In a small American town in the 1930s, a poor Jewish couple tries to do its best to make a living. Their child, Zekharia, learns soon how to work honestly and how to save money, building his own empire from nothing. Working hard and helping needing people, he turns thirty and realizes it’s time to start a family. He meets the young Elisheva at the synagogue and immediately falls in love with her, so they decide to get married. They have two children, Gavriel and Yacoov. Yacoov moves to Australia; Gavriel marries Rah’el and has a child, Mykhael.
Life goes on and Zekharia becomes old; one day, after his daily walk, he has a heart attack and dies, leaving his family, especially Mykhael to whom he can’t teach all the things he knows.
Now, Mykhael is a teenager and along with his friends, Robert and Cheryl, builds a device for detecting ghosts… and the story becomes exciting, because grandpa Zek somehow managed to come back.
I – A diligent life
Zekharia was about to finish his daily walk.
He was on the verge of eighty-five, and sometimes it seemed that life had flashed by.
He came from a Jewish family, and he was born in 1930, when the United States of America were going through tough times.
He lived his childhood without really understanding what was happening around him, around his family and around the world.
His parents were advanced in years when they had him, and his father did all he could for his son, who was like a heaven-sent blessing.
Their house was in a poor zone, at the edge of a swamp.
Zekharia’s parents, contrary to what other people who were offered that house did, understood that living so close to a swamp could lead to different opportunities.
The house was built on top of a small hill made of solid stone, which had a depression at its peak, probably due to the erosion of the soft rock from natural elements. This depression had been further enlarged, so that it could house the base beams. The basement was a ring made of rock that preserved food supplies or stored materials from humidity, avoiding their deterioration.
Zekharia chose a recess in the wall as his personal, secret hiding place. There, he used to put his precious belongings, including the gold dollar he had found in the swamp.
At times, his parents hosted hunters attracted by the swamp for their hunting sessions. When this happened, Zekharia’s room was used as guest room, so he had to sleep in the living room, in front of the fireplace.
Tourists sometimes left a tip or some gifts. A man from New York even gave Zek a book, Pinocchio, which soon became his favorite reading.
In fact, he could read and write, because he had studied the Torah, as all the members of his community had done.
Zekharia perfectly remembered all the places of his childhood, as well as his parents’ teachings. His grandfather had been his best playmate, and he taught him how to make wooden tops or puppets. From his mother, he learned how to extract colors from plants or flowers, so he could draw on some cardboards found among the rich’s garbage. With his father and grandpa, he used to go into the woods or in the swamp to pick up mushrooms; his parents taught him where to find the best and most succulent ones, which could be dried or eaten at once. He learned how to recognize, pick and store some special herbs, ideal for cooking unforgettable roast chicken. He had also learned how to catch frogs, crayfish or swamp eels, which his mother cooked on the wood stove that her father and mother-in-law had given her.
His father was a farmer without land. He was a sharecropper, and that’s how he made a living. They bred chickens and rabbits, selling them too. On feast days, his mother used to prepare delicious herb omelets.
Then, the U.S.A. entered World War II, in part because they were being dragged in by Japan and in part because it was inevitable. People were simple, so it was easy to work on their national pride, influencing them with stories about justice and heroes.
When the first veterans returned to their own country, their accounts provided a crystal-clear version of the events. War meant death, destruction, poverty, but everything was softened by the victory on tyranny.
War was over before he turned eighteen.
At the age of twelve, as he finished primary school, his parents decided he had to start working for a mechanic. He didn’t like his employer very much, least of all the job, but this way he could earn money. And those earnings would have been useful later, for buying a van and starting a poultry transport business. He moved chickens from the country to the city, where they were slaughtered and sold. Chickens belonged to his parents and to the near breeding farms, too.
He ingratiated himself with a store owner, who was Jewish just like him. He was unmarried, had no children and he was close to retirement. One day, he decided to quit working: Zakharia managed the store at first, and then he acquired it.
Zek didn’t let the van get rusty. On the contrary, he hired a man and his wife, a Polish couple just arrived from Europe to escape the Iron Curtain.
The woman’s name was Agnes and her husband’s was Marek. They had no place to go, so that Agnes entered the store, asking for a job.
“Whatever job is OK,” she specified.
Zekharia looked straight into her eyes, as blue as the ocean, and told her: “Please, put the apron on, the store opens in a few minutes.”
As Agnes stood still open-mouthed in surprise, he slipped a ten-dollar bill into her hand, adding: “I have a room upstairs, you and your husband could stay there, if you wish. Go and tell him not to wait outside, I have a job for him, too.”
What had knocked the woman out most, besides the answer itself, was that the man standing behind the counter had talked in… Polish.
Zekharia’s mother had Polish origins, that’s why he perfectly knew that language. Until the age of eighteen, he had eaten Polish food, thought in Polish, and even breathed in Polish. His father didn’t mind, as he was charmed by that warm-hearted, quick-witted woman.
Then, thanks to their management skills and to their aptitude for work, the first earnings came, and with them a second van, as well as a second store: Agnes managed the first one, which was a deli, while the second one was a spice shop. Zek entrusted its management to an Indian couple originally from Goa. They were masters at mixing, suggesting and choosing the spices to buy. Their curry powder was the best and people came from the surrounding cities to buy it. The chefs of some renowned restaurants used to buy their spices and trusted the old Indian couple, Chitra and Nalin, blindly.
But fate went straight on rewarding Zekharia, maybe because of his humble nature, maybe because he showed no sign of having a break.
One of the restaurants that usually stocked up at their spice store was in a bad situation. Zekharia decided to take the business over, so it could get a new lease for life. The owner accepted to sell the restaurant and Zekharia substituted the staff with a Greek family: Eustachius, Aghate, their sons and some relatives. The renowned Greek cuisine and its explosion of flavors, along with some repairs and by keeping prices low, attracted new customers.
Zekharia wanted to keep the prices low even in the future.
So, what to do?
With the money scraped together, and thanks to the amount lent by the bank after he had mortgaged his stores and restaurant, the young businessman bought a farm and entrusted its management to some Turkish families just arrived in the U.S.
Argun and Serap represented the group, as they were the oldest couple and the ones who spoke better English. On the farm, they cultivated and bred animals.
Each one of them gave his contribution and advice on breeding sheep and pigs, chickens and cows, on planting fruit trees and sowing cereals and vegetables.
Zekharia paid back the loan quickly, and once again he had some extra money to invest. So, he decided to boost his farm, and he bought other plots of land he planted with flax. Buying some secondhand machines and a shed fallen into disuse, he started the production of flaxseed oil and textile fibers. Then, he applied for another loan: with the wool obtained from sheep and the flax produced at the farm, he launched a textile factory and started two clothing stores.
Zekharia had never given way to anger, but just once in his lifetime he couldn’t stop himself from getting angry. One day, a distinguished man dressed elegantly like a classic bank employee, showed up in front of Zekharia, saying he was a bank manager and a renowned financial consultant. He offered his advice on how to make his money and how to make wealth grow quickly. Unfortunately, his advice consisted in selling all the businesses he had acquired: this way he could make money to invest later, with no regard to the ones who would have gone bankrupt because of it.
But let’s be clear: the consultant suggested only safe speculations, which consisted in acquiring at low price some important businesses with lack of liquidity, and then selling them piece by piece.
“You could sell your properties to some people who contacted me so I could act as a go-between. The deal is practically closed, you just need to sign these papers.”