The way I make toast is enough to drive anyone crazy. It has. It does. Yet, zealously, I still strive for those two perfect slices with my morning tea.
I keep my bread in the refrigerator because it is a sprouted grain variety without any preservatives. I discovered a few years ago that cold bread doesn’t toast evenly so I warm it up a bit in the toaster before I start the actual process. And it is a process. I put the bread in the toaster for one minute at a time. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. You get the idea. Between all the upping and downing I give it a rest to let some of the moisture evaporate. I do this because, unlike many, I want my toast crispy all the way through—but not too brown. And I don’t want the pat of butter (perhaps, pat is an understatement) and the dollop of jam compromising the crunch.
Does it sound obsessive to you? Probably. I know that anyone in the house waiting to use the toaster after me thinks that it is. Sometimes I miscalculate and must add scraping into the ritual. Sometimes I throw it away and start over. I don’t know anyone who really enjoys burnt toast. Burnt toast is a bummer.
But it isn’t the end of the world, is it? In fact, it is nothing more than crumbs when compared to real tragedy.
I have a book on my shelf that I re-read every few years. Mrs. Mike is a story about Kathy, an Irish girl in the early twentieth century who travels from Boston to her uncle's home in Calgary to recover from pleurisy and marries Mike Flannigan, a sergeant in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Kathy leaves behind everything that is familiar to move with her husband to isolated posts in the far north of British Columbia and Alberta. In just a few short years she experiences the kind of hardship and heartache that would break many woman. It nearly breaks Kathy.
When she returns home to her mother’s boarding house in Boston to recover from her devastating losses, she is plunged into the everyday concerns of smaller lives. Burnt toast in the morning becomes an occasion for exaggerated discord and complaint among the boarders, and nineteen-year-old Kathy realizes how much adversity has changed her, how it has added depth and dimension to her life. As Sergeant Mike Flannigan tells her, “When little things are so important, it's because there aren’t any big ones.”
Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman is more than a memorable romance and adventure story. Without being didactic, it serves as a poignant tribute to endurance. We all experience spilt milk and burnt toast moments, but it is often the harsher struggles that give our lives definition; and how we respond to them shows the world who we really are. Not many lives run in straight, easy lines. The book is primarily a novel, but knowing that some of it is based on the life of a real woman gives it more heft. It is a book that I will continue to read again and again and, in my estimation, that makes it a classic.
Burnt Toast by Todd Gipstein