The death of Roger Rosenblatt’s daughter Amy at age 38 was completely unexpected. She collapsed on the treadmill at home, felled by a heart abnormality that affects less than two thousandths of one percent of the population.
Statistics are of little comfort to Amy’s hard-working surgeon husband, Harris, who was left with three young kids: Jessie, 6, Sammy, 4, and infant James. Rosenblatt and his wife of 46 years, Ginny, decided to lend a hand, moving from Long Island to Bethesda, where they took up residence in their son-in-law’s guest bedroom. Their commitment was real. Roger scaled back his workload considerably; Ginny got back into a matronly rhythm that impressed her friends.
In Making Toast, an understated yet gripping memoir, acclaimed writer Rosenblatt recalls a period of loss, adjustment and memories as they became parents for the second time. Better known as “Boppo” to his grandkids, Rosenblatt doesn’t ask for sympathy or tears. He chronicles his new life as expert toast-maker and guardian/playmate/professor with a mixture of wonder and love.
What makes the book so absorbing is the way Rosenblatt interrupts his short chronicles—the slim book has no chapters—with a thunderbolt observation or statement. Ginny remarks that she feels like she’s now living Amy’s life; Roger initially eschews therapy because “we will never feel right again. No analysis or therapy will change that.” One section consists of the following: “Ginny has a choking fit at breakfast. It lasts only seconds, but Jessie freezes. Sammy runs from the room.”
Rosenblatt puts a life-altering event in simple, clear terms. By employing restraint (which, considering the circumstances, had to be excruciating), he reveals volumes about the power of family without wallowing in sentiment and self-help hooey. The big points come across loud and clear, including the following: A close family may suffer more, as Rosenblatt writes, but that closeness allows everyone to return to doing the simple, necessary things. Like making toast.
Pete Croatto is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.