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Sisters find each other after 60-year separation
SISTERS3
Barri Lynn Reeves at age 3. - photo by Photos For The (Rock Hill) Herald

INDIAN LAND, S.C. — In the darkness of late-night Sept. 15, 1947, in little Gainesville, a midwife handed 13-year-old Barbara Reeves her baby sister.

"She was in a receiving blanket, and she was the prettiest little thing I ever saw," recalled Barbara. "I can see her right now."

Barbara and her older sister, Louise, named the girl that night as their alcoholic mother recovered from childbirth.

They called her Barri Lynn Reeves, from names they liked, and - except for a few fleeting glances over the next couple of years — they never saw her again.

"After she was born, we stayed with Dad, the baby went with Mom to Florida, where her family was from," said Barbara Reeves Carter, now 75. "Mother was unstable. That is just the way it was. She was an alcoholic.

"She came back to Gainesville, and we knew there was a couple there who babysat Lynn, took care of her, and grew to love Lynn. Although they never legally adopted her, Lynn became theirs."

The little girl's name was then, in 1950, legally changed to Barri Lynn Jackson, and the couple moved away to Florida.

"I never saw her again," Barbara said. "My sister, Louise, died years ago. But I never stopped looking."

She looked as she reached adulthood, and stopped in Clewiston, Fla., one time in her late teens, following a trail of trying to meet her sister. She asked at a shoe store. The search was fruitless, her welcome cool and evasive.

Barbara left to pursue the rest of her life.

But above the store, in a window, a little girl was looking down, wondering who that youngish lady was - walking away with a broken heart.

That little girl was Barri Lynn.

"I wasn't but 3 years old, maybe 4, but I can remember looking out that window like it was today," Lynn recalled. "My parents didn't tell me who it was walking away. My daddy told me to shush.

"I was just a little girl. We went on with life."

Neither knew they were within feet of each other that day 60 years ago.

Barbara Reeves married and started her own life. Even after she moved to Charlotte 50 years ago and began to raise her own family, she talked of her lost sister. In 1986, Barbara's mother died - but not before asking Barbara from her deathbed to find Barri Lynn.

"It was always there, part of the conversation, part of her life that was missing," said Barbara's daughter, Vicki Lynn Graham, now in her 50s with a middle name from the aunt she never met.

"She always wondered what happened to Lynn. If she was happy. If she had a decent life."

Barbara's second husband, Conrad Carter, said in the past 20-plus years they have been together, the yearning never stopped in his wife's heart.

"She was searching her faith for her sister," Conrad said. "She always believed."

Lynn misses something, too

In places from Florida to Aiken to California, in a Bank of America branch in Dawsonville, and a house in Blairsville, a girl named Barri Lynn Jackson - always called Lynn - grew into a woman.

She married twice and had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Lynn knew she was adopted, but didn't know her birth family other than a last name and a place.

"I even went to the courthouse in Gainesville and looked for records, but couldn't find this other family of mine, my birth family," Lynn said. "Lawyers wanted too much money to help. I always had this in the back of my mind that maybe my mother, my family, didn't want me.

"My parents, my adoptive parents, they loved me and were wonderful. They wanted a child, and I was it. But I wanted to know the rest of how I got there. A part of my life was, well, just missing."

Lynn's current husband, John Gonsalves, said his wife often spoke of finding her birth family.

"It was never far from her mind," John said, "always part of what she wanted to find in her life."

The miracle of the Internet

In June in Indian Land, where Barbara now lives at the Sun City Carolina Lakes retirement community, she and her daughter Vicki were eating lunch with Vicki's half-sister, Pam.

Lynn's name came up.

"It always came up, the name Lynn, her sister," Vicki said. "We have talked about this for about 50 years."

Pam decided to look online. Her Internet searches on Ancestry.com and more found a Lynn Gonsalves in an obituary from 2005, the surviving stepdaughter of a man whose wife was named Philly Holmes.

"Lynn's adoptive mother was named Philly," said Vicki.

Vicki gathered the information and looked up a Blairsville, phone number. She held her breath and began dialing.

"I didn't know, was worried, that maybe if this was Lynn, she didn't want to know her birth family and I would upset her life," Vicki said.

But she finished dialing. A woman picked up.

"This lady on the other end said she was looking for a family member," Lynn recalled, "but she was so nervous and gasping for breath. I finally blurted out, ‘What is it honey? Spit it out!' "

Vicki gathered her courage and asked: "Were you born Barri Lynn Reeves in Gainesville, Georgia, in 1947 on September the 15th?"

And there in Blairsville, Lynn Jackson Gonsalves, born Barri Lynn Reeves almost 63 years before, a great-grandmother, she did what Southern women do.

"I about fell out," said Lynn. "She said I had a sister who had been looking for me for 60 years and would I like to talk to her. It felt like I was hit with a lightning bolt of 2 million volts.

"I had always wanted to know — and here I had a sister. And she was looking for me just like I was looking."

Vicki and Lynn exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and Lynn promised to sit by the phone. Vicki rushed from her home in Kannapolis, N.C., northeast of Charlotte, to her mother's home in Indian Land.

She was so nervous she dropped her cell phone in a cup of coffee and ruined it. She told her flabbergasted mother what she had found, and gave her Lynn's phone number.

Barbara Reeves, 75 years old, waiting for this moment for more than 60 years, grabbed the phone like she was choking a mugger. She dialed and heard the word: ‘Hello?'

"Lynn, this is your sister Barbara, and I was the first person who ever held you, and I named you, and I love you," Barbara blurted into that phone a month ago.

And Lynn on the other end of the phone, her breath faint, her pulse weak, spat out: "I love you, too, Barbara, my sister."

The get-together

The sisters talked endlessly on the phone, through e-mail, Facebook on the Internet, all the stuff these spirited sisters - who are far younger at heart than their real ages - had ached to do for six decades.

"I just hope people know that if they have faith, if they believe in God, miracles do happen," Lynn said.

Barbara said there is no doubt that a lifetime of faith led her back to Lynn. She told her Sunday School class at Rock Hill's Westminster Presbyterian Church.

The place erupted in tears.

"I never stopped believing that God would get us together," Barbara said. "Our father, our mother, our sister, they all died before this could happen. But it happened."

Barbara had her mother's Bible with all three girls' names and birthdates written on the overleaf, and a few pictures of Lynn, but that was all she had of Lynn's early childhood. She e-mailed a picture of Lynn from age 3, the last time she saw her sister, wearing pajamas atop a tricycle.

"I knew then it was real, because I had the original of that picture, and I e-mailed it right back with the line that I had been looking at the picture for 60 years, too," said Lynn. "It was Christmas with my adopted parents. They gave my real mother a copy. I never knew that."

The families arranged a reunion in Indian Land, with about 30 relatives driving in to share the joy.

The sisters met on the lawn as Lynn and husband John drove up, in this community of retirees, and everybody with a heart bawled to beat the band.

Then they did what sisters do, but they hadn't done all those years ago.

They posed for pictures. They hugged and held hands and talked of grandchildren and children and loves lost and loves gained and hearts broken and put back together.

John Gonsalves looked at his wife Lynn and said: "Maybe we ought to move closer."

Everybody cried once more.

Before Lynn and John left for home on Tuesday, Lynn pulled out a bag full of badminton rackets and toys. And bubbles.

The sisters, 76 and 62, blew bubbles and hugged some more until they cried some more - and then the cries turned to giggles.

And then two sisters buried their faces in each others' shoulders, to share 60 years of lost joy that leaped from one body to the other - like 2 million volts of lightning.

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