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61-year-old El Cajon woman adopted into family she always called home

Although Merrilee is 61 years old, Cookie and Jim have to take her to juvenile court to finalize the adoption.

EL CAJON, Calif. — A mother and father in El Cajon are adopting a girl and what makes this story unique is their soon-to-be daughter is 61 years old.

"Where we grew up there was not a lot of people," said Merrilee Hancock.

Forty-six years ago, Merrilee lived in the town of Napa, California, and had just turned 15. She was a lonely girl who decided to knock on her neighbor's door. 

"There was nothing slowly about it," said Merrille referring to the bond she felt for what happened next. 

You see, Merrilee had her own mom and dad but Cookie and Jim who lived across the street with their four kids just felt like family.

"She has always been part of our family right from the beginning. She just always fit in and she was one of us," said Cookie Rustice, who is 78 years old. 

A few months ago, Cookie suffered a real health scare which lead to an announcement. 

"She says 'we always have thought as her as a daughter, why don't we adopt her?'" said Cookie's husband Jim, who is in his early 80s. 

I then turned to Merrilee and asked, "You are 61 years old and you are getting adopted?"  

"Yeah. Pretty special. No question about it. Brings tears to my eyes," she answered.

In order to adopt Merrilee legally, Jim and Cookie needed permission from Merrilee's husband Dave. 

"To tell you the truth, I teared up because it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever heard," said Dave Hancock.

Dave met Merrilee 37 years ago and even then she introduced Cookie and Jim as her mom and dad. 

"Were you ever confused by that?" I asked.  

"Yeah, initially I was confused by that," Dave said. "I thought I had to be careful of vocalizing it too much because I didn't want to hurt any feelings."

Speaking of feelings, how do Cookie and Jim's four children feel about going from a family of six to seven? 

"Yeah, they are really happy about it because they consider her their older sister," said Jim.  

In fact, a welcome home party is already planned when the adoption is finalized. Merrilee says she grew up in a loving home across the street, but she just found more love with the Rustice family. Merrilee's real mother and father have passed away, so what better time to receive the words any daughter would want to hear?

"She is just really special. We love her. A good girl," said Cookie, who is about to have a new child and says, "I am not getting any younger." 

And to think it all started with a knock at the door. 

"I think we are the lucky ones to have her legally be ours," said Cookie. Then Jim chimed in like a proud dad to say, "She is one of the family." 

Even though Merrilee is 61 years old, Cookie and Jim have to take her to juvenile court to finalize the adoption.

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