Wait Till Next Year, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
I’ve always enjoyed listening to Pulitzer Prize winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin whenever I caught one of her interviews, often on the Late Show with David Letterman, as she was one of his favorites. I found her to be lively, funny, and having the innate ability to make history come alive.
But I had never read any of her books, simply because her specialty – the lives of American presidents – did not interest me enough to spend precious reading time on them, regardless of how wonderfully written. Then I saw Wait Till Next Year – a memoir, not a history, and one that also encompassed the passion that Ms. Kearns Goodwin and I both embrace: a love of baseball.
Wait Till Next Year was written for me. While I haven’t been a baseball fan from childhood as she was (instead jumping on the bandwagon when my beloved Minnesota Twins won their first World Series in 1987 and refusing to jump back off again), so much of what she wrote of her upbringing resonated with me. While she grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950/60s and I grew up in small town Iowa in the 1960/70s, our experiences were similar: a strong sense of community, social mores that were willingly embraced, a childhood innocence that seems almost quaint in our technologically open lives today.
Doris Kearns grew up in a safe world, one where she could flourish with the stability of two loving parents, a neighborhood where the people rarely moved, where the businesses were locally owned and catered to the community. The friends she made went to the same schools, lived in houses nearby, and had their own tight knit families. Although there were differences – in religion, in financial circumstances (although all were in “the working class”), and most importantly, in baseball affiliation – there was little strife, few prejudices, and virtually no ugliness, at least that was seen by the children.
This does not mean that there wasn’t drama in little Doris’ life, but her dramas were simple and innocent, told in a guileless voice: her mortification when her mother took her to actually meet the neighborhood witch (who turned out to be just a lonely old woman who hadn’t learned to speak English well); the chagrin she felt when she went to her first confession and learned that tattling wasn’t a mortal sin after all, something her older sister had been holding over her head for years; her fear of offending her family’s Catholic God by going to see a Dodgers great at a Protestant church. And of course, the utter betrayal of the Giants and the Dodgers when, within the space of less than a year, they both pulled up stakes and relocated to the West Coast – and broke the hearts of their heretofore staunchly faithful and now bereft fans.
But this idyllic upbringing puts the real dramas of the time into sharper focus: the ongoing fear of polio, that struck so suddenly and so mysteriously; her own mother’s frail health; the scourge of McCarthyism, which felt wrong even to the kids in the neighborhood as they aped its behavior in their play; the specter of racism, which confounded Doris, although later in life she realized that she had never really encountered racism, even as an observer, as the closest she came to people of color was on the baseball field. This awareness of the shortcomings of “real life” makes Ms. Kearns Goodwin’s recounting of her halcyon childhood even more precious.
Wait Till Next Year is a lovely read, reverberating in its simplicity rather than in its emotional complexity. I enjoyed it, very much, and I’m sure you will, too, even if you aren’t a baseball fan – but especially if you are.