The following article is reprinted from the Butte Montana Standard Newspaper of May 11, 2003:
A MOTHER'S DAY STORY: Roadmap to her roots
By Barbara LaBoe of The Montana Standard
At age 71, Marijane Morin finally met her mother.
It was only for an hour - and after eight years of searching and waiting - but Morin cherishes the time she spent with the 91-year-old woman.
"It was such a joyous experience," Morin said recently from Colours & Scents, the specialty cosmetics and perfume shop she runs in Butte. "And I was so pleased I had actually found her. I was
really happy with myself."
Morin's search for her birth mother started in 1992, when at the age of 63 she first learned she was adopted. But the story really starts April 10, 1929, in Miles City where Morin was born.
Her subsequent adoption wasn't necessarily a secret - people of a certain age in Miles City knew - but it definitely was kept under wraps. "Mother swore everyone to secrecy when we moved to Butte; they never mentioned it here," Morin said.
Morin was raised by Kathleen and Al Livingston, but always knew Livingston was her step-father. She believed her real father was Lester Jaynes, Kathleen's first husband who remained in Miles City after their divorce.
What she didn't know, though, was that neither Kathleen nor Lester were her real parents. And that the story of her birth and early life would end up sounding like a soap opera or a made-for-TV-movie, complete with chance meetings, falsified documents and dead ends.
"It's just so incredible," said Morin's daughter, Suzanne Peterson. "All the coincidences and things, like being in the right place at the right time."
"If any of those links was broken, or was missing or had passed away, we wouldn't have ever known," added daughter Sheri Broudy. "And within a few years, so many of the people who helped us had died."
"This is God's way of working," Morin said. "Something that probably wouldn't have ever happened, and then, out of a clear blue sky, it did."
Morin's journey began in September of 1992 when she was looking at family photographs with her stepfather's older daughter, Ann Swenson.
"All of a sudden I said `You know, I don't know how I can be Kathleen's biological daughter, because I don't look anything like her or the Grants (Kathleen's family),'" Morin said. "And then she said, `Well, since you ask, I've known you're adopted for years.'"
Swenson didn't know any other details about the adoption, though, and all three of Morin's parents, Al and Kathleen Livingston and Lester Jaynes, had taken their knowledge to the grave.
Morin didn't know what to do, so she called Broudy to tell her the news - but it wasn't news to Broudy. She had discovered the secret in February of 1992 while trying to find Morin's birth certificate for Social Security filings. The Custer County courthouse in Miles City had no listing of Morin's birth, but Broudy found her mentioned in Kathleen and Lester Jaynes' divorce records - as an adopted daughter.
"I was just thunderstruck when they read it to me over the telephone," Broudy said. "Grandma Kathleen wasn't Grandma anymore."
Broudy looked into the matter a bit herself, but kept quiet for the next few months, worried how Morin would take the news.
In one of the many strokes of luck in this quest - Morin calls it Divine Providence - Jim Lucas, a state legislator from Miles City, was a customer of Broudy's husband Joel at his Wein's Men's Shop. Lucas put the family in touch with Jaynes' widow, Clara Cox, who provided the road map and encouragement for much of the search.
"Oh, she was a delightful woman," Morin said.
Cox knew about the adoption and the birth father's identity: Al Pikkula.
Pikkula was well-known as a charmer and popular ladies-man, which made it all the harder to identify Morin's mother. Cox thought it might be Pikkula's wife, Helen, who was then in a nursing home in Broadus, but Morin wanted to be sure before approaching her.
So she had Butte lawyer R.D. Corette help open her sealed adoption records.
"All has changed and now I am very anxious to know my mother and family," Morin wrote in the Sept. 23, 1992, petition to unseal the records. "I am sure you realize how important your prompt attention to this matter is to a lot of anxious people."
Armed with the judge's order, Morin and her husband Bill headed to the courthouse in Miles City that October, planning to travel on to Broadus to meet Helen Pikkula after a nurse from the nursing home verified the records and approved the visit.
But the records didn't list Helen Pikkula as the mother at all, but rather Esther Viola Johnson. And no one knew where she was or if she was even still alive.
"Mom was sorely disappointed that time," Broudy said. "She really thought Helen was her mother."
"We just hit a dead end," Morin said.
SMALL TOWN SECRETS
Some women might have given up - the woman Morin thought she was looking for was a bust and the new name remained a mystery - but Morin's quite tenacious when she gets an idea in her head. None of her children doubted she'd find out all there was to be found, and they also figured it would end up being quite a tale.
"She's such an interesting lady anyway, it just seemed to make sense she'd that kind of connection," said Morin's daughter, Melissa Messmer.
Morin's cosmetics business is built on "finding things before anyone else," and she applied those same skills to finding yet another possible birth mother.
"I was just bound and determined I was going to find out," she said, smiling and shaking her head. "I'd come to a dead end and would just keep on going."
There was some doubt Johnson was the right woman from the start because Clara Cox insisted Johnson couldn't be the mother. Johnson was an old maid, Cox said, pounding her fist on the table for emphasis, the records had to be falsified.
So Morin decided she had to find out more about Miles City and adoptions in the 1920s.
That led her to Dr. Sadie Lindberg, a pioneering female doctor who ran a hospital for women, delivering babies but also performing abortions and arranging "very quietly and privately," for adoptions, according to Amorette Allison of the Historic Preservation Office in Miles City.
Sadie Lindberg used the X-ray machines in Lester Jaynes' chiropractic office - likely how he and Kathleen ended up with one of "Sadie's" babies - and also was the sister of C.A. Lindberg, the Custer County district court clerk who signed Morin's adoption records. That connection may have allowed the doctor easy access to adoption records and also provided the link to Johnson, who worked with C.A. Lindberg at the courthouse.
Morin's sleuthing found that Johnson, widely known as an old maid in town, was listed on several adoption records. She now believes it was an arrangement to allow the placement of children while shielding unwed mothers' reputations. Since adoption records were sealed, Johnson's reputation also remained unblemished.
Morin, now hoping to eliminate Johnson as a possibility, sought help from the Mormon Church's genealogy logs and Society Security records and learned Johnson was dead.
If Johnson was her mother, Morin had missed her chance to ask questions, but she said the news didn't deter her search.
"I'm just curious, I guess," she said. "I had to run her down."
She started calling nursing homes in Miles City and hit the jackpot, finding a nurse who remembered Johnson - and some helpful medical records.
"Mom is a very persuasive person," said Peterson. "I couldn't believe some of the things she did and found, getting medical records and everything."
The records state quite plainly that Johnson died a virgin and certainly never had a baby. The notation was unusual and the nurse had no explanation, but Morin later learned there had been allegations of sexual abuse at the nursing home. Since Johnson had severe dementia at that point, the exam was likely conducted to rule her out as a victim.
For Morin, though, it told her the search wasn't over.
After learning about Johnson, Morin was at another impasse and it took another chance meeting and the kindness of strangers to show her the way.
Her daughter Melissa Messmer mentioned the ever-intriguing search to a co-worker in late September or early October of 1992. That woman's parents were in their 80s and from Miles City, so she asked if they knew anything.
The couple, Jessie and Leslie Hayes, provided the next piece of the puzzle.
They knew all the players: Al Pikkula, Esther Johnson and her good friends Blanche and Iva Hoppers. And not only did Leslie Hayes confirm Morin looked just like his old friend "Pik," Jessie Hayes had high school yearbooks to show Morin.
And there, staring out at her from the faded yearbook pages, was Morin's mother. But it was Blanche Hoppers, not Esther Johnson, who looked exactly as Morin had in her own school days.
"I just looked at it and said `That looks just like me,'" Morin said. "And I knew."
Jessie Hayes and Blanche Hoppers were in the same class in school and started as country teachers the same year. Jessie Hayes knew Blanche Hoppers had boarded with the Pikkula family - a name now quite familiar to Morin - and that Blanche had married Al Pikkula.
The marriage certificate, found in the Custer County courthouse, dates the wedding Nov. 30, 1929 - just five months before Morin's birth. The marriage certificate, just like Morin's adoption records, was signed by court clerk C.A. Lindberg, so he, and his physician sister, could have known Blanche Hoppers was pregnant and looking for a solution.
Even more importantly, the Hayeses were still in contact with the Hoppers girls and knew Iva was still in Miles City.
Morin called Iva Hoppers the next day. They both had appointments and couldn't talk long, but she did confirm Esther Johnson never had a child. They spoke again the next day and Morin said she believed she was Blanche Hoppers' daughter.
"Iva nearly had a heart attack," Morin said. "And then she said, `Oh, my God, all the pieces fit together now!'"
Iva Hoppers remembered being pulled out of a movie theater one night to witness her sister's hasty marriage just after the rest of the family had moved to Deer Lodge.
That spring - Morin was born in April - Iva Hoppers said their mother returned to Miles City and found Blanche in Sadie Lindberg's hospital. The young woman said she'd miscarried, but her mother never believed her and asked Iva Hoppers to help find out what happened to the baby.
Morin, Iva Hoppers said, was obviously the answer to that long-ago question.
RELATIVES FOUND, LOST
With her Aunt Iva, Morin was now able to make all the family connections.
She learned Al and Blanche Pikkula had two more daughters - Joyce and Myrna - before they divorced; that Al Pikkula had two more children with his wife Helen; and that Blanche, a math teacher, had married twice more, keeping her second husband's name of Dreyer.
And she learned Blanche Dreyer lived with her daughter Joyce in Hayden Lake, Idaho.
Iva Hoppers offered to arrange a meeting, but Joyce and Myrna, Morin's biological sisters, blocked all attempts.
"I thought they'd be delighted to see me. Here's a long-lost sister and I have these great kids and family, but they didn't want to have anything to do with me," Morin said, shaking her head. Morin called Joyce herself, but nothing worked. "And then I just let it drop. I didn't want to try to force them, what's the point?"
On a happier note, when Morin called her half-brother Gale Pikkula in Helena on Christmas Eve 1992, a lasting friendship was born.
In yet another odd coincidence, Gale and Rita Pikkula told Morin they had eaten Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house with Joel and Sheri Broudy - his new niece - more than 16 years before Morin's Christmas Eve telephone call.
To Morin, it's just one more twist in what she calls her "screwy" life history, but it makes both families wonder about the number of other times they could have met. Gale Pikkula used to work in Butte not far from Morin's shop and his father used to visit him, so they literally could have bumped into each other several times.
They met on purpose a few days after Morin's call and once Gale and Rita Pikkula saw Morin any last doubts disappeared. She just looked and acted too much like Al Pikkula not to be his daughter. In addition, a family photograph shows a startling resemblance between Al Pikkula's mother, Rose, and Morin's daughter, Suzanne Peterson.
"It was kind of creepy, actually," Peterson said of the strong resemblance she shares with her "new" great-grandmother. "It's really bizarre to look just like someone you never knew existed."
Gale Pikkula tends to believe his father didn't know about the adoption, and perhaps was told the baby died. Morin isn't so sure, but focuses on their family connections, not differences, during the holiday and family gatherings the Pikkulas and Morins now share.
"I call her my Christmas sister," Gale Pikkula said recently, adding he was never close with his other half-sisters and doesn't understand their resistance to Morin.
"It's their loss," he said. "It's been a real blessing for my family."
Morin dropped the search for her mother after her sister's objections, but never stopped thinking about her.
And when she learned from her new Pikkula relatives in August of 1999 that her sister Joyce had died, Morin finally saw her chance.
"I wasn't glad Joyce died, I felt terrible, but it was something that had to happen for me to meet my mother."
Morin didn't know where Blanche Dreyer was, but dusted off her detective skills, found a list of nursing homes in northern Idaho and started calling. She told the homes she was looking for a place for a family friend and wanted someplace with women in their 90s who could be a companion.
"I was lying all the time," she recalled, giggling.
In December 1999, Morin found Dreyer in a small, residential facility in Post Falls, Idaho. She called back later as a friend of Dreyer's old friend of Jessie Hayes, learning more about her mother and her declining health.
But once she knew where Dreyer was, Morin faltered.
"I just couldn't make up my mind," Morin said. "I just didn't know if I wanted to go, because I knew she had dementia and was legally blind at that point. I just didn't know."
She kept checking in with the nursing home, though, and a few months later heard Dreyer had again been hospitalized.
"That's what made me go, because I worried I'd always regret it if I didn't," she said.
Morin and her husband headed for Post Falls early one sunny May morning in 2000. They were traveling hundreds of miles for what Morin assumed would be a five-minute visit, just enough time to see her mother, say hello from Jessie Hayes - her cover story - and drop off some perfume and lotion from her shop.
Morin says she wasn't nervous - "I never get nervous in these situations," - but she was anxious to finally see her mother. When they pulled into the parking lot she jumped out almost before the car had stopped.
Dreyer, as she often did, was eating lunch by herself. The 91-year-old didn't communicate much with the staff or other residents, but as soon as Morin sat down staff members noticed a change.
"She knew who I was, she reached out to me," Morin said. "You could just tell there was something between us."
Morin, ever the cosmetologist, noticed her mother's appearance right away. She hated the bright red lipstick she was wearing - "so garish" - but saw her hands were beautifully manicured.
"We had the same hands," she said. "And she had a coal heaver's voice - a huge, big voice - and I have that and (my children) Melissa and Mark do, too."
Dreyer couldn't remember recent events because of the dementia, but she could clearly recall her youth, spelling names and listing dates correctly. Because Morin had learned the family history from her Aunt Iva Hoppers, she and Dreyer were able to reminisce for more than an hour, with Morin asking her "Do you remember living in Miles City? Do you remember Jessie Hayes?" and so on. Dreyer remembered Al Pikkula, too, and "got pretty grouchy" when Morin mentioned him.
"We just sat and she took my hands and we talked about the old days," Morin said. "And I loved it and kept going on with her until I made her tired, that's just the way I am. I was so excited, really thrilled, to have found her. I can't tell you I was that excited when I had my kids."
Morin left without telling Dreyer who she was, but gave the workers permission to break the news if they felt it wouldn't be too upsetting. Dreyer admitted to the staff she had a third daughter, and when Morin called her a few days later, she asked Dreyer if the date 4-10-29 meant anything.
"And she said `She was so beautiful,'" Morin said. "And then I knew she had regretted giving me up."
From then on Morin called to check on Dreyer regularly and sent her cards and presents - including three tubes of a more brownish lipstick she said would better suit Dreyer's coloring. Melissa Messmer also stopped in once on a trip for a brief visit with her grandmother, though the rest of Morin's five children didn't feel the need.
Morin's other sister, Myrna, lived in California and visited Dreyer regularly but refused a meeting with Morin suggested by the nursing home staff. And at that point, Morin said, she didn't care about meeting her sister. She'd already found the family she was looking for.
Dreyer was hospitalized several more times in the next year, so when Messmer held an impromptu wedding in Coeur d'Alene in the fall, Morin knew she'd stop in and see Dreyer one more time.
On Oct. 7, 2001, Morin and her granddaughter Caitlin went to the hospital to say good-bye.
"She didn't open her eyes, but she could hear me and knew I was there," Morin said. "So I told her I was her daughter and was there with her great-granddaughter and then I told her good-bye."
A little more than a day later, at 3 a.m. on Oct. 9, 2001, Dreyer died. Morin believes finally seeing her eldest daughter, and knowing she was doing well, allowed Dreyer to let go after years of illness.
"I was the first to see her and the last to see her," Morin says with satisfaction. "And I was just so happy I had the chance."
And for herself, Morin says the two meetings resolved the feelings of being an outsider she'd never really understood for most of her life. Friends and relatives have noticed a difference as well, though no one goes so far as to call the irrepressible Morin calm.
"I just felt happier and better after that," she said. "I finally had all the answers to my questions."
Reporter Barbara LaBoe may be reached via e-mail at [email protected]