Lenora Dickens gave birth to her first and only child in New Orleans on Nov. 12, 1978, when she was only 16 years old. Dickens' boyfriend abandoned them before her son was born, she said, and she was left to raise her baby alone.
She wanted to take care of him and did her best. He was a good baby. He slept well and had happy eyes, but she had no education and no income, and only welfare to help care for her baby. So she put her son up for adoption through the Volunteers of America agency at the tender age of 6 months, she placed him.
"I had guilt and anger for years over this," she said.
Dickens went to work in shipyards and earned her Graduate Equivalency Diploma. She went on with her life, but she never stopped thinking about her boy who was growing up far away from her.
"I thought about him every day," Dickens said.
The years went by, and Dickens learned more about life as she worked closely with the Navy as a welder and a caterer on the Louisiana coast and offshore on rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Eventually, the only mementos that remained from her six months spent with her son were an old, raggedy teddy bear and a fading photo.
Dickens was working at a naval and air base in Belle Chasse, La., when she met Navy Cmdr. Phillip Dickens. They moved to Meridian, Miss., and were married in 1999.
"It was a welcome breath of fresh air," she said.
Meanwhile, Edward "Eddie" Rinehart, a welder for EZ Loader Boat Trailers in Midway, met and married Janna Rinehart of Midway in 2003. They moved to Baxter County in 2005, and together take care of children Erin, 6, and Justin, 3. Another child is due Dec. 25, she said.
About a year ago, Janna Rinehart was with her husband when he registered on an Internet list of people who were put up for adoption and would like to meet their genetic parents.
"He was nervous," she said. "We weren't expecting anything."
Edward Rinehart and his wife and children went to Little Rock to visit his adoptive parents over the July 4th weekend this year. It was there that Edward learned his genetic mother had called and talked to the Rineharts.
They put her phone number into his hand.
Duane and Cathy Rinehart had adopted 6-month-old Edward in 1979. The family moved out of New Orleans, living in different cities and towns throughout the South during his childhood. In 1983, the Rineharts adopted a second child, Edward's little brother Jason Scott Rinehart.
Edward Rinehart went through school in all the different places they lived, and graduated high school in Little Rock in 1996. He went on to join the U.S. Army in 1998.
The first time he called Lenora Dickens, he talked with her late into the night, Janna Rinehart said. Then he called her back first thing in the morning.
"He was only off the phone long enough to eat and sleep," Janna Rinehart said.
For the next two months, they talked almost every day, Lenora Dickens said. Finally, on Friday, they were able to meet. Lenora and Phillip Dickens drove into Mountain Home for the first time, parked outside of Wal-Mart and waited for Eddie Rinehart and his family to come show them around.
When they came together for the first time, all of Lenora Dickens' nervous waiting and wondering was over.
"I'm numb," she said after a long hug from her son.
They broke their hug after a minute, endured a silence that seemed awkward but serene, then hugged again, while a woman a few feet away dabbed her eyes and watched.
After a long weekend of reunion, the Dickenses returned to their home in Meridian, but they hope to return as often as they can to the area where Lenora Dickens' son and grandchildren live, Phillip Dickens said.
Edward and Janna Rinehart will continue caring for their two children and getting ready for their third. They have decided to do things slowly, not telling young Erin and Justin the significance of their new friend right away.
Justin Rinehart, at least, is comfortable with his new friend.
"Can we go fishing now?" he asked his grandmother, five minutes after they met, with a huge smile.