For Gene McNeill

I wasn’t able to attend my grandfather’s funeral today, so I wrote a brief memorial that was read in my absence. I’ve reprinted it here for posterity.

When my wife and I travel, we often lag behind the rest of the group. She’s a photographer, you see, and that means she views new places through a camera viewfinder, which tends to slow her down. I don’t mind, though. Growing up with my grandfather Gene taught me what it’s like to have a photographer in the family.

When I was a kid, Grandpa was the campus photographer at Lubbock Christian University. Everyone knew him, just like they knew Grandma, the switchboard operator in her little glass cubicle. They kind of seemed like the whole school’s grandparents — but I never minded sharing them with everyone. Grandpa and Grandma both cared for the kids they met through the years, both in their jobs and in their time as resident dorm supervisors, yet it never diminished their love for their real grandkids.

I could never begin to name all the ways Grandpa Gene helped shape my life. Whenever I’d visit him, he always had a stack of blank paper and a jar of pencils for me to draw with; eventually, I went to college to study art. I remember learning to read with a gym bag full of Gold Key comics in the back room of his house; now I’m a writer. Back when video game systems were too expensive and short-lived for my family to own, he talked the guy who owned the arcade machines in the lobby of the dormitory to put them on free play for me during university holidays; now I make my living with video games.

Most of all, though, he helped me understand what it means to be a good person. His decades of marriage to Grandma provided me with an incredible example of love and commitment. In my mind’s eye, I always see Grandpa with a twinkle in his eye and a quick quip. He was good-natured, good-humored, and even his worst vices were charming in their mildness: Burger King Whoppers, chewing ice cubes, lemon drops.

Gene was the most perfect grandfather anyone could ever hope for, and I told him that the last time I saw him. He looked at me and replied, “No — we were the ones who were blessed.” I have far too many wonderful memories of him to pick any one as a favorite, but that perfect farewell is the one I’d choose to hold on to for the rest of my life.