Talking to a woman in a bingo chatroom, Amanda Paterson had a hunch they knew each other from somewhere.
After finding out a little about her, she typed ‘Hi sis’, hoping it was her sister Melissa who she hadn’t seen since they were teenagers.
Amazingly, the pair had found each other 15 years since losing contact. Their usernames didn’t give away their names or details so it was completely by chance that they got talking.
The pandemic put their plans to meet in person on hold but they’ve since spent a weekend together and are now making up for the lost time.
Carer Amanda, 44, a mum-of-four, who is single and lives in Ipswich, Suffolk, said: ‘Melissa and I were very close growing up, we were inseparable.
‘Our mum loved bingo and used to take us with her. I’ve always had fond memories of us playing bingo together.
‘But our parents got divorced and I think we both took it pretty hard. I left home quite early on and I just took my own path. Melissa took her own path too.’
While Melissa, 43, who is currently not working because of the pandemic, stayed in their hometown of Colchester, Essex, with her partner Carl, 48, a painter and decorator, and their two children, Amanda moved away.
For the 15 years after that, they didn’t speak at all.
‘I would think about Melissa all the time,’ said Amanda. ‘But the more time that went by, the less I felt like I could reach out to her.
‘She had her own life, I had kids and I had heard through the family grapevine that I knew she’d had children.
‘I didn’t want to interrupt her life and I was also scared of the possibility of rejection. We’re both quite stubborn, so we both just kind of dug our heels in.
‘It became longer and longer since we’d spoken and reached a point where I wasn’t sure if she would even want me in her life.’
Amanda thought she would never see her sister again, but then in February 2020 the pair got chatting in a bingo chatroom, with no idea of their true identities.
Amanda said: ‘We both happened to be in a Mecca Bingo chatroom.
‘There’s quite a nice community and I like chatting to other people I’m playing with online.
‘I was quite isolated just before lockdown, because my daughter had chickenpox, so I was just reaching out for a bit of adult conversation.
‘I noticed someone in the chatroom say they were from Colchester, my hometown, so I struck up a conversation with her.
‘We were chatting about the area and whether we knew any of the same people. When she mentioned the school she went to, I was stunned, as it was my old school.
‘I started to get a hunch, I can’t explain it, it was just a feeling. I asked what her age was and realised she was the same age as Melissa.’
When the person told she was talking to told her she was born in the same year as Melissa, it reinforced the idea this was her sister.
‘I just knew it was her,’ she said. ‘She was telling me that she had children and they were all the same age that I knew Melissa’s children would be. There were too many coincidences.’
Convinced she was right, Amanda typed out, ‘Hi sis’.
She said: ‘Melissa typed back, “Amanda?” and I burst into tears.
‘Neither of us had social media, so the site manager arranged for us to swap numbers – something we couldn’t do in the chatroom due to their rules – and we rang each other immediately.
‘That first phone call lasted hours and we haven’t stopped talking since.’
Keen to meet up, they planned a reunion for a few weeks later in March 2020, but sadly had to postpone because of the pandemic.
Finally, over the May Bank Holiday weekend this year, the long-lost sisters joined each other with their children on holiday in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
Amanda said: ‘Seeing each other in the flesh for the first time in so long was surreal, but now it’s as if no time has passed at all.
‘It was really special that we had a holiday together and got to know each other’s families. Our extended family has grown so much for the kids now that we’re back in touch.
‘We made an agreement when we first started talking that we would just let go of the past, not dwell on any hurt feelings, because it’s time to look to the future now.’
They’re now very close and plan to spend Christmas together this year.
Amanda said: ‘We plan to spend all of the big holidays and birthdays throughout the year together.
‘We’ve wasted so much time already, we don’t want to miss any opportunities.
‘We’re best friends again.’
Coming together again has also brought back lots of happy childhood memories for the pair.
She said: ‘We talk a lot about the fond memories we have from our childhood, all of the silly things we used to say and do.
‘We used to make up little songs and sing them to each other.
‘We’d play together in our grandparents’ garden and we have fond memories of going to the seaside and enjoying the fairground rides.
‘Now we take our kids to the amusement arcades together and have a go on the penny slots, just like we used to when we were children.
‘It’s nice to be able to bring a part of our childhood to our children’s lives, too, and to show them what we experienced.’
And with Covid rules easing, the pair are enjoying being able to indulge their love of bingo in person once again.
Melissa said: ‘As restrictions are easing, we were able to go to bingo in person together, which just brings everything full circle for us.
‘We both remember going when we were younger and it’s what brought us back together again now.
‘We’re so grateful to the Mecca Bingo manager who helped us to swap numbers.
‘Just like when we were kids, we’re inseparable again now, and we’re making up for all the lost time.’
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