This studio portrait of my mother and me was made in 1954 when I was 20, and she was 40.
When I went to live with her in Alexandria, Virginia, in the summer of 1951, people used to stop us on the street to say, "Why, you must be Mildred's boy you look so much alike!" Everyone knew her, and, greatly to my surprise, they knew about me. The Baptist church of which she was choir director at the time devoted an evening service to the celebration of our reunion for we had been apart since I was five years old. I had been kidnapped then and was later told that she was dead. For twelve years, I believed this to be true.
Then, under dramatic circumstances, a member of my family, conscience-stricken when she learned that I was often imprisoned in a coal bin without food and subject to frequent beatings, revealed at great risk to herself the conspiracy that had led to the devastation of my childhood and nearly to the murder of my mother. With the window shades of her home drawn for fear that we would be seen and possibly shot, she confessed that my mother was alive and where I might find her in another part of the country.
A secret rendezvous was arranged. The ghastly traumas of my childhood had erased all memory of my mother's face, but when I saw her in a crowded hotel lobby, she shone like the sun to me, and I knew her.
The two photos below show us as we look today. No, her studio portrait has not been retouched, nor has her naturally curly hair ever required a permanent wave. She uses little makeup, has never had cosmetic surgery, nor even a tooth pulled. As she says of herself at 84, "What you see is what you get!" What you get is a true American beauty, lovely as a rose, and in her heart I do proudly dwell.
"The Heart of the Rose" is a collection of notes and observations addressed primarily to myself in preparation for writing a novel based on her fascinating story. The Timeline Pictorials, indexed on the next page, offer pictures with comments relative to the subject.