Beverly Collomp, better known as “Cookie” to her friends, will celebrate her 81st birthday on Christmas Eve.
And this past year is among the most memorable of her entire life as it’s when she met her biological sister for the first time.
Cookie was born in Little Rock, Ark., in 1941 to Joseph and Johnnie Schooler, but they chose to give her up for adoption.
At 6 months old, Philmore and Mary Louise Brist adopted her and another baby that was three days old and raised them as their own. They didn’t hide the adoption from their children, but Cookie never knew who her biological parents were until she and a friend did a search for her biological family history in recent years.
Finding her birth parents
“She was born in Arkansas, and Arkansas never released birth records for adopted children until 2018,” said Cookie’s son, Donald, explaining why his mother never did much of a search into her past until the last four years.
“I wondered about who my birth family might be, but because the state wouldn’t let anyone see those records, I didn’t think too much about it,” said Cookie, who spent much of her career as a housekeeper before being recruited to help keep facilities at Union University and eventually Englewood Baptist Church clean until she retired a few years ago.
That changed in 2018 when Arkansas made those records public. And while Cookie was glad to begin that search to see if she could find out who her parents were and possibly any other information about her birth family, she fortunately had some help.
Her friend, Barbara Warren, had done her own research into her own genealogy, so she knew good places to go and look for possible records and names.
“We knew when and where she was born, so we went looking through old newspaper archives there because newspapers back then would announce births, and there was one girl listed for that week in 1941,” Warren said. “And it was a Schooler.”
That tidbit of information alone answered a basic but crucial question in the search as there was some conflicting information of the exact spelling of the last name.
“My parents told me they were told ‘Schooler’ but we saw some things that looked like it was spelled with a ‘u,’” Cookie said.
Once they got the parents’ names, they began searching for any information on the Schoolers and found out Joseph Schooler had passed away in Wanatchee, Wash., in the eastern part of the state where there are a lot of apple orchards and farms. But finding information on Johnnie was more difficult.
“We knew she was alive longer because she was listed as a survivor in his obituary, but the only other thing we found on her was she’d sold their house,” Warren said. “There was nothing that told us where she moved to after she sold her home after Joseph passed.”
They eventually did find Johnnie, but it was after she too had passed in October of 2018.
When Cookie found out her birth mother had passed away, she faced the decision of whether or not to reach out to her biological siblings.
“I said from the beginning that if we did find anything, I didn’t want to embarrass anybody,” Cookie said. “I didn’t know any of this family, and my adoptive parents who raised me didn’t know why I was given up for adoption.”
Contacting the family
Cookie and Barbara had the names of her birth siblings available from the obituaries, and research helped them find out where those siblings were located and how to contact them.
“Cookie decided to mail them a letter because that seemed like the best way to go about it,” Warren said. “That way if anyone reacted negatively to it, then they could choose to not respond in any way.”
Carolyne Maydole was one of two sisters along with Patricia Bryant and brother Joe Schooler. Everyone lived in Washington, and all three siblings are still alive.
Cookie’s letter included a copy of her birth certificate and her phone number. Her phone eventually rang with a Washington number showing up on her caller ID.
“It was Carolyne, and she’d called me as soon as she read the letter,” Cookie said.
Cookie meets her sister
The two set up a time to meet in person. Because Cookie isn’t able to travel, Carolyne volunteered to fly to Nashville and come to Jackson, and that happened on Oct. 24 of this year.
Cookie sat in her wheelchair near the base of an escalator once they saw that Carolyne’s plane had landed at the airport in Nashville.
They’d sent each other pictures, so Cookie recognized her sister when she was coming down the escalator.
“I knew when it was her, and she recognized me,” Cookie said. “She told me that if we hadn’t sent pictures to each other that she would’ve still known me because I look just like my mother.”
Both sisters were emotional in the meeting, and Carolyne and her husband came to Jackson and spent a week to get to know her new-found family and meet some of Cookie’s friends.
Knowing about their sister
According to Cookie, Carolyne said she was told as a child about Cookie.
“She said one day when she was 8 years old that her daddy told her she had an older sister, but no one ever mentioned anything more about it,” Cookie said.
Then after Cookie mailed the letters to her siblings, Joe mentioned that their father, Joseph, mentioned less than two weeks before he passed away that there was an older sister they’d put up for adoption.
“Neither of them have an idea of why they put me up for adoption, and I’m OK with that,” Cookie said. “I’ve had a good life with my parents who raised me.”
Cookie’s life in a nutshell was she grew up in Arkansas just across the Mississippi River in Memphis and went to school at Hutchinson Academy and Lausanne Academy before getting married and moving to Daytona Beach, Fla., for a few years.
She moved back to Memphis after her husband’s death and worked at a florist for a childhood friend and ended up marrying her brother, Larry. They had a son, Donald, and the family moved to Jackson in 1973 when Larry bought a business and operated Larry’s Plywood Paneling until he retired.
They lived in north Jackson before moving to the western part of the county about a decade ago.
Cookie said while there are so many questions she doesn’t have answers to and never will, she’s appreciative of the experience of finding her family.
“It looks like my birth parents did well and had a good life, and my siblings are doing well too,” said Cookie, who expects to meet her brother in person after the holidays. “But I’m glad to finally meet my brother and sister.”
Brandon Shields, email@example.com