Sisters celebrate a reunion

Surprise: Almost three months of undercover phone calls and secret e-mails by family members precede a party in which siblings meet for the first time in nearly 20 years.

April 27, 2003|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Monika Sherman was looking forward to a quiet celebration in Baldwin for her 60th birthday on April 15 -- just her husband, Anthony, and any of their four children and nine grandchildren who could join them.

Her son and her three daughters had other plans.

After nearly three months of undercover calls and espionage-style e-mails from one family member to another, they managed to pull off a surprise just a few days earlier that included a reunion with Sherman's only sister, Gisela Chavanne, who lives in Oregon and whom she hadn't seen in nearly 20 years.

"You usually pick up on something [when a surprise is being planned]," said Sherman, "but I didn't have a clue."

Growing up in Bremen, Germany, a coastal town on the North Sea, the sisters endured the poverty and despair of World War II. When Chavanne was a young woman, she moved to the United States to learn English and become an interpreter, and she invited her teen-age sister to come and live with her.

"After living here for only a short time," said Chavanne, "I knew I would not go back to Germany. I love this country and made it my home. I became a citizen as soon as they would let me."

Over the years, because limited finances prohibited cross-country travel and family obligations kept them at home raising children, the sisters have only gotten together three or four times. They've kept in touch, though, first with letters and phone calls, and now with e-mail.

"My sister has been like a mother all my life," said Sherman. Her sister, who is eight years her senior, has always looked out for her, she said.

The family tried to persuade Chavanne to move to Maryland when her husband died, but she loves Oregon, said Sherman.

The recent reunion was the centerpiece of a celebration arranged by Sherman's children, Danielle McKay of Pasadena, Marnie Marrone of South Plainfield, N.J., Nicole Scarborough of Doylestown, Pa., and Eric Sherman, who lives on the Eastern Shore.

The subterfuge included inviting Monika and Anthony Sherman to Doylestown where a grandson was supposedly participating in a school play.

The family members already were gathered on the appointed day, April 12, when one of Monika Sherman's daughters escorted her in -- and the two sisters were reunited.

"It was overwhelming and wonderful at the same time," said Chavanne. "She is and always will be my baby sister, and we are good friends. We missed each other very much; words are not adequate to describe how I felt. It was wonderful."

Monika Sherman is equally devoted to her children, who have moved away, but not too far, and are scattered around the Mid-Atlantic region. "We've left a child in every state we've lived in," she said.

But everyone was together for a big birthday dinner -- the sisters' birthdays are two days apart -- at Mo's seafood restaurant in Glen Burnie.

"I think they're very special," Sherman said of her children. "They really turned out well."

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