Tuesday, September 02, 2003

The dusty trail behind the last row of houses on the south side of T-town, wound narrowly past the arid desert land. Swerving round past the tumbleweeds and leafless skeleton trees; the bushes of thorny green weeds that somehow manage to grow in the Kern ridge oilfields. Nothing much else does, besides the rabbits and kit foxes.
Rocks abound, at every glance filling your view. Covered in moss and bird shit.
The path began as if out of nowhere. Behind the houses where everybody parked their broken down vehicles: boats, RVs, cars, etc. Open wasteland lay ahead, spotted with the occasional pumping unit. The trail inclines steadily yet almost unnoticeably, as you forge your way up the hill.
Not very far, maybe just three or four hundred feet out there, you come upon a fenced in area. About an acre in size, dirty and abandoned, you can see row after row of tombstones in that old forgotten cemetery. They are uniformly built...lamentably ordinary and plain. Some have fallen over or tilted off to the side. Others have been nearly covered by dust storms.
If you climb over the fence, you can still read the names of the buried. The vaguest details of their existence remain firmly etched in stone. It's here that the most disturbing patterns emerge. All the graves were dug within 3 years of each other. Between 1922 and 1925. And they were all children. Hundreds of them. One, two, three, five or eight years old...just children. Names from every heritage: Irish, French, Chinese, Spanish, and many others.
It takes a visit to the local oilfield museum where you can view the back issues of the Midway Driller newspaper to find any kind of information linking the cemetery to reality. Most of the locals simply refuse to acknowledge its existence. But the place is real, and so was the influenza epidemic that caused all those deaths, along with the unimaginable sorrow such emptiness leaves behind to those poor forsaken families.
The old papers speak of oriental royalty. A young princess, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, a jewel among her people. But in the old cemetery hers is just another abandoned grave.

No comments: