Young at Heart : Ocean, Climate, Neighbors Help Transplants Sink Roots

<i> Agnes Herman is a writer, lecturer and retired social worker living in Lake San Marcos</i>

Last fall, one of my neighbors hung a For Sale sign on her house and moved back to Chicago.

I was shocked. Though our homes look as if one cookie cutter had shaped them all, each bears the stamp of its owner’s loving care. Mary’s house and yard were beautiful. While the house was being built, she commuted between Chicago and San Marcos for almost a year, making sure that the tile in the fireplace was right, that the patio was shaped just so, that her new home in California was being built to her specifications.

And then, after almost three years in our sunshine, she moved back East.

Mary and her husband had come to North County to get out of the snow and the cold, and to be nearer their children who live in the area. But sunny skies, orange trees and family were not enough. She missed her old friends and familiar surroundings.


We do not hear much about folks moving “back home,” because most people come to California and stay. Those who settle in North County plant feet first and then hearts in the soil and sand.

Phil Nicholas, a retired Navy commander and former skipper of a helicopter squadron, has lived all over the world. He and his wife Farel chose North County because of its lack of congestion, the feeling of country. “I like this area because anything you plant will grow,” he explains. This man is no country bumpkin, but he enjoys and appreciates growing things and prefers a rural atmosphere. “I could have gone back to Kansas, but it’s so flat. I like to wake up and see the mountains in all their depth!”

Why would any of us choose to live in an environment where houses are homogenized and “codes and restrictions” tell you where to park and what colors to paint your house?

Phil says he likes that. There is a sense of tranquility here that suits him. But control and uniformity do not mean that Phil and Farel are fenced in. They have opted not to belong to a country club; they are not joiners. They do enjoy the availability of military establishments in the area. A ride to the Camp Pendleton commissary brings them back in touch with their former way of life and the people with whom they shared so much.


Children and grandchildren, I have discovered, are frequently the main attractions that bring “shades of gray” folks to North County. But they plant roots and remain because the lifestyle suits them.

Alice and Bob Seigle moved to Encinitas five years ago from Pasadena, where they had lived for 31 years. Alice, a retired nurse and Bob, a retired engineer, followed their son and his family to North County and purchased a home there. The Seigles have made many new friends, they enjoy people. Membership in their synagogue has been an integral part of their settling in.

When they first moved down, they would return to Pasadena regularly to visit old friends, “but those hundred miles get longer each year” said Bob. They now make fewer and fewer trips “back home.” “In fact,” says Bob, “we have just sold our cemetery plots up there.”

Though the children brought them here, the ocean, new friends and relaxed living have captured them.

Not everyone who makes their home in North County is a homeowner. Lillian and Hy Rubin came to visit 17 years ago, fell in love with a little house in Oceanside and never returned to live in the East. The Rubins did not purchase that house or any other.

Lillian says that being a renter may be what keeps her from feeling completely rooted. Still, she adds, “I would never consider returning to New York. . . . I have good neighbors who respect our privacy and yet never hesitate to be friendly, and we love the ocean!”

The Rubins have been living in the same apartment complex for 12 years. They are joiners and doers and do not live as if they are rootless!

My husband and I moved to North County because a doctor told us that my husband had to start breathing clear air. We had been inhaling New York City and Los Angeles pollution most of our married life. It was in 1982 that visits to San Marcos opened up my husband’s sinus passages and our eyes; we knew that we had to move here.


While it is true that many of us “shades of gray” folk follow our children, many others do not.

Irene Saper, director of clinical services for the Palomar Family Counseling Services, believes that a large number of transplants to North County find a haven here. The pace is slower than in the larger cities, and one can garden and golf according to one’s own whim and schedule. And, for some, getting away from the children and the hassle created by their problems is a better idea. Sometimes, distancing oneself from family and old friends allows tranquility to weave its healing magic.

Living north of San Diego expands choices and the opportunities to learn, to grow and to develop, even in our later years.

Phil Nicholas, for example, rejected living in the Midwest, feeling that he would be deprived of the opportunities that he enjoys here. He has a myriad of interests. His recent involvement with computers led him to study at Palomar College. Fascinated by plant growth, he spends time with nursery personnel and landscapers. Phil’s roots reach from the small trees blooming at the end of his patio to the long wires attached to his computer. It would be hard to disentangle this man from our area.

North County is a composite of various size communities tied together by the entity called San Diego County, yet distinguished from the rest by distance, geography and attitude. Its residents enjoy the benefits of a large city without suffering its congestion.

When many tell me that they moved to North County because of the ocean, I understand. As a child, I walked to the beach with my Dad and waded in the Atlantic Ocean. Today, one of my special joys is to walk the beach of Carlsbad or Oceanside with our grandson and wade with him in the Pacific. The beauty of our ocean and the warmth of its sands provide reasons enough to sink roots in this area.

Though each of us has come to North County for a particular reason, it is the congeniality of our climate and neighbors that encourage us to remain. And, if we are joined to our children, that is a special plus. Sinking roots in our community will surely keep us young at heart and happy.