As we do every Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I visit cemeteries and bring flowers in memory of our loved ones who have died. In one cemetery we visit, my family members lie and much of my wife’s family are also interred.

As we do every Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I visit cemeteries and bring flowers in memory of our loved ones who have died. In one cemetery we visit, my family members lie and much of my wife’s family are also interred.

Our cemetery visit is not an overly solemn affair. In fact, it is something we both like to do and consider fun, primarily because we used to decorate the gravesites each year with the very people we are now honoring.

It was a beautiful day and the cemeteries were filled with families bringing flowers, watering cans, American flags and eternal lights. The two cemeteries, bastions of political incorrectness, are segregated into ethnic groups. “My people,” as my mother used to call them, are in one area of the cemetery near two pine trees. My wife’s people are in an older section of the cemetery, because the boat they came over on arrived almost 300 years before my grandparents landed and walked up those long flights of stairs at Ellis Island.

Now I am not going to disclose my ethnic group, not because I am not intensely proud of my ancestral homeland and culture (ask some of my exasperated cubical mates who hear me cite the literature of my culture every seven minutes or so), but because I find people immediately stereotype me when I tell them my origins. I remember going for a job interview during which the hiring manager asked me point blank what my last name was. Wise guy that I am, I said: “Oh, pretty ordinary, five letters, two syllables.” My hiring manager didn’t smile but he realized he had crossed the legal line by asking and immediately volunteered his ethnic background to make up for his error. I felt bad for him and eventually told him later in the interview my grandparents’ country of origin.

He smiled gratefully.

I relate that story because something happened this past weekend in the ethnically compartmentalized cemetery that made me feel whole and connected again to my ancestors. We had arrived at the cemetery in two vehicles. My wife (of course) drove the lead car that held the flowers and her 90-year-old mother. I followed in my pickup truck that was loaded with watering cans, water, and my mother-in-law’s wheelchair.

We got out and started to work placing the potted plants at my grandparents’ tombstone and then walked 20 feet to my parents’ headstone. Each year we have to move the plants around my parents’ gravesite because my mother’s friends and my dad’s sister always bring many flowers. So our task is much like the landscaper on “This Old House” and usually involves pruning what has been planted, removing what did not survive the winter and arranging the pots in some sort of Golden Mean symmetry. I talk out loud to my parents each year when helping my wife do these jobs.

“Well, dad, it is a warm day with just a few cumulous clouds, and your sister left some beautiful pansies arranged in a great big bowl.. Mom, your friends really overdid it this year. You should see all the flowers. You continue to be a celebrity.” I know she would smile if she could hear me say that and probably ask if the flowers were really re-gifted ones or ask me to feel them to make sure they weren’t artificial.

After my ritual of “talking” to my parents, I walked back to my vehicle. An elderly man, who was standing with a large group of people in the same “my people” section of the cemetery, waved to me and motioned for me to come over.

As I walked up to him, I recognized the man as someone whom I saw every Sunday at my church when I was a youth. He recognized me too, but just to be sure, I introduced myself by saying my mother’s full name and my name.

“Of course I remember you, Peter. You are Maria’s grandson.”

He had skipped a whole generation in his verbal establishment of my ancestry and by so doing was indicating that he not only knew my parents, who were his contemporaries, but my parents’ parents, the first of my people to come to America. It made me feel as if I were part of an unbroken line, someone with a past and an ancient culture.

“Peter, can you stay a while? The priest is coming to say the memorial service at all the graves.”

I told him I couldn’t because we had to get back and he said he understood and shook my hand again.

As we drove out of the cemetery, the man lifted his hand high over his head and held it there for a long time, like a relative on a Mediterranean shore who was waving goodbye to Maria’s grandson en route to America.

(Peter Costa is a senior editor with Community Newspaper Company. His book, “CostaLiving: Laughing through Life,” a collection of his humor columns, is available at and at Barnes & Noble bookstores.)