The Best Way Forward

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January 15th, 2018

For my family, this arrangement of high tension power line structures, carrying energy to infinity and back again, with its careful placement against this column of asphalt along the NJ Turnpike means just one thing:  Twenty minutes to Mom-Mom and Pop-Pops!

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Let us just slide over to the right a bit and head back a few years, then!

So allow me to share a little story with you.  Tomorrow, January 16th, Matil and I will celebrate our fourteenth year of marriage.  …Now before the “congratulations” and applause begins…  the past fourteen years have not been a matter of happenstance, or luck.  Our marriage is based on powerful love- and with that love comes the unending desire to seek perfection with each other and our lives while also holding dear to our hearts the utmost respect for those who have came before us and paved the way to our success with their sentiments, knowledge, and experience.

When Matil asked what we should do for our Anniversary, it came to me quite simply:  Let us go see Pop-pop.  Matil was in absolute agreement with the idea because he has been more of an instrumental early leader for our marriage than most people know.  Matil and I were married with speed, vigor and passion.  Just like my parents.  And just like Mom-mom (Cecile) and Pop-pop (Wilson).  We are generations of people that come together knowing what we want, and seeing it through.  Wilson and Cecile celebrated their Golden Anniversary plus some, just as my Mom and Dad soon will celebrate theirs, and Matil and I expect to celebrate ours, in due time.

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Pop-pop, Matil, Mom, myself, Dad

The photograph above, and the next two below, I had to find in the “archives,” otherwise known as the pre-digital era.  Boy we are lucky to have photographs- and as I have mentioned in other articles, I feel family and life photographs are the single most important tangible piece of anything in the world that tells the story of family.  It is more than words or names.  Photographs are who we are, in our entirety.  Each is a thousand words- but they seem to grow exponentially in value with each successful press of the shutter.

For the gift of this knowledge, I will never be able to thank my Dad enough to teach me the desire to take photos, even when it makes people feel awkward.  I will never be able to thank my Mom enough to teach me the absolute value of storing them in an organized way that will let me quickly find them again on a whim- Just like these photos here which took me no more than two minutes to locate…

Time will surely tell that the two truths are inseparable:

Take photos.  Save and organize photos.

Our minds and hearts will be forever thankful.

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…And then after those couple minutes of searching, I had another fifteen minutes or so to cherish the memory once more.

Here we are in Wilson’s. …You know what?  I don’t know what to call him.  He has always been Pop-pop, since my Dad’s parents were Grandda and Granny.  I would never call him Wilson, but writing here I am seeking some sort of clarity I suppose.  Maybe I should call him the other loving name I use:  Major Wilson H. LaForest, USA, Retired.  No, but will get to that…

Ok so here we are in Pop-pop’s kitchen (I decided that even though I am a fully grown adult (Big deal!), I’ll always be his grandson and hell, if we can’t allow ourselves to return to our youth from time to time then we will never know how to walk forward.)

OK! So here we are in Pop-pop’s kitchen, January 2005, while I was on leave from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  I came home to celebrate our first wedding anniversary with Matil.  Of course we had planned in advance to see Pop-pop and he asked us if we should go out to eat or eat at home.  We asked him to cook because his cooking has always been far better than any restaurant Matil and I have ever been to.

And it has been that way for my entire childhood, too.  Pop-pop was the chef in the house and he always went “to the nines.”  Fine Noritake China, etched stemware, beautiful glass grape leaf serving sets for shrimp cocktails, et cetera.  To put it mildly- very classy.

What to eat?

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Pop-pop’s Chicken Almandine with sliced grapes in wild rice and asparagus covered in sliced mushrooms and cheese, of course.  It was a fine meal.

But more importantly than the meal, we knew then as well as we know now that the preparation of the dinner must have given him energy for a week prior and great memories for weeks after.  It is important that he had things to do and places to go.  For all the kids out there…  you will each realize in a very personal way, one day, that the e-mails will eventually stop… the twitter feed will not matter one bit… the news…  well the news is already completely and utterly irrelevant!

But what matters is that he had something real to prepare for and I do not think there is any way to measure who could be happier- him to make a meal for us, or us to spend our time with him.

Fourteen years later, Matil and I have had our share of experiences and we are so happy that they have brought us full circle and right back where we started.  We live where we live with a much wider view of our lives.  What I mean to say is, if we remain where we are born and raised forever…  we have no way of knowing how good or bad it is.  We have no stick or ruler to measure our quality of life with.  Matil and I left, and came back.  So it is not that we are here because we have always been here…  we are here because we absolutely choose to be right where we are.

But this life is our life, and it just cannot work the same for anyone else.

Cuique suum.

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But one advantage is that I can make a right off the Turnpike onto Mount Holly Road and snap this picture to say, “Hey guys- the barn is still there and still abandoned!”  Do you remember this, Ali and Terri?

We decided to make an afternoon of our trip, and here is what we did:

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Burlington County Courthouse

Really couldn’t have asked for a sunnier day, could we?  It was only 20 degrees outside… but there was no wind, so really it was a nice day.

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St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church

I took this shot because the red doors are one of those fragments of memories that are ingrained in my head from all the times we passed by- so now this photograph helps take me back.  Does it have the same affect on you?

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Mount Holly with brick sidewalks, classic European architecture from the beginnings of the United States of America.

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This is the Burlington County Prison- which just so happens to have been the prison with the longest operation timeline of nearly 150 years, ending its reign in 1965 (American).  The following is out photographs from the tour.  You can click on the groupings for a larger slideshow view, if you like.

 

In this next set, you’ll see we had a special guest with us for the afternoon:  Emile!

 

As we continued through he prison, it was interesting to see the different technology advances that it experienced.  For instance, waste buckets were replaced with indoor plumbing and individual fireplaces in cells were replaced with steam radiators.

 

So without modern power tools, how do you bore through 10-16 inch solid stone and brick walls to introduce plumbing, electric, and the rest?  Carefully.  It is a prison, after all, and we certainly do not want to make to many holes in the walls…  They have a few artifacts of the trade shop in one of the photos above.

 

The yard was surrounded by a stone wall approximately twenty feet in height.  The trees in the following pictures were not there in the early days, and they were very small or non-existent in the latter days… otherwise it would have been difficult to keep the prisoners from climbing the trees and jumping out!  However, the slightly ominous bell tower of the Burlington County Courthouse was visible to the prisoners in the yard since the beginning… if for nothing other than a reminder that they are under the strong and valiant arm of the law at all times.

 

At first we wondered the significance of a model boat in the prison.  The sheet in the second photo explains it was built by a prisoner with little things he as able to acquire.  Nothing but time, I suppose.

 

The views from the windows were not great and not designed to allow for a comfortable view of the world outside.  After all, it is prison and these are criminals.  It is not supposed to be easy.

 

But we take it in stride, because Matil and I carry the keys and not the chains.

 

The prison kept and covered a lot of the prison graffiti with plexiglass to preserve it.  I believe it is heavily flaked and cracked because the prison was painted with lead paints during those days.  I wonder if prisoners ate the chips? Look at the photos closely- you can see a little bit about the mindset of the prisoners.

The tour operator explained that since the prison was in service until 1965, there are still ex-prisoners alive today that have done time there.  Some have come back to see their art.  He said they do not need to pay the $5 entry fee.  They have paid their dues already.

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This is a replica of the cell layout in the early 1800s.  Each cell had its own fireplace, some bedding on the floor, and a waste bucket.  notice the small cavity on the back right of the photo.  It is only about a foot deep and wide, but it seems that is the only space a person could stand to feel a false sense of being hidden from oversight.

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This corridor connects the prison to the Warden’s mansion, next door.  The light in this corridor is from a pair of windows that exist on the left side.  Those windows face the prison yard, and the right side is the solid wall that prevents any access to the free world.

So the windows typically allow quick, high views over the yard… among other things.

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Initially, hanging the condemned was conducted at a large field or farm nearby because it was a public event that would draw many, many people.  There were picnics- and probably some kind of gambling on the fate of the condemned.

Eventually, they decided maybe they shouldn’t make such a large spectacle of executions, so they moved them into the yard.  So those windows connecting the prison to the Warden’s mansion I mentioned?  They give a clear view of the half dozen or so hangings that took place at the prison between the time after they stopped having public hangings and when New Jersey went to the electric chair, thanks to Mr. Thomas Edison’s invention of direct current electricity (and subsequent theft of Tesla’s more efficient form of alternating current).

In the bottom picture, you can see hand drawn portraits of the condemned by a child- who was the son of one of the guards.  You can see his very matter-of-fact tone in his notes.


So why the prison?  Well, it is an industry that is very near and dear to Matil and I.  Law enforcement gave us to strength to grab the bull (life) by the horns and not only hold on, but take control of it.  Own it.

Secondly- I have been to the prison before and wanted to share it with Matil since it is a really neat, old prison.  I don’t have any photos from the first time because I was in grade school.  My Mom picked me up and we went to Mount Holly to see Mom-mom and Pop-pop but I did not remember the occasion.  I do remember being in my Mt Carmel uniform though- I think?  Maybe she will provide more details in the comments below. ; )

After the prison, we continued with our plans for the day:

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216 Spout Spring Avenue

Here is their house, along with the mainstay home of my Mom and her three sisters.  I take great pleasure in announcing I drove directly to his house without the use of Google-  after these years I could still find my way there like it was yesterday.  A small feather for my cap, but one I am proud of nonetheless.

One of the funniest stories Pop-pop ever told us was how it took so long for him and Cecile to have their first child but once they figured it out it was “not like dolphins rubbing noses,” the rest seemingly happened instantaneously!

Anyway, the grass-island driveway remains, along with the boxwoods in the front.  The house appears to be cared for and the wooden fence in the back yard has been replaced with a nice black aluminum fence.

Matil reminded me of how Pop-pop always flashed the porch light as we all headed home.  Does it appear to be the same light, or did he have a roof-mounted one under the overhang? I don’t remember.

 

The main purpose of this trip was to go see Pop-pop, as I said.  But this trip was actually planned awhile ago, and has just been on the back of my mind.  In December 2015 I was fortunate enough to see my Nephew graduate infantry basic training at my alma mater, Fort Benning (Infantry capital the world, HOOAH!)

During lunch, I asked my Mom about Pop-pop’s grave and I’ll never forget her smile.  She retrieved the business card (above) for Eastwick’s Florist from her wallet and showed me the back of it.  I-174.  That is Mom-mom, Pop-pop’s, and her sister Marie’s permanent address here on Earth.  Along with it she listed directions, as this was all done in the days before Google and we actually had to know where we were going.  So let us go.

It was absolutely remarkable, and very telling of the kind of woman my Mom is, that she has this card at the ready- even though she now lives in Georgia.  But that is ok that she cannot quickly travel to reach her parents.  She has me.  And her simple preparation can, and did, allow her to visit through us.  Mom I am happy to share the following photos specifically for you- but also for our whole family.  Additionally, I am proud to share a important part of my family’s history with anyone else that happens to be reading.

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Beverly National Cemetery

I am very proud to announce the Beverly National Cemetery is maintained in fine condition, and we can all feel proud of the location of Wilson, Cecile, and Marie’s final resting place.

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Above I mentioned I would get to my other name for Pop-pop.  Here I present Wilson H. LaForest, Major, US Army, Retired.  Husband.  Father.  Grandfather.  Great-grandfather.  He served our nation during World War II (The big one!) and Korea.  The family plot is shared by his wife Cecile and his daughter Marie.

Mom, I included peach/orange carnation flowers specifically from you.  The rest are from the rest of your whole family.

 

Our National Cemetery design is uniform- across the entire nation.  Just as soldiers rank and file, so are the grave sites.  The headstones are as uniform in appearance as the uniform each soldier wore for their nation.  No amount of expense on a headstone can equal the elegance and virtue of standing arm in arm with brothers and sisters in unwavering support of something greater than ourselves.  The monument to each person here is not the single stone, but the sum total all the headstones, across the entire nation, shared equally across all ranks, religions, and merit.

The gravesite faces West- with each sunrise passing over their head and shoulders and finally resting by their feet.  They face Old Glory at the Cemetery’s entrance.


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In keeping with the theme of fond memories, we had dinner at Carlucci’s on the Waterfront- a fine Italian restaurant that Pop-pop had taken us to.  The dinner was absolutely marvelous but the greatest memory was not the meal.

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It was in watching Pop-pop enjoy a wonderful lemon sorbet- imported from Italy and served inside the hollowed out lemon from which it was made.

A simple thing, really.  But isn’t that the greatest thing about life?  The most wonderful memories are often of the simplest experiences with the best people.

Communication, Cooperation, Consideration, Compromise.  Thank you, Matil, for being my partner in life- with all the glorious memories and strength to work through the challenges it has presented.  These challenges are continuously met and defeated with grace.  Thank you Mom and Dad for showing Matil and I the way through your love for each other and family.  Thank you Pop-pop for your wisdom, insight, and laughs.  Thank you Mom-mom for being such a wonderful grandmother and all the hands of gin-rummy and Uno.

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I wish you health, wealth, and happiness galore!  …What could I wish you more?

-LaForest

Fathers Day, 2005

4 thoughts on “The Best Way Forward

  1. SO LOVED reading this wonderful article and seeing your incredible pictures…. My uncle Wilson was the best! I will never forget his hospitality in hosting my sister and I at his lovely home.. and the opportunity he gave these Maine cousins to get to know our precious relatives Patty and Janie… he treated us like queens and wined and dined us. There was SO much laughter and conversation as we got to know each other as adults… and now to stay connected.. How proud he was of you… and all his family… thank you for reminding me of our wonderful New Jersey visit.. GOD continue to BLESS your marriage and your gifts of writing and photography.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind reply : ) Work is doing a fine job at keeping me just a wee bit too busy to regularly post here, but I’m hoping to stay with it a bit and focus on really seeking to express my thoughts clearly. Thank you for reading : )

      Like

  2. Love everything about this post. From the memories that bring tears to my eyes, to the pictures that take me down memory lane. Love the old memories saved with the new ones made. Your grandfather was one of the best people I have ever met, and I feel so fortunate to have gotten to meet him. If we ever come close to being like him, we’d have made it in life.

    I love you.

    Liked by 1 person

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