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Dough: A Memoir    by Mort Zachter order for
by Mort Zachter
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2008 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Dough is a must-read, offering a gracious opportunity to get to know Mort Zachter, a CPA, a lawyer, and a superb storyteller. One August afternoon in 1994, Mort experienced an Awakening when he answered his parents' phone in their Brooklyn tenement (Mort's father was in the hospital at the time.) The stockbroker told him 'There is a million dollars in the money-market account. I suggest you buy a million dollars worth of treasuries to maximize the return.' Zachter thought he was hearing things, and wondered for many years why his parents hadn't told him.

Zachter writes his memoirs from that day forward, candidly, warmly, with concern, humor, and puzzlement. The family's bachelor uncles had lived as paupers, wearing old suits, driving a twenty-year old Buick (which resembled 'a giant accordion') and visiting free clinics, while carrying forward the tradition of a bakery established by Mort's Russian immigrant, maternal grandparents in 1926, at 350 E 9th Street in New York City. Uncle Harry and Uncle Joe carried forward the tradition of the commissioned bakery - as Mort tells it: 'In their entire lives, my uncles never baked a thing.' The bakery, referred to as The Store, was in an old building with warped floors. It was open seven days a week, from seven in the morning to midnight, and always full of customers. As Mort puts it, 'both uncles knew only work'. Family members, specifically Mort's Mom, helped in the bakery and were paid in baked goods.

Uncle Joe had passed away, but Uncle Harry at age eighty-three, suffering with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, lived with Mort's parents. When the day came to place Harry in a nursing home, it was a torturous affair. Uncle Harry often asked, as if in some sort of code, 'Did you make the delivery?' He also often quoted ('what he claimed as') Bernard Baruch's favorite joke: 'What is the best investment in New York City? Central Park: it opens at fifty-nine and closes at one hundred and twenty-five every day.' Mort tells of his uncles: 'Uncle Joe rarely spoke, but when he did, he could make a few words go a long way.' Of Uncle Harry, who called the shots in the store because he had the business education his older brother lacked, Uncle Joe would say, 'He's the boss, and I'm the horse'.

Zachter writes of his wife Nurit, whom he met while on a trip to Israel, and their two adopted children. He worked hard to achieve his academic degrees, pinching pennies, struggling to meet mortgage payments, and repay school loans. Mort found several brokerage statements of the Uncles', each exceeding a million dollars. When it came time to clean out the Uncles' vacant apartment (Uncle Harry passed away while in the nursing home), the family found boxes stacked floor to ceiling, of merchandise unused from the days when banks gave gifts for opening an account, plus other treasures and artifacts. Mort concluded that his Uncles had a 'hoarding mentality', now known as obsessive compulsive behavior.

Mort Zachter's memoirs are not just about bread and dough, but address the emotional discovery of family, love and forgiveness, joy and sadness, and keeping in accordance with the laws of kahruth (kosher). Mort recalls being the youngest child singing The Four Questions. He reveals how the beverage Snapple was born, and the reason why Houston Street in NYC is pronounced House-ton. He writes endearingly, with a lot of heart, and quotes varied passages including the Rabbi's story of a little bird that flew through an open window. Trying to get out, 'Over and over again, the little bird hit the window and the ceiling.' The Rabbi finally advises, 'Do not be like that little bird ... Fly low so you can be contented'. I heartily recommend Mort Zachter's Dough to you.

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