When Mary Smith was 11, her dad died at the age of 45 of a heart attack. Her mom was receiving help for mental illness, so her older first cousin, Muriel Clayton, who had four young girls of her own, welcomed Smith permanently into her own home after Smith was shuffled around for a while among other relatives. Now, more than 60 years later, the unofficial mother-daughter duo have made it official: The 76-year-old Smith was adopted yesterday in a Dallas courtroom by her 92-year-old surrogate mom, and the scene as described by the Dallas Morning News was an emotional one. "I feel very happy," Smith said. "She has been Mom for a long time, and now it's official," with Clayton adding, "This is what I have wanted to do for a long, long time, and now it has come to pass."
There was a compelling and thoughtful reason it took so long to seal the deal: respect for Mary's biological mother, who lived to the age of 73 but spent much of her life in mental institutions. "I couldn't have done that to her [while she was still alive]," Clayton tells the Morning News. "She was a dear, dear person." Clayton popped the question to Smith on Mother's Day this year, she tells WFAA: "I said, 'I have been thinking about adopting you, how do you feel about that?' And her little face just lit up!" Her daughter's reply: "'Little face' … isn't that sweet?" Clayton sums up the adoption with a touching analogy. "I have worked jigsaw puzzles, and my life had been a beautiful picture," she tells WFAA. "But one piece was missing, and that was Mary. And now I've got that piece in place." (This adopted Ohio woman found her birth mother … at work.)