This was an obituary for someone I have known most of my life, someone who was dear to my family as I was growing up, someone who I think of often and fondly.
I smiled because the family chose to include a recent and wonderful picture of this dear 89-year-old man, and I smiled because he was smiling.
Gene McClard was always smiling.
He and his first wife, Dorothy, are smiling right through many of my childhood memories. I remember their cheerful hospitality as they invited families into their home on New Year's Day to eat, play games, eat, watch games, and eat.
Mr. McClard introduced me to Baskin Robbins, buying me my first ice cream cone there (he wisely chose Pralines and Cream on a sugar cone); perhaps this influenced me as I shopped for my first job and was hired at our local 31 Flavors.
He also taught me how to eat prime rib with horseradish in a train car at a little restaurant called Victoria Station. I was never again satisfied with the family-sized sirloins my father occasionally grilled.
Many summers, our family would caravan with several others to Mission Bay in San Diego to set up camp, RV-style, at De Anza Harbor Resort in Mission Bay, San Diego. The McClards were the patriarch and matriarch of the group and treated all of us kids like their own grandkids. I can remember Mr. McClard piling into the far back seat of our school bus yellow suburban for the ride up the hill to the local church there. I piled in right beside him, surprised at his seating choice in the kids' zone, but glad to be there with him.
Sometimes when we waited in line, he kept things interesting by doling out peanut M&Ms. One at a time. No one got another until he finished his one M&M. And he didn't chew it; he slowly savored it. So we learned to savor, too.
The last time I saw Mr. McClard was at my father's memorial service back in 2010. It's the only time I remember seeing him without a smile; instead, he spotted me from across the room and hurried over, arms spread wide, eyes full of tears. He held me tight and told me what a good friend my dad had been to him and how much he would miss him. And I was able to tell him, after so many years, that I loved him and always considered him my adopted grandfather.