Dough: A Memoir

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By – January 27, 2012

As a child, Mort Zachter slept in a bed wedged against the refrig­er­a­tor in the dinette of his par­ents’ walk-up Brook­lyn apart­ment. His moth­er reg­u­lar­ly helped out at her broth­ers’ Low­er East Side bread store, her pay the left­overs from the day’s sales. Her bach­e­lor broth­ers, Joe and Har­ry, had tak­en over the store when their par­ents died and worked there sev­en days a week from sev­en in the morn­ing until mid­night. They lived near­by until Joe died, and Har­ry, suf­fer­ing from Alzheimer’s dis­ease, moved in with Zachter’s parents. 

On a swel­ter­ing sum­mer day when Zachter was vis­it­ing his par­ents, the phone — a black rotary mod­el — rang. By the time Zachter hung up, his entire life was upside down. His uncle’s stock­bro­ker — the ail­ing uncle who was sit­ting on a bro­ken-down chair across the room — was mail­ing Zachter pow­er of attor­ney over his uncle’s account of a mil­lion dollars. 

Thus begins Mort Zachter’s jour­ney into his uncles’ his­to­ry, more accu­rate­ly, their mys­tery, and his par­ents’ part in it. As he emp­ties his uncles’ apart­ment, crammed with castoff fur­ni­ture, unused bank give­aways, and piles of papers, he dis­cov­ers six mil­lion dol­lars in var­i­ous bank and bro­ker­age accounts. Why had his fam­i­ly strug­gled so, work­ing so hard for such mod­est com­forts? With his knowl­edge as a CPA and grad­u­ate of night law school, Zachter, the ulti­mate heir to this mon­ey, is able to pay off his debts and fol­low his orig­i­nal goal of being a writer. The result is this for­giv­ing, ami­able, and affec­tion­ate mem­oir of sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Jew­ish work­ing-class life, a warm and live­ly pic­ture of one family’s unlike­ly road to the Amer­i­can mid­dle class. Photographs.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

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