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Pending departure of longtime friends brings a faraway look to writer's eyes

Bob and Kathy Sears, my cherished companions throughout my Fallbrook years, now have that faraway look in their eyes.

I know the feeling well. It seeps into the soul when a person has one foot planted firmly in the past and the other dipping a toe into an unknown future. I have visited more than 55 countries and lived in 15 places over my 70 years. The longest stretch – some 21 years – has been spent in my beloved Fallbrook.

As it was that we three said: “So long” a few days ago. The Sears are my story today. And together may we pray that safe travel guides their way.

I met the couple at a church I have attended in Fallbrook over the years. Together we served as deacons, which meant we prayed, visited the ill, assisted during memorial services and helped others whenever and wherever we could.

We were also blessed to travel with a small group of congregants to Israel in July 2013. We walked in Jesus’ footsteps, sat quietly in Gethsemane and sang and sailed on the sea of Galilee. I was baptized in the Jordan River with throngs beside me.

Thus Bob and Kathy Sears were one of the many colorful threads that have made up the tapestry of my life in Fallbrook. I have seen them often at church and beyond, and without a doubt, I took them for granted far more than I should.

A moving company will be scooping up their belongings late this month, and it will haul everything they own to New Bern, North Carolina. The city of about 31,300 people was founded in 1710 at the confluence of two rivers not far from the sea.

My friends are part of a trend: the mass exodus from the Golden State to places where faces are friendlier, costs are lower and crime is tamer. Last year marked the third in a row where people have left California in droves. Census data showed the state’s population dropped by about 113,650 people from July 2021 to July 2022.

Since the decline began in 2020, the state’s population has dropped by about 500,000 people. More than half of California’s 58 counties recorded drops during that period, according to the data. By contrast, the population of Wyoming is just over 580,000.

Bob Sears estimated that the cost-of-living in New Bern will be half of what it is in Fallbrook. Housing, gasoline, taxes and utilities will all be cheaper, he said.

With their departure looming closer each day, I finally got around to inviting them to my home. I cooked a quiche, showed them my art and book collections and introduced them to my cats, goats and chickens. They fleshed out some of the stories that I had only heard in snippets.

They have lived in the same house on one acre in Fallbrook for 37 years. They raised two children here and know countless people in the community. They decided to move after their financial adviser said that their fixed incomes would soon be inundated by the state’s rising costs.

Their Fallbrook home sold four days after it was listed. They are moving close to their daughter, a mortgage broker who is expecting her first child. Their daughter’s husband is a sheriff’s deputy.

During our Sunday brunch, we chewed and chatted about our Holy Land adventure and various church activities over the years.

I heard more about their hikes to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite. They told of peering over the tip of the outcropping that is colloquially known as the “Diving Board.” They told me how countless lightning strikes on the crest of the granite dome – some 8,800 feet above sea level – have created divots the size of a Mercedes.

I pressed Bob Sears to tell me about how, while traveling in Europe in 1971 with some buddies, he ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. That annual festival features an array of fools running among or slightly ahead of as many as 20 bulls on narrow, sectioned-off streets. Every year, between 50 to 100 people are injured during the run. Since record keeping began in 1910, some 15 people have been killed in the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain; most of them gored to death. The most recent death was in 2009.

“It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” Bob Sears said. “I’m glad I survived it. I didn’t realize what it was all about.”

Our time at my house seemed to fly by. Reluctantly, they inched their way toward the door, all the while noting the array of chores that were awaiting them at their house. I found myself wishing that they could stay another few hours.

Kathy Sears closed the visit by explaining how all the pieces had seemingly fallen into place as their departure date drew near.

“It’s like the waters parted, and it’s time for us to go,” she mused.

I pondered my future as they drove out of my driveway. How will I find my way? Can I afford to stay?

 

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