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IMG_7076Last weekend I enjoyed a few days on Florida’s gulf coast. This was a special occasion, celebrating with my next younger sister her 50th birthday.

This trip has been in the works for months. I booked a villa at the South Seas Island Resort in February and coordinated flights through award miles. My cousin came on board, generously offering to provide custom taxi service after securing time off to join the party. Then we looped my mom and aunt into our plans. These ladies both celebrated big birthdays this year as well, turning our event into a dual-location and multigenerational celebration.

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The resort was lovely. Lot of seashore, silky sand, and sunshine. Our South Village villa provided expansive coastal views and direct access to miles of shell-strewn soft grey sand. We were situated between two pools and not far from resort shops — plus a pond inhabited by a small alligator, just to keep it real. A resort trolley made for convenient access to the other end of the property, North Pointe, with its outdoor pool complex, tiki bar, marina, restaurant, spa, fitness center and more shops. We all had good intentions for that fitness center!

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IMG_7223.JPG-1Despite all of the planning, I had few expectations for this get-away. A vacation is usually better that way: surprise me! The villa was perfect, with three bedrooms and four beds. The resort staff were so pleasant, launching our celebration with bottles of wine and other freebies in honor of the birthday girl.

My cousin brought along a huge cooler of food and birthday cake. We enjoyed a couple of dinners out and an excursion to Ding Darling preserve on Sanibel Island, searching for ‘gators. We found one big one — at a safe distance. Otherwise, only a few odd birds and horseshoe crab happy hour. :=) Mostly we hung out and did nothing much of anything, low-key and Captiva-easy.

IMG_7783My sisters and I are different from each other in many ways, and from my cousin in still other ways. But at the end of the day, we are much more alike than we are different. We share common traits, like generosity and compassion. We share appreciation for simple things, like a good cup of coffee with the sunrise or a glass of wine at sunset. We enjoy travel adventures, near and far. We share fond memories of early childhood summers on Grampy’s farm with our mothers. I hear myself in my cousin’s laugh and see myself in the shape of my sister’s feet or the arch of her brows.

Even so, our differences are real. Sometimes they create tension, especially when I am overtired and irritable and not prone to listen to anyone’s advice. Or when I allow self-doubt or insecurities to creep in and cloud my better judgement. I should know by now she’s in my corner; if I can’t trust her, who can I trust? Seriously.

More often than not, however, our differences are a gift. I’ve learned to listen closely to the small silences, to examine the gaps between me and she. I usually find something in that space that I need. I’ll take a tip from my Aunt Bea and hope that at eighty I’m still up for challenge of becoming my best me.

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On Monday night we drove back to Fort Meyers to rendezvous with my mom and aunt. We enjoyed a nice Italian dinner and another round of Happy Birthday to You! Have you ever seen 50, 75, or 80 look so good? Me, neither.

~ René Morley