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Routine Fosters Resilience In 'Making Toast'

Making Toast

When Ginny and Roger Rosenblatt learned that their 38-year-old daughter, a pediatrician and mother of three small children, had collapsed on the treadmill in her downstairs playroom and died from an asymptomatic heart condition, they knew what they had to do. They rushed from their comfortable life in Quogue, on the south shore of Long Island, down to Amy's house in Bethesda, Md. And stayed. Amy's children, ages six, five and one, needed them, and so did Amy's stalwart husband, Harris Solomon, a hand surgeon. The day after she lost her mother, Rosenblatt's granddaughter asked apprehensively, "How long are you staying, Boppo?" "Forever," he answered.

Making Toast — portions of which first appeared in The New Yorker in December 2008, a year after Amy's death — is the story of this family's heartbreak, but it is also the story of how pulling together and "creating a diversion ... as well as a differently constructed life" for both the children and the adults saves them all. Read it with a box of tissues at the ready.

Rosenblatt, an award-winning essayist for Time and PBS and the author of six off-Broadway plays and 13 books, including Rules for Aging and the satirical novel Lapham Rising, brings us right into the hectic new, multigenerational household forged by Amy's devastated survivors. He makes us weep when the children cry for their mother and laugh when he "reads" hilarious invented selections from The Letters of James Joyce to his autocratic, not-yet-two-year-old grandson.

Married for nearly 50 years, Rosenblatt marvels anew at his wife's selfless competence, taking the kids to school, making dates with other mothers on the sidelines of soccer games, helping with homework. He comments, "in sorrow, she is in her element. 'I am leading Amy's life,' she says in despair yet comfort, too."

He's more modest about his own contributions, claiming somewhat disingenuously that making toast is "the one household duty I have mastered." Yet it is clear that Boppo, as his grandchildren call him, not only provides stabilizing routines with his early morning toast and Word-of-the-Day, but necessary comic relief, leading ticklefests and cheers of "Boppo the Great."

And let's not slight his role as family chronicler. This stirring memoir — filled with loving memories of his only daughter at various stages in her tragically abbreviated life and a glowing record of his grandchildren's resilient development over a difficult year — will be an extraordinary gift to Amy's children someday. Almost as extraordinary as the gift of devoted care.

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Heller McAlpin
Heller McAlpin is a New York-based critic who reviews books regularly for, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications.