DALLAS – A 92-year-old Dallas woman has adopted her 76-year-old cousin to formalize the loving relationship that the two women have had for decades.
Family court Judge Kim Cooks this week approved Muriel Clayton's adoption of Mary Smith. Clayton had raised Smith since childhood, following the death of Smith's father in 1950.
Instead of the teddy bear the judge usually gives newly adopted children, Cooks presented the official mother-daughter duo with white orchids.
"I feel great," Clayton told The Dallas Morning News. "This is what I have wanted to do for a long, long time, and now it has come to pass."
Smith said she feels "very happy" and that Clayton had been a mother to her for a long time.
Smith was 11 when her father suddenly died of a heart attack. She went to stay with Clayton on a temporary basis since her mother had been in and out of treatment for a mental illness.
Smith's mother later tried to care for her daughter, but the stay didn't last long.
"She was a sweet lady, a really great lady," Smith said, "but she just couldn't live in the real world."
Other family took Smith in for a while until she decided to permanently live with Clayton.
Clayton said she had thought about adopting Smith since taking her in, but that she couldn't go through it while Smith's mother still was alive.
Smith's biological mother lived in mental institutions until she died at 73. By that time, Smith already had grown up.
It was the passing years that finally prompted Clayton to act.
"I got to thinking, you know, I need to make her legally mine before I go," she said.
Clayton asked Smith on Mother's Day weekend if she would legally become her daughter. Smith called the gesture a "happy surprise."
"I'm a jigsaw puzzle person," Clayton said. "And it's so wonderful when you snap that last piece in place and have a beautiful picture. This is the last piece of my puzzle."