Adult siblings redo childhood vacations

The Barry family at Disney World: brother Rob The Barry family at Disney World: brother Rob in the back, and from left, sisters Pattie, Kathie and Gerri, with parents Robert and Patricia. They didn’t bring the kids. Photo Credit: Handout

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When Gerri Daly of Northport took a trip to Disney World earlier this year, she didn't take her husband, Mike, and their three children. Instead, she went with her mother, father and three siblings, just as they did in 1972.

At the time, Gerri was 8 and living in Huntington with her parents, Robert and Patricia Barry; sisters Pattie, 11, and Kathie, 10, and her brother, Rob, who was 2.

Like many in the Northeast who visited the Sunshine State back then, "We drove to Florida," recalled Gerri, now 48. While there, her brother developed a high fever, and an emergency room doctor told the parents to get home. "My dad still boasts about the 'great time' he made on the drive."

Earlier this year, in celebration of a still-novel family tradition of "zero birthday" destinations, Gerri's older sister Kathie, who was turning 50, said she wanted to go to Disney World again to commemorate the 40th anniversary of that nuclear family trip.

"We all went in the '70s, and we were trying to relive that vacation," said Kathie Seery, who lives in Greenlawn. "My sisters and I always go away for a sisters' weekend each year, but between us there are 15 kids, so we decided let's do something fun and quick" to celebrate her birthday. Instead of traveling in a group of 25 with their families, Pattie, Kathie, Gerri and Rob left their spouses and 15 children at home and flew to Orlando with their parents.

Whether it's rekindling a family bond or recapturing a nostalgic moment from childhood, taking a vacation with adult brothers, sisters and parents isn't all that common, but it can be rewarding. "It's unusual but admirable — akin to building on a foundation worth preserving . . . experiencing the family bond coming full circle back to love," said Anthony DeCamello, a family therapist in Garden City. Family members, he said, "can regain a valuable resource of support by recultivating past nurturing relationships of the original nuclear family."

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For the adult children of Robert and Patricia Barry, the five-day getaway to Orlando was pure quality time and a chance to reconnect in a way that might not have been possible at a big family gathering.

"My brother, Rob, was 10 years old when I left for college and started my life in Connecticut," said oldest sibling Pattie Felner-Bragano, 51, of Trumbull, Conn. "He has always remained a little boy in my head, so it was truly a delight to be able to spend so much time with him and experience the wonderful person he has become."

Rob, who is now 42 and lives in Suffolk County, recalled the same trip. "Our last family vacation was when we dropped my sister off for college," he said. "And the last time we were all at Disney, it was all about the rides. This time it was a chance for all of us to get together and talk about old times."

With busy work schedules and leaving the spouse home with the kids, "planning is important, with plenty of advanced notice to give people a chance to warm up to the idea," advised DeCamello. "At the formative stages, try and get as many people involved in making suggestions, volunteering, organizing. Then someone must synthesize, take the lead, decide and finalize."

Gerri and Pattie took the initiative. They researched airfares and hotels online and made flight arrangements ($180 round-trip). Gerri booked the hotel for the family through an online travel website (rooms $239 per night), and the two sisters paid for the birthday girl. The parents treated their daughters and son to dinner one night and they all paid for their own park passes. Pattie estimates the trip cost her about $1,500, including her share of Kathie's expenses.

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This year's Disney vacation had a few kinks but nothing big enough to spoil the celebration, Kathie said. "It was so crowded, and so hot and such long lines, but we made the magic in the Magic Kingdom!"

Their father, Robert Barry, 80, of Southold, also noticed the difference in the trip they took 40 years ago. "The '70s was busy, but this year it was just jammed with people."

They found, however, that the biggest change between the 1972 trip and this year's was in the family dynamics. "The kids were raring to go," laughed matriarch Pat Barry, who is 73, "but Bob and I weren't."

Decades ago, the Barry parents ran the show, telling the kids what to do. This year, it was different. "We had to get up when they told us!" Bob laughed. And Pat noted, "After we went to bed they went to a bar, we missed the best part!"

It was a classic case of role reversal. "When we were kids we had to go to bed at 8 o'clock," Kathie said. "This time, my parents were the ones in bed at 8 and my siblings and I closed the bar!"

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With many boomers yearning for nostalgia, taking a vacation with adult siblings is an uncomplicated way to step back into yesteryear. Some, like Barry Fisch, 57, of Hicksville, are inspired by old family photos. As a kid growing up in Bethpage during the '60s, he and his family often vacationed at Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, Pa. Last year, Fisch returned with his sister, Leslie Long, 55, of upstate Delmar, and her son, Jesse.

"Everything got a lot smaller, but we had such great times there as children, the urge to go back was very strong," said Fisch. "The park was basically still the same size, but crowded with lots more buildings and attractions some four decades later. Though it is an amusement park geared more toward children, as older adults we still got a kick out of it, as did my teenage nephew. It was just a great day!"

Fisch commemorated their trips from decades past by taking similarly posed pictures. "I came up with idea of recreating some of the old photos we had, and from memory, we repositioned ourselves at what we remembered of the sights in the park where we took the original photos." So, there they are, posing with a painted cow and sitting on the laps of life-size people sculptures.

For some families, traveling together is more about making new memories and discovering new places. In 2010, Pat and Rich Morgan of Commack decided to celebrate their 50th anniversary by taking the entire family of 14 — including spouses and six grandchildren — to the Turks and Caicos Islands during Thanksgiving week. "We thought it an excellent time to make it a reality," said Pat Morgan, 73. Her husband, who is 74, made all the arrangements and the couple picked up the tab. "It was our gift to us," explained Pat, whose actual 50th anniversary was in July 2011. "The moment we arrived, the magic began."

Perhaps it was the lush tropical setting, the teal blue Caribbean, the multiple pools designed with waterfalls, lazy rivers and swim-up bars. Or maybe it was simply being together. They've had other special family vacations: Hawaii in 2004, Disney World in 2006, Brazil in 2008. Annually, they hit the Jersey Shore. "Each summer for the past 15 years we have rented a house in Avalon," Pat said. "All 14 share the house — it's what memories are made of."

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As for the Barry family, future vacations will probably revert to larger groups, with Gerri deciding the next destination for her 50th. "I'm thinking of a trip to Ireland," she said, "with all spouses and nieces and nephews who want to go."

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