MIRACLES REALLY DO HAPPEN
Betty End had to wait until she was 79 to find out that miracles really do happen.
Then a mystery that had haunted her all her life was solved. And she got to hug her long-lost, 98-year-old mother.
The story begins in 1925, that ever-so-prosperous year when President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed that "the business of America is business."
It was the same year F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "The Great Gatsby," while Adolph Hitler penned "Mein Kampf."
Rogers Hornsby won the Triple Crown in baseball. In Wyoming, Nellie Ross became the nation's first female governor. The Scopes Monkey Trial got under way in Dayton, Tenn.
But to a certain young mother-to-be in Portland, books, sports, politics and high-falutin arguments over evolution probably weren't very important.
And prosperity? It must have seemed like a joke.
The young woman had been abandoned by her husband. She was living in the house of her mother-in-law, with nothing to call her own.
A child seemed too much burden to bear. So when the baby girl arrived, an adoption was arranged.
The infant was 21 days old when she became the child of La Grande dentist Ray L. Murphy and his wife, Louise.
She grew up as Betty Murphy, enjoying a happy childhood in an idyllic, Northeast Oregon setting. She had an older brother, Jack, who was also
"They (the Murphys) were great parents. They spoiled Jack and me rotten," recalled End, today the wife of La Grande's Dick End.
The Murphys decided to keep the fact of Betty's adoption a secret for as long as they could. That secret held for all of six years.
Then, through the cruel mouths of children, it slipped out.
"You know how kids can be about a thing like that. They teased me pretty bad. I went and asked my parents, and they said it was true," Betty said.
From that day on, Betty went through life feeling as if a piece of herself was missing.
On the surface nothing changed, but underneath, everything did.
"In school once, the teacher asked the kids to write stories about their lives. I said the thing I really wanted to do was meet my real parents. It broke the Murphys' hearts," she said.
She added, "Meeting my real parents was something I wanted to do my whole life."
Jack joined the service during World War II. He made a career out of the military, and died shortly after his retirement.
Betty graduated from high school in 1943. An unhappy marriage she doesn't like to talk about ended quickly in divorce. A daughter, Carlene, resulted from that union.
In 1947, Betty married Earl Johnson. The marriage lasted until Earl's death almost 34 years later.
The couple had two children, Dennis and Nancy. They raised them along with Carlene.
"Sometimes when I was watching my own kids growing up, I knew what I had missed," Betty said.
Through all the busy years, thoughts of her real parents stayed in the back of her mind.
But finding out anything about them seemed hopeless. The government had strict rules about giving adoptive children information about their birth parents.
As a matter of policy, the original birth certificates of adopted kids were sealed at the state Department of Vital Records.
New certificates, substituting the names of the adoptive parents for those of the birth parents, were issued.
State government steadfastly guarded the identities of birth parents. For those seeking their origins and roots, it seemed an unconquerable
But the worm started to turn in 1997 when Ballot Measure 58, giving adopted children the right to see their original birth records, was placed before Oregon voters.
Following a sometimes bitter campaign, the measure passed. Subsequently it faced legal challenges; it was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2000.
Betty End had followed the progress of the measure from the beginning. When it finally became law, she wasted no time.
"Articles in the paper gave numbers to call, and I called them. It didn't take me long to get my birth certificate," she said.
But the birth certificate only seemed to cloud the mystery of her birth. The document listed her own first name as "Jane." Her father's full name and mother's first name were given, but that was all.
Betty had no idea how to find out more.
Enter Tami Murphy, a local dental office receptionist with a passion for genealogical research.
On a routine visit to the dentist, Betty mentioned her problem to Murphy.
After listening to the story, Murphy offered to look into the matter. It would give her a chance to help a friend, and solve an intriguing mystery besides.
She worked through the problem patiently, eventually discovering that Betty's father had died in Clackamas County in the 1970s.
"I got a copy of his obituary, and from that I was able to see where he was born and where his family lived," Murphy recalled.
From the obituary, Murphy was able to understand why she had had trouble finding the couple's marriage certificate.
"I assumed they had been married in Portland, but that wasn't the case. They were from Spokane. They were married there," she said.
Murphy stuck with it. Her next step was to obtain the couple's divorce decree.
"From that I got Betty's mother's maiden name, but I still had a hard time tracing her," Murphy said. "I backtracked, looking for her parents."
It took time and tenacity, but finally she learned Betty's mother's full legal name. Then she set out to determine what had happened to the woman.
Because she would be in her mid to late 90s, Murphy assumed she must be dead. She searched in vain for a death notice.
"I was looking for an obituary where there wasn't one. And then I located her daughter. From her I found out she was still alive, in a nursing home in Washington," Murphy said.
Murphy contacted Betty End's mother Â— who asked that her name or picture not be used for this story Â— through the daughter, who at first did not believe the things Murphy told her.
Betty's mother had kept the secret very well indeed. Her own child didn't know it. When the daughter heard the story of her mother's early marriage and heartbreaking decision to give a baby up for adoption, she was incredulous.
"I was telling her, her mother had been married before, and that she had a sister," Murphy said. "She was very confused. She said I must be mistaken. I gave her all the information I had, and she went to the nursing home and asked her mother about it.
"The mother said that it was true, and proceeded to tell the story."
On Mother's Day of this year, Murphy presented Betty End with the the best present ever: the incredible but true news that her birth mother was still alive.
"I was speechless. I didn't cry, but I can tell you I was in shock," Betty recalled.
The next step was to arrange a meeting. Betty's mother was reluctant at first, but finally agreed to it.
And in June, Betty's lifelong dream came true.
"The people at the nursing home told us it would be a very short visit, but we spent two hours on Saturday and two more on Sunday," recalled Betty, who traveled to the reunion with her daughters, Carlene and Nancy.
"There was a point where she teared up and started to cry, and we were told we would have to cut the visit short if she was going to be so upset. It turned out all right, though."
Sunday was better, as everybody started to relax. Conversation flowed more freely, and previously unknown family ties were explored.
"We found out about relatives we didn't know we had," Betty said. Those relatives included Betty's half brother, her father's son from another marriage. The half-brother and his wife came to the reunion.
Betty's mother was confined to a wheelchair because of a stroke, but she was very alert mentally. She held hands with her new-found relatives and said she wished they had all met earlier.
Carlene later recalled that the reunion was almost as rewarding for her as it was for her mom.
"In my La Grande family, my mother is my only blood relative. It was exciting to find another," she said.
For Betty End, the feeling she got from meeting her real mother was almost indescribable.
"I think I was in seventh heaven for weeks," she said.
The thing she wants most now is for the relationship to grow.
"We're going back for another visit on Labor Day," she said. "She turns 99 on Sept. 20. We're going to wish her a happy birthday, a little early," she said.