partner was that they made more money. They didn’t work less hours so their quality of life was no better, and sometimes worse if they had a long commute, no matter how nice their house or stuff. But there were more women attorneys in my law firm in Boston than in the county where we moved to; it was a leap, it was a risk.
I was told by my female mentor from the local bar association that coming with a legal specialty, I’d starve because none of the attorneys in Wilmington specialized. She was wrong. The growth of the internet made legal research more accessible and helped level the playing field so I could continue to practice a big-firm specialty at small-firm rates. I started work as of counsel for a small firm with a great senior partner named George, who believed in me, recognized the business opportunity of my specialty and worked reasonable hours. I co-counseled on a case with Steve, a partner from my large Boston firm and one day he said he called the firm the night before at 5:30 but nobody answered, I told him that‘s because we don’t work late here. Steve asked if I’d hire him but I said no, his hourly rate was too high. Four years in, with two young children, George’s encouragement and my husband Jim’s support, I began my own law practice part-time from an office in our home, to have more time to parent our two children. Remote work from home with low overhead may be a first for many during the COVID-19 pandemic but for me, it’s how I’ve worked for 20 years. I was a mother-in-law, more mother than lawyer, who worked school hours, and achieved my goal of not quitting altogether while raising our children.
Jim opened his own medical practice, a Yale-educated, Harvard-trained physician, who found his first office by calling the handful of local psychiatrists listed in the Yellow Pages. He took on half the overhead and was told that he’d be filled with patients his first month from the other doctor’s overflow. There were 4 patients scheduled for the month he arrived, Jim hit the pavement, we pinched pennies. As I said, a risk but within months, his practice was filled and we haven’t looked back.
Some native Southerners resented transplants like us, they didn't want any damn Yankees here. I said I wasn't from the South but I got here as soon as I could. Some Southerners assumed northerners thought southerners were slow and stupid, I said that everyone is so busy in the north, they're not thinking about anyone in the south. The good cliches are true: life is slower, people are friendlier. Store clerks are pleasant, they can afford decent housing. Drivers yield in traffic, road rage doesn't exist when a traffic jam is waiting two turns at a light.
Jim’s parents and 3 siblings all lived in the Boston area, and still do, when we moved to Wilmington and his parents were upset when we left. We decided that if we stayed in Boston, our children would see their grandparents, but if we moved to Wilmington, our children would see their parents. We toyed with staying in Boston and looked at overpriced, strangely configured condos in the Back Bay and starter homes in Winchester but couldn’t bring ourselves to commit to a mortgage that would trap us in high-paying jobs so we rented and took search trips. We toured beautiful new homes at a fraction of the price near Mayo Clinic South in Florida, visited Charlotte but thought the traffic would become a bear, interviewed at a small city near Wilmington, Delaware and considered the Triangle area in NC. Jim talked to his old college friend, Briggs, who said, change your plans, you’ve got to see Wilmington so we did. We bypassed the Triangle, visited Wilmington before the airport had a terminal and found a small city with a large historic district, a pretty university, beautiful beaches, a few restaurants, affordable housing and growth we welcomed. We had dinner at the Pilot House on the Cape Fear River during a rainstorm and as the clouds cleared, a rainbow appeared over the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, which we took as a sign that this is the place where we should move.
It took a couple of years to make the move, Jim had to finish his residency in Boston, we continued to rent there. When I gave notice to the law firm, a couple of partners asked if we had sold our home and I told them we never bought one. One senior associate said wistfully, I wish I could do that but I have a mortgage, kids in private school, a Volvo, they felt stuck. We visited Briggs and his wife, Jessica, who lived in Atlanta at the time, and told them how much we loved Wilmington and planned to move there. We told them that we loved the beaches, Briggs said ah ha, we loved the historic downtown, Briggs said ah ha, we liked the college, Briggs said ah ha. We asked Briggs, exactly what part of Wilmington have you seen? He said, well I flew over it once and it looked good from the air! We moved to Wilmington because Briggs flew over it and we stayed because it was the best move we ever made.