Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin
I have seen Presedential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin appear many times on TV political talk shows. I have also heard her speak on several occasions about her love for the Brooklyn Dodgers. You can imagine mydelight when I came across a copy of her 1997 book Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir at a used book sale. A favorite topic of mine–The Brooklyn Dodgers–by a favorite writer. This memoir recounts Doris’ childhood in the 40s and 50s in Brooklyn and later in Rockville Center, NY.
Goodwin uses the season-to-season rhythms of baseball to create the arch of her formative years. She uses this baseball canvass to weave several distinct plot lines, involving family, community, catholicism, and world events. The book is about baseball, but baseball is not its central theme, far from it.
Doris has nothing but wonderful memories of her parents; each somewhat flawed, her mother dying at the age of 51 and being sick for most of Doris’ early life. Her father had experienced the death of two siblings and both parents, the last from suicide as a boy and was shipped off to a foster home. Neither parents’ situations seemed to hurt Doris’ relationship with her parents. If anything, it helped broaden her appreciation of her parents; an unusual trait for a youngster.
Doris grew up the youngest of three sisters by a number of years which thrust her into adult-type conversations. This experience gave her the traits of inquisitiveness and precociousness. This familial experience also seemed to have left her with an indomitably positive person–a trait which comes across throughout her book.
Even during the apparent idyllic time of the 50s, many unsettling historical events took place, the polio epidemic, McCarthyism, Little Rock School integration, and nuclear air raid drills being among them.
Doris writes about both the Dodgers and the Giants leaving New York city for the West Coast and uses that incident to talk about how the old neighborhood had changed as well, many families moved out to further their careers and status in life as well as the demise of the corner drug store and local butcher shop–both closed down. It seems the end of her childhood perfectly coincided with this dramatic move of two of NYC’s historic treasures and the disappearance of her beloved neighborhood.
- How she and best friend Elaine shared a blanket during the Summer with dueling radios, Doris’ with Red Barber announcing for the Dodgers while Elaine’s radio was tuned to Mel Allen broadcasting for the arch enemies, the Yankees.
- Doris had a running friendly rivalry with a local butcher shop who owners were rabid fans of the Giants. After Bobby Thomson’s historic home run in 1951, Doris couldn’t get herself to visit the butcher shop until they sent her a bouquet of flowers.
How Doris was nervous during her first Catholic confession because she had to admit to the Priest that she wished ill of the opposing teams’ players.
“And what else my child?”
“I wished harm to Allie Reynolds.”
“The Yankee pitcher?” he asked, surprise and concern in his voice. “And how did you wish to harm him?”
“I wanted him to break his arm.”
“And were there others”
“Oh , yes,” I admitted. “I wished that Robin Roberts of the Philies would fall down the steps of his stoop, and that Richie Ashburn would break his hand.
“For your pennance, say two Hail Marys, three Our Fathers, and, ” he added, with a chuckle, “say a special prayer for the Dodgers. Now say the Act of Contrition.”
Excerpted from pp 107-108 Wait Till Next Year 1997 Harcover edition.
Kearns Goodwin is a gifted storyteller. She brings coming to age in the 50s into vivid relief for us in Wait. The book is about baseball, but much more than baseball and that is a good thing.
BoB Rating Home Run (a wonderful memoir even if baseball wasn’t its central theme)
Amazon (4.5 stars), Barnes and Noble (4.3 stars), Goodreads (4.0 stars)