“Sisters” by Adra Fisher. Watercolor & pen.
“Sisters” by Adra Fisher. Watercolor & pen. (Click to enlarge) 

Growing up here in Winchester, I couldn’t wait to get away — from my par­ents, my sis­ter, my small-town exis­tence. I loved my fam­i­ly and had a won­der­ful child­hood. But my “real” life was else­where, and I was deter­mined to find it.

GPS didn’t exist then, and roadmaps were no help. So I wan­dered around and explored. There were lots of dark high­ways and switch­backs along the way, but also serene moun­tain­tops and val­leys. A fun­ny thing kept occur­ring, though, on my youth­ful search for self: no mat­ter where I ven­tured, how I dressed or changed my hair, I was always Leslie’s lit­tle sis­ter and the Fishers’ youngest daughter.

The old­er I get, the more fam­i­ly ties seem to mat­ter. An impor­tant part of grow­ing up is mov­ing beyond our fam­i­lies of ori­gin into our own sep­a­rate lives. Yet I won­der, do we ever real­ly sep­a­rate — or do we just think we do?

After high school I moved to Lexington and, much lat­er, to Fleming County. In the ‘80s, there were oppor­tu­ni­ties to relo­cate out of state. But I changed my mind in one instance, didn’t get the job in anoth­er. For some­one so hell­bent on get­ting away, I nev­er real­ly did — geo­graph­i­cal­ly or psychically.

And here’s the kick­er: In 2006 I moved back to Winchester, about as close to my fam­i­ly as is human­ly pos­si­ble. From my kitchen win­dow, I could see my par­ents’ tele­vi­sion screen across the street, and my sis­ter lived five min­utes away.

Clearly, the geo­graph­ic cure is about as effec­tive for fam­i­ly as it is for addiction.

My par­ents are gone now, but my sis­ter is very much alive. She turns 66 this month and won’t mind me telling because van­i­ty is not in her make­up. Two years my senior, she is still youth­ful and beau­ti­ful. It must be nice.

Even though she lives near­by, Leslie and I inhab­it very dif­fer­ent worlds. People who know us some­times com­ment on this, won­der­ing aloud how we could be relat­ed. This phe­nom­e­non is not par­tic­u­lar­ly uncom­mon, but it is always intriguing.

If Leslie and I weren’t sis­ters, we might not even know each anoth­er. We move in dif­fer­ent cir­cles, hers much larg­er and more vis­i­ble than mine. She has tons of friends — in real life and on Facebook. She is supreme­ly con­nect­ed: if you have a prob­lem or need some­thing done, she knows a guy (or gal) who can help you out.

You prob­a­bly know my sis­ter or have seen her around. She’s active and social in the com­mu­ni­ty. She may even clean your teeth — she’s been a local den­tal hygien­ist for 40 years and counting.

Leslie loves Winchester. It has nev­er occurred to her to live any­where else. And except for a col­lege dorm in the ’70s, she hasn’t. Even then, she came home every week­end because Winchester is where her heart is.

In the lot­tery that is fam­i­ly, I def­i­nite­ly hit the jack­pot. With each pass­ing year, this becomes increas­ing­ly apparent.

The ties that bind us can fray over time. It takes effort and ener­gy to keep rela­tion­ships intact. Lucky for me, my sis­ter has nev­er shied away from hard work.

Like all fam­i­lies, we’ve had our share of tragedy. I’ve watched my sis­ter endure unspeak­able heartache with incred­i­ble faith and grace. Joyous births and wrench­ing deaths have shak­en our fam­i­ly tree, con­tort­ing it in ways that are both log­i­cal and inconceivable.

How is it pos­si­ble, for exam­ple, that my sis­ter and I are now the fam­i­ly elders?

Only yes­ter­day, it seems, Leslie was a teenage life­guard teach­ing swim lessons to kids who are now mid­dle-aged. Her flax­en hair, impos­si­bly flat stom­ach, and deep, dark sun­tan (we didn’t know any bet­ter in the ‘70s) were my ado­les­cent ideal.

As her ador­ing lit­tle sis­ter, I nat­u­ral­ly want­ed to be like her. But a moon can nev­er be the sun, and over time it became obvi­ous that all the lemon juice, sit-ups, and baby oil in the world couldn’t turn me into my bur­nished, buoy­ant sister.

You know how it is in fam­i­lies, espe­cial­ly fam­i­lies with girls. There’s the pret­ty one, the smart one, the wild one. We get labeled — by oth­ers and our­selves. We play our roles and stay in char­ac­ter, but the illu­sion is unsus­tain­able. Eventually, when we can no longer bite our tongues or hold in our stom­achs, we drop the pre­tense and become our true selves.

Opposites attract, they say, which may par­tial­ly explain why my sis­ter and I remain close. We make a good team when the sit­u­a­tion calls for one. Our vast dif­fer­ences are also our strengths.

Leslie is, and will always be, every­thing I am not. She’s extro­vert­ed, dis­ci­plined, unfail­ing­ly polite. She goes to Sunday school and votes con­ser­v­a­tive­ly. She dotes on her kids and grand­kids. She loves going to work, swims laps every day, and orders broc­coli in restau­rants because she likes it.

Why she tol­er­ates me — much less loves me — is tru­ly a won­der. I decline her invi­ta­tions to gar­den club. I sub­scribe to The New York Times and watch obscure doc­u­men­taries. I lec­ture her — on pol­i­tics, covid, and mat­ters that are frankly none of my busi­ness. I don’t answer my phone.

As far as sis­ters go, she def­i­nite­ly got the short end of the stick. I regret this. She deserves bet­ter. But Leslie would nev­er say that because she loves me too much and sees the good in everyone.

When Mom passed away, my sis­ter became the only per­son in the world who has known me my entire life. She nur­tured me through child­hood, watched me storm through ado­les­cence, and cringed as I embarked on a very “adven­tur­ous” young adulthood.

Throughout my most reck­less phase, she sought always to pro­tect me, vig­i­lant­ly scan­ning the hori­zon for real or per­ceived threats. More than once she pulled me aside, urg­ing me to steer clear of things she thought might hurt me: sloe-eyed bad boys, mid­day hap­py hours, weed-fueled mid­night ren­dezvous with Grippos and Ho Hos.

Did I heed her big-sis­ter­ly advice? Of course not. But her fierce loy­al­ty, love, and con­cern etched itself for­ev­er on my heart.

We’re senior cit­i­zens now, Leslie and I, grown-ass “Golden Girls” with­out a nat­ur­al blonde hair in our heads. When our birth­days roll around each sum­mer — hers in July, mine in August — we mar­vel at what we’ve been though, spec­u­late on what’s to come.

Irrevocably teth­ered and bound by blood, we know we share a pre­cious his­to­ry that is ours and ours alone.

So each year we cel­e­brate, with laugh­ter and “I love yous,” secure in the knowl­edge of the one true thing that real­ly mat­ters: I will always be younger.

Happy Birthday, sis. You’re the best.

If fam­i­ly ties mat­ter to you, check out this fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cle about how sib­lings impact our lives: https://www.fatherly.com/health/siblings-how-having-a-brother-sister-changes-kids

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    Adra Fisher grew up in Winchester, moved away in her ear­ly 20s and returned a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry lat­er. She enjoys all types of art and encour­ag­ing oth­ers to live creatively.