Each Memorial Day, I mourn a little — not just for the people in my life who have passed on, but for all the stories, insights and wisdom they took with them to the grave.

The winds of time blow many wonderful things away.

Still, now and again, a little something will get preserved almost by accident — something will remain behind, like a piece of paper caught in a chain-link fence after the chilly gusts have passed.

That happened to me.

Out of nowhere, a woman named Trudie Downs in Bountiful sent me a little packet of papers. She said her father, A. Alton Hoffman of Benson Ward, had spoken at my grandfather's funeral back in 1971. She had found his notes from that talk and was sending them along to put in my memory bank.

The deposit was pure gold.

My grandfather, a soldier, lost a thumb while fighting amid the poppies during World War I. Since that day, like cherry chocolate candy, he had a tough shell around him to protect his sweet and soft insides. He was a stern and stoic dairy farmer who called alfalfa "lucerne" and drove only Pontiac cars and Ford tractors. He ate strawberry ice cream and liked to use curse words as terms of endearment for us grandkids.

When he died, he was buried in the Logan cemetery beneath a marker my grandmother had decorated with hand-drawn dogwood flowers.

But it wasn't grandfather that Trudie's packet brought to life for me. It was her own father — A. Hoffman — a legendary figure in Benson Ward who spoke at hundreds of funerals. And to each one he brought heartfelt compassion. Including the funeral of my grandpa.

A. Hoffman's words for my grandfather — written in Palmer Method pencil on some old notebook paper — were alive and filled with breath. After 37 years, I could still feel the heartbeat behind the lines.

He quoted Alma Sonne — a favorite in Cache Valley. Then he dove headlong into spiritual matters, talking with tenderness about being moved to utter silence by a prayer and moved to tears by the tears in the eyes of others. He talked about learning spiritual lessons from the life of this departed brother, about the Sermon on the Mount, about compassion, continuity and reassurance.

I was a pall bearer at the funeral but remember almost nothing of it.

As busy as he was, A. Hoffman could have tossed a talk off at grandad's funeral and moved on, knowing that the winds of time would probably blow what he had to say away. But he didn't. He sank heart and soul into the words. And I could feel those words hit me from decades away.

There is a lesson in that.

So this Memorial Day, I'll feel thankful for grandpa again. But I'll also feel thankful for A. Hoffman — for his dedication and generosity of spirit. And for the lesson about the need to dig and till earnestly in the corner of the garden where we find ourselves.

And I'll feel thankful for the daughter who took a moment to pass along a few scraps of paper — a vital message that somehow got caught in the chain-link fence as other memories were being scattered by the wind.

E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com