Reviewed by Donald
If you were to drop by Steve and Cokie Roberts' home for a social evening, say a
backyard barbecue, Steve—a longtime writer for the New York Times—might
tell you that he considers Cokie—a well-known television reporter— to be
"the best Jew in the family.". Which is quite a compliment,
given the fact that she is a practicing Catholic.
When the two decided to marry, over strenuous objections of Steve's parents (who
later came to love her), she resolved to do everything in her power to make
certain that Judaism and Catholicism would peacefully coexist in the Roberts'
At the time of their wedding, Cokie's parents were the House Democratic whip
Hale Boggs of Louisiana and Lindy Boggs, who later would succeed her husband in
Congress and later still would become the U.S. ambassador to the
Vatican. Normally such a couple would have expected that their daughter
would be married in a big church ceremony, but instead they agreed with Cokie's
suggestion that the wedding be held at their Washington D.C. home, where Steve's
parents could be comfortable. It was quite a social event, attended by President
and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson.
The newlyweds decided that their children would be
brought up in their mother's religion, but with knowledge and loving respect for
their father's Judaism. "Early in our marriage, we started having an
annual seder...and when we eventually returned to Washington, and moved into the
house where we had been married, my parents became regular and enthusiastic
guests at these events," Steve writes. "I knew that any residue of
resentment had completely disappeared when Dad said, Don't even bother asking us
anymore, just assume we'll always be there. As I was writing this chapter,
Cokie and I attended Yom Kippur services together. And as I heard her singing
the Hebrew prayers, in her strong, clear voice, I thought of Dad and wished he
could have heard her too."
This material reprises some of what Cokie and Steve Roberts together told us in
their book on marriages, From This Day Forward. In
the movie business, this current volume would be called a "prequel"
because it tells Steve's story before he and Cokie were married. In
My Fathers' Houses, the fathers in question are Roberts' father, Will, a
publisher who dreamed of being a great writer, and Roberts' domineering
grandfather, Abe, an immigrant from Eastern Europe who "Americanized"
the family name from Rogow. Roberts' writes about both men
affectionately yet analytically.
The anecdotes are the kind that grown sons might exchange at social occasions
about their lovable, if fallible, fathers. For example, Roberts remembers with
affection but not approval, Grandpa Abe "was always playing the odds and
the angles. He had stationery printed up that said Atlas Supply Company—there
was no such thing—and when he needed a new tool, he'd write to the
manufacturer, saying he was a wholesale distributor of wrenches or screwdrivers
or whatever. He was thinking of handling the manufacturer's line, so could
they send a sample for him to try? I'm not sure he ever paid for a tool in his
Although he was raised in Bayonne,
N.J.—the virtues of which Roberts expounds upon nostalgically and at
length—his family also had a summer place in rural Long Valley, where his
father played the role of gentleman farmer. One family ritual was the "Cult
of the Corn," which placed the highest premium on absolute
Before going out to the cornfield, Will would set the water boiling. "After
scrutinizing every stalk and weighing every option, he'd make his selections and
then rush toward the house, shucking the ears as he went," Roberts recalls.
"Our job was to open the screen door for him as he bolted through the
kitchen and plunged his prizes into the steaming cauldron. Mere seconds
elapsed between picking and cooking."