Sisters still have strong bond
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
They both entered the restaurant with bags packed with photographs and other memorabilia -- and big smiles on their faces.
"And I brought a box of Kleenex," Phyllis Long from Goodland said after she and her sister took a seat in the banquet room of Golden Corral on Monday in Hays.
Kathy Brooks, who lives in Hutchinson, nodded her head. She knew there probably would be some tears, making some tissues a necessity.
But for most of the five hours the sisters spent together on this day, it was a twinkle, rather than tears, that filled Brooks' eyes.
"It's hard to believe," the 66-year-old Brooks said of the reunion with her sister.
"Yes, 58 years is a long time," added Long, 64.
It was about the same time of year in 1956 when the two sisters last saw each other.
"It was two days before my (sixth) birthday," said Brooks, whose birthday was Jan. 18. This time, she did get a little choked up.
The sisters related how, while living in Wichita in the 1950s, the three youngest of six siblings were removed from their family home by then-Social and Rehabilitation Services because their parents were alcoholics.
Brooks and Long, along with their youngest sister, Judy Taylor, were placed in an orphanage. Approximately a year later, Long, then nearly 7, and Taylor, two-and-a-half years younger, were adopted by a couple from Colorado.
Brooks, meanwhile, lived in several foster homes before being adopted. She eventually got in contact with the rest of her biological family, but she had no idea where her two younger sisters ended up.
"My case worker always told me that they were adopted and in a good family, and I shouldn't upset a happy family," Brooks said.
Long actually did try to find her older sister but would get discouraged when she ran into roadblocks.
Long suffered a stroke several years ago and while recuperating began a more aggressive search for her sister.
Last fall, Long's neighbor, Carol Baum, who Long said "is really into genealogy," located a Kathy Brooks in Hutchinson.
Long wrote Brooks a letter, mentioning dates and names only the two of them would know.
When Brooks received the letter in the mail in early November, she became so emotional she had her husband, Larry, make a phone call to Goodland.
"I called Phyllis and started asking roundabout questions, and she started answering them correctly," Larry Brooks said. "It sounded like it really was true, so I gave the phone (to his wife), and they've been talking ever since."
The sisters indeed have talked on the phone or texted every day since Nov. 8, the day Brooks received the letter from Long. Both deal with medical issues -- Brooks also has suffered a stroke -- making travel difficult. But they said that hasn't kept them from communicating.
After all, they have a lot of catching up to do, so they decided to meet in Hays "because it was about halfway for both of us," Long said.
On Monday, Brooks told how she "colored" Long's hair when they were young by placing melted Crayons in her sister's hair.
"I thought it looked really pretty," Brooks said.
"My hair has never been the same since," Long said with a laugh.
They traded stories about their own families, swapped old photos and snapped plenty of new ones together.
Brooks gave Long two of their mother's rings she had at her home.
One thing the sisters were emphatic about while talking were excerpts of their early years before being separated.
"I was always told our parents were mean to us," Long said. "But I don't remember that ever being the case."
"That's because they weren't," said Brooks, about a year and half older than Long.
They chose not to dwell so much on the time they were separated but rather to concentrate on ways to continue communicating now that they found each other.
"She needs to get unlimited (minutes on her cellphone)," Long said of her older sister.
"That's in the works," Larry Brooks said.
And they eagerly began making plans for their next get-together.
"Judy is in ill health, so she couldn't come today," Long said of her younger sister in Colorado. Brooks, Long and Taylor are the only remaining living members of their immediate family.
"But hopefully," Long said, "when the weather gets better, we can all get together then."