It is Memorial Day in Phoenix, but who would know by looking into the little unmarked cemetery on Van Buren just west of 48th Street. It is the one with the chain-link fence around it and barb-wire on top. The one with empty plastic bottles and other trash blown up against it, the flotsam of the living.
The gate is chained and clamped shut by two padlocks. There is no grassy lawn, no flowers, no trees. Only a flat, brown sun-baked tract of land near a convenience store in a decayed part of town with a handful of gravestones poking up through dirt like bleached bones. A sign in red and white says: No Trespassing, Private Property.
It is a forgotten place, this cemetery. It should be a lesson to all of us.
In the southwest corner, there is a large monument. Buried there, it is assumed, are the Williamses, John and Manda, husband and wife. He died in 1912, she in 1934. A container of pink roses, can they be plastic? rests in front, the only brightness to this drab scene.
Not far off is the grave of Margaret Cline. The stone says she was born in Indiana in 1814 and died in Phoenix in 1898. Several others dot the corner, all beginning to receive late-afternoon shade from a billboard that advertises the Pink Rhino Cabaret. A half-nude young woman is pictured in the upper right corner.
This little patch of dirt and stone actually has a name. I looked it up on the Internet when I got home. It’s called the Cross-Cut Williams Cemetery. I found only a smidgen of information about it.
To my way of thinking, this is much more a realistic cemetery than the fancy Catholic cemetery up 48th a mile or so. St. Francis has a manicured lawn, beautiful trees and numerous people walking the grounds looking, I guess, for loved ones.
The pull of “family” only goes so far, only lasts so long.
My parents and sister are buried in Texas. I haven’t been back to their graves in maybe 10 years. My grandparents are buried in northeastern Oklahoma, and I have visited their graves only a few times. I only know where two of my four great-grandparents have graves, and I’ve seen them once only out of curiosity. I know little about their lives.
The point is this. In 25 to 50 years after your death, when your children and grandchildren are gone too, no will put flowers on your grave, no will remember you as a live, breathing human being. You will be a curiosity yourself, a mere entry on someone’s genealogical chart. And then comes neglect. And perhaps a short time later your cemetery will run out of money, broke, say, by bad investments on Wall Street. And what then?
Your grave and cemetery may look much like what you now see at the Cross-Cut Williams on Van Buren.