Final Resting Place, In Foreclosure
IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif.--Plastic flowers bloom across the cracked, thirsty ground of a California cemetery, each fake blossom marking a grave.
Yellow roses – Milton S. Jackson, 1904-1991.
Pink roses – Arley R. (Hale) Jackson, 1906-2006.
Beneath their names on a shared marker, the words: "Married Aug, 10, 1924. I’ve fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith."
In some spots, rows of flowers mark a line of headstones with the same last name. The Presleys – from Stanley “Slim” Presley to Nellie Presley – rest in five plots, side by side. Roses follow calla lilies follow carnations.
Other graves sit alone. Pink Carnations – Winfred Lee Reeves, “Our little Boy.” August 11, 1963 to August 14, 1963.
Look closely and cemeteries tell as much about the life of a community as they do about the deaths that occurred there. Headstones read like poems, revealing who lived in a place, for how long and how they were remembered once they were gone: Beloved mother, loving father, a good soldier. “Querido esposo,” reads one marker at the cemetery, revealing the community's proximity to the Mexican border. “Recuerdos de sus hermanos,” reads another.
Graveyards are among the last places one expects to find a foreclosure sign, and yet there it was, in big red letters at the entrance to Memory Gardens Cemetery and Memorial Park. "Cemetery in Foreclosure," the sign said, followed by the phone numbers of local officials.
Life in Imperial Valley was fragile even before the recession, with financial struggles stretched far across this community, but now, it seems, the economic downturn has made even the dead here vulnerable.
When Michael and I walked into the cemetery's office, it was in ruins. The walls were ripped of their panels and the bathroom sink blackened by fire.
We found signs someone had been living there. A pair of Rustler jeans, size 38x34, lay on the ground next to a green duffel bag filled with matches, Band-Aids and bullets. Burnt pieces of wood jutted out of a metal trash can that had probably been used as a fireplace or stove. Empty food containers littered the floor.
We couldn't help but wonder: How bad must life get for someone to choose to live among the dead.
Red roses – Ed H. Siefker, 1893-1973. Father.
White and pink carnations – Nellie Mae Siefker, 1901-1966. Mother.
Sunflowers – Andy F. Siefker, 1931-2008. Beloved Son.
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