ROANOKE, Va. (AP) _ Tammy Harris had spent nearly a year looking for her biological mother and was getting nowhere. Joyce Schultz had tried for nearly 20 years to find her daughter, with leads always running into dead ends.

They lived two blocks from each other and worked together at a neighborhood convenience store for six months before Mrs. Schultz's eavesdropping led to the startling discovery that they were mother and daughter.

''It was just right under my nose all of this time,'' Mrs. Harris said Tuesday as she sat on the living room couch with her mother.

''I just can't keep my hands off of her,'' Mrs. Schultz said as she caressed her daughter's hand.

At their feet, Mrs. Harris' 17-month-old daughter Maria played with the matching baby pictures of her mother that helped bring about the reunion.

''Grandmom's only had her for one night and already she's spoiled her rotten,'' Mrs. Harris said.

Twenty years ago, when Mrs. Harris was 2, the state took her and her two brothers away from their mother and they were adopted by separate families.

Mrs. Schultz, 44, said the children were taken because of her drinking. She said she stopped drinking a few years ago, remarried and started working at the convenience store.

Mrs. Harris began searching for her parents on March 7, 1990, ''the day after my 21st birthday.'' She said she first thought about starting the search when she was 16 but waited until she felt she was old enough to cope with what she might find.

''I felt like I was incomplete,'' she said. ''I didn't know whose eyes I had. I didn't know where my big feet came from. I wondered who I looked like.

''I knew they were out there and I wanted to find them before they died.''

Last month, Mrs. Harris was talking to another co-worker who asked if she was having any luck.

Mrs. Schultz said: ''I overheard them and, being nosy, I asked 'Luck about what?'''

Mrs. Harris brought out her birth certificate, and Mrs. Schultz knew immediately Mrs. Harris was her daughter.

But Mrs. Schultz was afraid to say anything, fearing she might be mistaken.

''I said, 'I might know somebody who can help.'''

She asked Mrs. Harris for a baby picture and took it home to compare it with one she had.

''And when I did, boy was I shocked. I said, 'Oh my God, that is Tammy.'''

But Mrs. Schultz was afraid her daughter ''wouldn't like me'' and didn't say anything for three days. Mrs. Harris was getting suspicious because Mrs. Schultz was hanging onto the picture.

Finally, store manager Ron Lynch brought them together in his office on Feb. 22 after Mrs. Schultz told him the story.

''It was breathtaking,'' Lynch said.

Mrs. Harris walked in, saw Mrs. Schultz standing next to the two pictures and asked: ''Are you my mother?'''

''When she said 'yes,' I just fell into her arms. It felt so natural. We held on for the longest time. It was the best day of my life.''

Last Friday, Mrs. Harris met her father for the first time. Mrs. Schultz declined to identify him but said he's planning a birthday party for his daughter Friday.

Now mother and daughter plan to search together for Mrs. Harris' brothers, Terry and Tim, who would be 21 and 25 now.

''I'll be complete when I find my brothers,'' she said. ''I'm not going to quit.''