SOUTH PORTLAND – As a child growing up in a small Maine town, I loved Memorial Day. My family had a special ritual that I found mystical and reverential.

On the last Sunday in May, after attending Mass, where prayers were said for the faithful departed, we went home to have Sunday dinner. After dinner, still in our good clothes, we went out to pick large bouquets of fragrant purple lilacs. These flowers were to be placed on the graves of my paternal grandparents.

My grandfather had died when I was very young. My only memory of him is that he playfully pulled my pigtails. My grandmother had died of a stroke before I was born. My mother said she was wonderful woman who loved lilacs.

We placed the bouquets in vases and then piled into the old black Chevy for the ride to the cemetery. During this ride my siblings and I were unnaturally quiet. We felt the solemnity of the occasion, and respect for the deceased.

To me, graveyards were haunted places where the ghosts of the dead danced on nights when the fog was so thick you could not read the names on the tombstones. There was something supernatural and eerie about this place where so many bodies were buried.

At the cemetery we were repeatedly warned by our parents not to step on the graves; it is disrespectful to the dead. We climbed the small incline to where our relatives had been buried under a beautiful cedar tree. After placing the flowers on the grassy mounds, we knelt and said a prayer. Later I learned we were suppose to pray that their souls would rest in peace.

I loved this ritual. I found visiting this hallowed ground holy and mystifying. As the years went by we needed more and more bunches of lilacs, as we had more graves to visit on Memorial Day. My maternal grandparents died and we lost aunts and uncles. We stopped by to visit them and say a prayer.

During the huge blizzard of 1978 my sister called to tell me my father had died. The roads were impassable and neighbors went on a snowmobile to be with my mother. My sister finally got to my mother’s home with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The next day my husband and I drove the 130 miles from South Portland to Bangor on snow-covered roads. My brother in Massachusetts was unable to come for several days because the roads were closed due to the massive amounts of snow. After a few days we were finally able to have the funeral.

Now my Dad rests beside his parents, and we have another grave to visit. Outliving my Dad by 30 years, my mother lived to be 101. She died in 2008 and joined my father.

My mother’s favorite flowers were pansies so now I take these to the cemetery on Memorial Day. Although sad, this ritual has never lost its mystical quality for me. And I still don’t step on the graves.

Elaine Parker is a resident of South Portland.