Doris Kearns Goodwin, Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), 261 pages, some photos.
Goodwin, a renowned historian and author of presidential biographies, recalls her childhood fascination with the Brooklyn Dodgers in this delightful memoir. The Dodgers were referred to as bums, as it seemed they would never win a World Series. In the forties and fifties, they were a National League powerhouse, often winning the pennant, but losing in the Series. They were "always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” Against this backdrop is a young girl whose father taught her how to keep score. As she became better at scoring, she would listen to the afternoon game and then retell the events of the game to her father when he came home from his job as a bank examiner. She credits baseball with making her a historian and storyteller as she learns to build suspense in recalling the events of the game.
As Goodwin recalls each season in which the Dodgers disappoint them again, she shares memories of growing up in her Brooklyn neighborhood as well as events happening in the country and around the world. She lives by two calendars: one from church and the other from baseball. She tells many humorous stories such as making her confession before her first communion. It has been impressed upon her how serious this is and to think hard about her sins. She realizes she has been wishing bad things upon others, such as wanting a certain Yankee player to break an arm or a Phillies ball player to experience some other kind of misfortune. As she confesses, the priest’s giggles and admits that he too is a Dodger fan. Then, he uses the occasion to teach a lesson, asking her how she'd feel if the only way the Dodgers win the Series is that all the other players are injured. Another story involved Old Mary, who lived in a dilapidated house. The neighborhood children were sure she was a witch and set out spying on her. When Goodwin's mother learns of how they have been treating Mary, she takes her daughter down to meet the old woman who was from the Ukraine and had learned only broken English. A few months after learning she was a nice old and lonely woman, Old Mary dies.
Goodwin enjoyed school, especially literature and geography. She even had a teacher who required them to learn the principle towns along the Trans-Siberian along with the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian railroads along with the Baikula-Amur line. However, I'm not so sure about the Baikula-Amur line, a Siberian railway that runs north of Lake Baikal, as most of the work on it was twenty-plus years after Goodwin had finished elementary school.
In addition to what was happening locally, Goodwin reflects on the national events. The fifties were the waning years of segregation and she pays attention to the events at Little Rock. She ponders over the Rosenberg’s children after their execution and worries over the Soviet's exploding an atomic bomb. She goes out and searches for the first satellite launched by the Soviets. All this is recalled as Goodwin recaps each season. The book comes to a climax in 1956, when the Dodger's beats the Yankees for their first World Series win. She and her parents celebrated in downtown Brooklyn. But with the win comes losses. Goodwin's childhood friend moves away, a trend that will happen over and over again with the affluence of the 50s. She becomes interested in boys. Then her mother dies and her father, who is heartbroken, decides to sell the only house she's really ever known. Then the final straw breaks in 1957, as the Brooklyn Dodgers (along with the hated Giants) announce they will relocate to the West Coast. The magic of childhood has passed her by.
In the Epilogue, Goodwin tells about how she again fell in love with baseball as a graduate student at Harvard. This time it was with the Boston Red Sox, a team who (at the time of the writing of her memoir) was a lot like the old Dodgers. Although they often had good teams, they were unable to win the Series. Goodwin, like her father before her, has the pleasure to introduce her children to the magic of the game.
I enjoyed reading this book. Goodwin is a wonderful storyteller and has an eye for history (with perhaps the exception of Russian railroads). I recommend this book!