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