It was November 29, 1981 when I first set eyes on the town of Avalon, appearing from the heavy fog like a fairy tale coming to life. As the big ferry from Long Beach drifted up to the pier, I was adrift myself suffering from the heartbreak of a recent divorce. A good friend who knew about my deep emotional crises had given me a ticket to Catalina Island as a getaway present.
The gift came with a tip that the local artist of Avalon, who each year decorated the shop windows with tempera painted Christmas decorations, was retiring. I had been a commercial artist designing t-shirts in Hawaii . My good friend, Karen Windman, had lived on the island off and on for years and had also given me a referral to meet a lady at a real estate office to get me started. After ditching my luggage in the lockers beside the pier, I wandered up into the hills behind the beach front hotels.
Finally, I found the office and as I peeked in the window , a beautiful redhead was looking back with an expression that made me think I was about to get into the best kind of trouble. Stopping short of claiming that it was love at first sight, it was at least the quick start of an affair that lasted for some time.
We strolled along the walkway leading out to the Casino building, looking at the boats in the main harbor and listening to the bell chimes pealing out Christmas carols . We stopped beside the tile covered fountain and went out onto the pier . While it’s summer, Avalon is crowded and noisy, but in the winter the place seemed deserted and romantic.What can I say, except it was a night to remember.
In the morning however, the news came that Natalie Wood had drowned that night, having fallen overboard after a drinking party on her boat. I was a big fan of hers, from “Splendor in the Grass” to “West Side Story,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Bob and Carol” and “Ted and Alice.”
It was another fog of sadness that lay heavy on the whole town that Christmas, mixed with my personal happiness and relief.
I’ve been back to Catalina Island several times , but the first time would always be the best.