Courtesy of Bert Kleinman
The happy couple. Credit: Courtesy of Bert Kleinman

This is a personal column, about me, Anita Rufus, one of your neighbors, and my holiday-time trip to the island of Samoa.

My cousin, Barry Rose, with whom I’ve been in love since I was 16, and my very best friend, Barbara, whom I met when she was 19 some 54 years ago, just got married at Barry’s resort, Coconuts Beach Club, an idyllic slice of paradise some 12 flying hours from Southern California.

Barry and Barbara met through me, more than 50 years ago, so I was asked to walk them down the aisle. What took them so long? Timing is everything: Through marriages and deaths, Barry and Barbara finally were ready to be happy with each other.

Coconuts is the result of years of work, begun when Barry and his late wife, Jennifer, wanted to find paradise. They left Beverly Hills in 1984 and traveled the world over, not finding what they had envisioned. After developing a list of criteria, they settled on the South Pacific, including places like New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tahiti and the Cook Islands. The place that fit best turned out to be Western Samoa—due to its size, stability, safety and absence of serious diseases. Perhaps the most influential criteria were the culture and the friendliness of the Samoan people.

After years of negotiations, a lease for the property they wanted in the village of Maninoa was finalized in January 1990; that November, a limited opening took place. Together with an amazing architectural designer, Robert Ross, Barry and Jennifer’s vision began to come to life.

Coconuts has grown into a thriving, lush and very special place. The rooms, called fales (fa’lays), have thatched roofs that are fully waterproofed, air conditioning and purified water; they are spacious with four-poster beds made of bamboo trunks, rock-lined tubs with showers, and porches where one can sit and look toward the ocean. The food is gourmet: local fish, New Zealand steak and papayas are to die for. The staff members, mostly from the local village, are friendly and accommodating—their laughter floats throughout the property.

When Jennifer got ill, Barry took loving care of her for several years. Barbara, who knew them both, got in touch with Barry to offer her support and friendship. She was single once again, and after Jennifer’s death, the conversations between Barry and Barbara began to increase to hours daily—with him calling from Honolulu, where he lives when not in Samoa, and her calling from her lovely home in Beverly Glen in Los Angeles.

Barbara agreed to travel to Hawaii for a week—an extraordinary decision for someone I’ve never known to act on impulse—and the relationship blossomed. Barbara soon decided to move to Honolulu, and in three short weeks, she sold her house and either got rid of or shipped over her belongings. Barbara and Barry are both beaming with happiness, having once again found love.

The wedding at Coconuts was just what it should have been: picture-perfect. Barry wore an ‘ie lavalava (a man-skirt, the custom dress for Samoan men), and Barbara wore a crown of flowers. I walked them from their fale to the beach, accompanied by a strumming guitar. The staff had constructed an arbor draped with flowing fabric and trimmed with flowers. After I said a few personal words that I had written and practiced for hours, a local minister had them say their vows. It was magical.

Along the beach were friends and family who had come from Arizona, North Carolina, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Fiji and Bali, along with the Coconuts “family” of staff and local invitees. A jolly celebration ensued.

After my return, I was asked what the highlight of the trip was for me, obviously other than the wedding. I will treasure the sound of the surf, eternally rolling toward shore. I loved the schwiffing sound of the dried fronds used to sweep the walkways throughout the day. I will never forget the stifling humidity, so enervating to a desert resident. I enjoyed the slow pace of Samoa, the lazy schedule, the walks along the beach, the sublime sunsets, and the occasional sheets of rain with children splashing in the pool in the downpour. I was able to read six books in two weeks—pure heaven!

The real highlight, however, was the people who had come to witness the wedding—some I had known before, and some I met as we joined together for this momentous occasion. They are a multicultural and multiracial group of friendly, smart, interesting, down-to-earth individuals, including Barry’s son, daughter and grand-daughter.

There’s the Coconuts architect and his beautiful Balinese wife. The TV producer and her husband, a doctor and teacher at Harvard who also lectures worldwide. The lesbian paper-hangers, now retired. (There’s a good story there.) The psychologist who knew how to listen to others and spoke pearls of wisdom. The hairdresser and the makeup stylist. (They made the bride look fabulous!) The stunning author and broadcaster who filmed and snapped everything. The watercolor artist, one of Jennifer’s best friends, SO happy that Barry has found happiness again. The brilliant photographer and her radio executive/philosopher husband. The Hawaii restaurateur and his California wife. The jazz fans from Honolulu. And there was the other Barry Rose—talk about coincidences! (After finding out he and my cousin shared the same dentist in Honolulu, he quipped, “I almost took a root canal for him!”) On our first night at Coconuts, someone said: “You can always tell a lot about people by who their friends are.” Amen to that.

One other moment stands out for me: the evening when I strolled to the open-air dining room to have a pre-dinner drink, with a clear blue sky, the sun setting and the sound of the surf in the background. Low-key music is always playing, everything from classical to jazz. That night, I entered to Sting singing “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”

My cousin and my friend have figured that out.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

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Anita Rufus

Anita Rufus is an award-winning columnist and talk radio host, known as “The Lovable Liberal.” She has a law degree, a master’s in education, and was a business executive before committing herself...