The Washington Post

(Photograph by Nathaniel Grann/The Washington Post)

Kraig M. Butrum

56, Washington, nonprofit fundraiser

It was 1965. My grandparents lived in Venice Beach, close to the ocean. We would visit them once a year — as much as was required at the time. They were Dust Bowlers, part of the Steinbeck generation who escaped from Kansas to California.

This was also the generation that refused to talk about family issues. Grandpa B was in the Great War, and according to military documents and family lore, he was mustard-gassed in France (or was it Germany or Belgium?) and returned home not quite normal.

He lived in his garage. He would spend hours building crystal radio sets and organizing nails and bolts meticulously in Best Foods mayonnaise jars (none other would do). He kept a bucket near his bench in case he needed to relieve himself.

The dark garage held many fascinations for a 7-year-old. Hanging from the gooseneck work light was the gunmetal Réveil Avertisseur pocket watch taken from a dead soldier in the trenches. A footlocker held Grandpa’s heavy wool uniform. And in cigar boxes lay gold, copper and silver leaf for gilding work at the Fox Theatres around Los Angeles.

Everything smelled of mothballs.

This one-square-inch electric motor is all that is left of one of his garage treasures. I think it was from a toy boat, because I recall the lever and propeller. My sister and I would connect 9-volt Eveready batteries to the motor and watch it run.

Generations define themselves with their own treasures. Perhaps for my grandfather it was the pocket watch. For me, it is this toy motor. Both will go to my nephew when I am done playing with them. I wonder what he will add to the collection.

Tell us about what you treasure and why: E-mail 250 words or fewer to WP Magazine. Please use “MINE” in the subject line, and include age, city and job.

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