Memoir honors first family entrepreneuer


Grandpa paved way for entrepreneurship

Grandpa Joseph Drabek of Vizovice was the first entrepreneur in the family. He worked for a shoe factory Svedrup as a master sewing machine repairman. He even had his own apprentice. But, on the side he did so called “fusky” or moonlighting for cash. He continued with moonlighting even more so after retiring from Svedrup. Now, that was strictly prohibited under communism, since all private businesses in former Czechoslovakia were nationalized in February of 1948. Penalties for violating the nationalization law included jail time. And grandpa did some.
There were no legal private butcher shops, no funeral parlors, no general stores, no bakeries, no jewelers, and no farmers, just cooperatives. The agricultural land was taken away from farmers, including my second uncles, and put into cooperatives.
So, at a time when any private enterprise was considered an illicit business, grandpa’s biz was flourishing due to the lack of skilled people in his trade.
He proudly gave his corporate headquarters a grandiose name, “shoppa.” The shop was a shack put together from scavenger boards and planks, window panes and stolen material from the shoe factory. It was well hidden behind the old house under a walnut tree. Grandpa painted the shop with old oil from his cars, and he got offended when someone called it a shed.

Grandpa's Shoppa in 2006
Grandpa’s Shoppa in 2006

Grandpa Joseph spent a lot of time on the road. And that’s when my dad, a professor of math and physics, became a part of the business. Dad couldn’t get a teaching job after returning home from the USA, so grandpa as a true entrepreneur exploited that without hesitation.
Dad chauffeured grandpa around the Moravian region for gas money, instead of teaching calculus and trigonometry. He patiently waited in the car calculating math problems in his head, while jovial grandpa chatted with seamstresses who had broken sewing machines.
Grandpa could be easily recognized from far by his signature beret, blue work shirt with oil streaks, his two leather bags filled with tools, and a little canted walk. He quite often swore at the machines, when he couldn’t fix them.
“Where were you,” mom asked once after the duo had been gone for the entire day.
Well that was part of the problem. We never knew when they were coming home. At a time when even land phone lines were a luxury, it was impossible to track them down.

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Grandpa Joseph with my parents in Big Rapids, MI

And it wasn’t unusual for them to end up in strange places, since dad didn’t know the hilly region well.
Grandpa took the business another step further when he put an ad in the local paper advertising his craft. That too was a big no, no. He laughed for the longest time at the single response he got, “Dear Mr. Advertiser.”
No matter what grandpa did, he was a true pioneer ahead of his time.

Grandpa did get to visit with my parents Ella and Vaclav in Big Rapids, Michigan in the late 1980s, soon before he died of cancer. His shoppa survived both him and all the political and development upheaval.
I salute both men, who ever so bravely, journeyed through the countryside to earn an honest crown, that is a good Czech currency.

 

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

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