I never knew my maternal grandfather. 

I had just turned a year old when he died of a brain tumor at the age of only fifty-one. My maternal grandmother died a few years after that. My mom has done her best to keep their memories alive but the lack of a physical presence always seems to leave a void. I have been told that I have my grandfather’s nose and when I get angry a curl of hair in my widow’s peak drops down on my forehead, an odd characteristic I inherited from the man I never met.

A few mementos exist that allow me to piece together a story of a person I know only from photographs. Things like a senior picture…

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A cigar humidor…

pea coat3

A watch…

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And a commemorative whiskey decanter celebrating his favorite team…

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A box of news clippings and photos also exist that highlight a man that achieved great things even though he didn’t make it past middle age. He had taken over the reigns of his father’s plumbing business and turned it into a successful mechanical contracting company, specializing in heavy highway construction. His vision brought about the creation of schools, hospitals and factories throughout the Midwest. He was instrumental in attracting Becton-Dickinson and Co. and Artistic Woven Labels to the Holdrege area…

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Always a champion of his rural community, my grandfather had a passion for keeping Holdrege relevant and a viable leader in innovation and commerce. In 1953, he was one of six guys who formed the Bi-States Partnership and created the local television station KHOL-TV in Kearney…

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My mom tells the story that even though he traveled extensively, he never visited a city that could compare to Holdrege, and he would tell that to anyone who would listen.

The accounts I have heard of my grandfather and his endeavors make me proud to be a part of a lineage so deeply rooted in creativity and community service.

But at the end of the day this man is merely a ghost; a perceived idea of a person I have created out of photos, stories and newspaper articles. Even though I keep him in my thoughts regularly, he exists only in my imagination.

Until last Friday…

I was chatting with my mom at her kitchen table when a series of knocks came from the back door. In walked a guy that has a long history within my mom’s family story. His name is Charlie and he came bearing a gift. In his hand was a hanger, and on that hanger was a heavy wool Navy Pea Coat…

pea coat6

pea coat1

 His offering resembled a thrift store castoff but the story that accompanied it was far beyond anything I could imagine. Charlie told the tale of needing a winter coat in high school and my grandfather was quick to offer up a Navy issued option taking up space in the back of his closet. Charlie explained how he loved the coat and wore it in high school and while attending Kearney State College. It even went with him to Omaha as he completed law school at Creighton University. 

“If this jacket could talk”, Charlie said with a roll of his eyes.

pea coat7

He thought he had returned it to my Uncle Tim years ago but recently found it taking up space in the back of his own closet. While passing through Nebraska, he was intent on returning it to its rightful owners. My mom didn’t know it was missing and assured Charlie that it had been in better hands over the years than it would have been with her or her brothers. 

When Charlie left, I held this coat in my hands like it was a rare find from an archaeological dig. All of the sudden, my grandfather seemed very real, very authentic.

My mom has two photos of her dad on the day he left to go serve in World War II…

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And with the return of his coat, it seems like part of him came home to us. 

Thanks Charlie!

 Read more from Scott on his blog, County Seat Living and on Her View From Home.  

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Scott Rager

Robert Scott Rager is a Nebraska native who returned home to start a boutique business called "County Seat Living". His personal goal for "County Seat" is to translate the lifestyle design he was creating in Los Angeles for the past twelve years and apply it to the sensibility of the Great Plains. Whether he's writing about decorating, homemade ice cream, floral creations, event planning or product design, he wants the personality and style of Nebraska to shine bright.

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