Georgetown’s Wanda Coleman, center, shares a laugh with her recently found sister, Jeanette Peritt, right, and Peritt’s daughter Janet Benton.
Wanda Coleman, a 56-year-old Georgetown resident, has known since age 10 she was adopted.
She knew she was born in Conway.
But, it is what she found out last year — at the age of 55 — that has changed her life in a way she never expected.
That is when she discovered she has a sister who has been living within a short driving distance for all those years.
Coleman’s life story began in a sad manner but her perseverance has helped her turn the circumstances into something joyful.
“I was left at the Conway Hospital when I was born,” Coleman said during a recent interview with the Georgetown Times.
Even though her birth mother abandoned her, Coleman was fortunate because a loving Georgetown couple — Loring “DK” Reeves and his wife, Agnes — took her home from the hospital when she was three days old.
They legally adopted her six months later.
Coleman had no idea the Reeves were not her birth parents. That is, until she was 10 years old.
But even when she found out, Coleman continued her life as normal.
“It did not bother me,” she said, adding she — at that time — had no desire to try to find her birth mother.
Her life progressed in a normal manner. She grew up and got married. But then, at age 30, things began to change.
“My husband left me and that made me wonder if something was wrong with me. I mean, my mother left me. My husband left me,” she said.
After attending some counseling sessions, Coleman began asking her family if they knew anything about her birth mother.
She was told no one was allowed to reveal any information about her birth mother as long as Mrs. Reeves was alive.
So, Coleman confronted Mrs. Reeves with her questions about her birth mother.
“I was told her name,” Coleman recalled.
She began to ask her friends and relatives about the name she was given. As a strange coincidence, she found out one of her friends is a relative of her birth mother.
And that is also the time Coleman heard the name Jeanette Peritt. That is the sister she had no idea existed.
Before she tried to find her sister, Coleman attempted to make contact with her birth mother who — as she discovered through Google searches — was living in Charleston.
Coleman drove to Charleston and to her birth mother’s front yard but decided to leave without going to the door.
She later returned. This time she had the courage to walk to the door but no one answered when she knocked.
“It didn’t disappoint me,” Coleman said.
Coleman eventually made contact with her birth mother who denied Coleman had a sister.
Coleman did not believe what she had been told by her birth mother and set her sights on finding the sister she was told she had.
She knew Peritt lived in Conway. She was able to find a phone number and ended up speaking with Peritt’s daughter — Janet Benton — the niece Coleman did not know she had.
Benton spoke with Coleman and told her the same woman who had abandoned her at the hospital had abandoned Peritt. Peritt says she was six months old, living in Conway with both of her parents, when her mother one day said she was going to the store for milk. She never returned.
Because her father was unable to take care of her, Peritt was placed in the care of her grandparents, Isaac and Maggie Galloway, who later adopted her.
“Momma was scared at first and did not want to talk,” Benton said.
But eventually convinced her mother she needed to speak with Coleman.
The lost siblings spoke on the phone at first then set a date to meet.
That long-anticipated meeting took place in the parking lot of the Conway WalMart in May of last year.
“The second I saw her I knew she was my sister because we look alike,” Coleman said. “It was exciting. We just hugged each other. We did not want to leave each other.”
That initial face-to-face meeting lasted more than two hours.
“There was an empty spot in my life that was immediately filled,” Coleman said.
Peritt said finding her sister also made her life complete.
“I always wanted a sister, so this was a dream come true,” Peritt said.
Although the two sisters regret the decades they have missed together, they say finding out about each other during this time in their lives is wonderful.
“I thank God for putting us together when he did,” Coleman said. “My mom has always been my best friend and she has Alzheimer’s, so I have someone to talk to and laugh with again.”
Peritt said it has also “filled a spot that was empty” in her life.
Her husband of 22 years died in 2009 and she said the past three years have been rather lonely.
“I really needed someone to talk to,” she said.
By Scott Harper
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