Determination pays off for woman long separated from mother, siblings

May 10, 2014

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Sherry Neal’s life could rival the plot of any soap opera.

The end of the story is that, in her 50s, she finally met her half-siblings and reconnected with the mother she hadn’t seen since she was 18 months old.

The beginning and middle of the story is … well, a complicated mess.

the young and the restless

Sherry was born in Odessa to teenage parents. Her mother was just 16 – and Sherry was her second child.

Sherry was born with multiple health problems. Her parents – perhaps not surprisingly since they were so young – were having issues with their marriage. They wanted to move to California where they hoped to start a new life and save their relationship.

Sherry’s paternal grandparents lived in Granbury. They agreed to take in their 18-month-old granddaughter and give her the medical help she needed.

According to Sherry, the arrangement carried the stipulation that she would eventually be reunited with her parents.

But, in typical soap opera style, there was a plot twist.

the edge of night

For reasons unclear to Sherry, her grandparents led her to believe that they were not her grandparents, but rather her parents.

Her biological parents were unable to make their marriage work, and they divorced.

What happened after that is what Sherry suspects was an effort to get back at her mother.

Somehow – without her mother’s signature on any documents relinquishing custody – Sherry’s grandparents legally adopted her with the permission of her father. They changed her name.

The man who would come to visit now and then was her biological father, but Sherry didn’t know that. She was told he was her brother.

“Back in them days, in the ’60s, the men controlled everything. The woman didn’t have a say in anything,” said Sherry, who is now 55 and lives in Granbury with her husband.

“The year I started school, (my father) had to come in and sign the papers for them to put me in school. Now, why, I don’t know. But I can remember it to this day, because he had to go to the school with them to sign the papers to put me in school.”

One night, when Sherry was 12, she overheard her grandparents whispering in the kitchen. They were saying she was getting to the age where they were going to have to tell her the truth.

She walked into the room and confronted them.

“Okay, what is it you’re not telling me?” she demanded to know.

That was the night Sherry found out that her “brother” was actually her father and her mother was somewhere out there in a world outside Granbury that suddenly seemed very, very vast.

as the world turns

There were some things Sherry’s grandparents were willing to share, and some things they weren’t.

“All they would tell me about my mother was that her name was Peggy and that if I ever saw her, I would know her because I look just like her,” Sherry said.

Sherry’s father told her that her mother had died when Sherry was 4.

Sherry’s father remarried and had two more children, a boy and girl.

Sherry married at 15 and later divorced. She has three children.

She was 21 when her grandmother died. Before her death, Sherry’s grandmother told her that her adoption papers were inside a lock box in her (the grandmother’s) closet.

After her grandmother’s passing, Sherry told her grandfather she wanted the lock box. They went to the closet together to retrieve it, but it was gone.

“I hit another road block,” she said.

Six years later, Sherry’s grandfather died, still not having shared her mother’s identity.

For years, Sherry searched for her mother. Then one day, her half sister, Delana, dropped a bomb.

“Well, you know your mother’s alive,” she told Sherry. “She’s around the Big Spring/Odessa area.”

Sherry hadn’t known that at all. She hadn’t known anything.

search for tomorrow

The story becomes even more jumbled after that.

Put simply, Delana’s revelation resulted in Sherry not only meeting the five half-siblings she never knew she had, but reconnecting with the mother who had never stopped grieving her loss.

Three years ago, on Jan. 29, Sherry walked into her mother’s nursing home to reunite with her after a half century apart.

Apparently, Sherry’s grandparents weren’t the only ones who thought that mother and daughter looked a lot alike.

“The lady at the nurse’s station looks at me and says, ‘You’re the long lost daughter,’” said Sherry.

Her mother kept saying, “I finally got my baby back.”

She got her back just in time to say goodbye. She died just weeks later.

In a strange twist, Sherry and her husband once lived in Fort Worth – and so did Sherry’s mother, during the same time frame. They lived two blocks apart from each other and didn’t know it.

“It’s been a long, bizarre trip,” Sherry said.

Though Sherry’s mother is now gone, Sherry nevertheless now has a much larger family.

She has found that she and her half-siblings share a lot of similarities.

She and a brother both collect photos and figurines of wolves, and their favorite candy bar is Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds.

There was one sister, though, that Sherry had not been able to meet. The sister lives in Georgia, and had not been able to afford the trip to Texas for her mother’s funeral. Her husband is unemployed, and she works at a sandwich shop making minimum wage.

Sherry wanted to make a trip to Georgia to meet her, but was faced with the same financial challenges.

But in another plot twist, a car accident that almost took her life made her life richer instead.

days of our lives

The accident occurred on Fall Creek Highway. Sherry’s 1986 Ford Capri was struck by a 2013 Kia driven by an elderly woman.

Sherry heard her neck snap. She knew not to move, which she believes likely saved her life or prevented her from being paralyzed.

A settlement was paid by the other woman’s insurance company. The money funded Sherry’s trip last month to Georgia, where she finally met her half-sister, Renee Strickland.

Sherry made the trip on her honeymoon. She and her husband of 30 years had divorced six years earlier, but then decided to get remarried.

Renee finally met her long lost sister 11 days before her own 53rd birthday.

“I do not remember a day in my life not knowing about her,” said the Blackshear resident.

“Our mother, from the time I can remember, always told me I had a sister – and we searched. Finding her was a lifelong dream.

“Until my mother’s dying day, she swore to me that she never signed adoption papers. Somehow, (the paternal grandparents) legally adopted her.”

Sherry arrived in Blackshear on a Friday and left the following Tuesday.

Renee lives near a river, and the two rode a four-wheeler together, laughing like children as the mud flew.

But some things are easy to wash clean.

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