Goodwin's 'Next Year': The name of the game


"Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir,"by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Simon & Schuster. 238 pages. $25.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's new memoir "Wait Till Next Year" began as an account of her coming of age as a Brooklyn Dodger fan - which she gradually realized was inextricable from the story of her childhood.

In this, she found out she was not alone: Everywhere "I encountered people less anxious to hear my tales of Lyndon Johnson, the Kennedys, or the Roosevelts than they were to share memories of those wondrous days when baseball almost ruled the world." They were remembering, she says, "not simply the history of a team" but "their own history, and especially their ,, youthful days."

My first exposure to the passions produced by professional baseball came when I arrived at my son Patrick's Manhattan nursery school, to find him jabbing his index finger repeatedly in the air, chanting: "We're number one. We're number one." It was 1986, the year the Mets won the World Series. Over the years his infant love of baseball became a bond not only with his peers, but across the generations: Man or boy, one could always find a subject of mutual interest in the latest box scores.

This capacity of baseball to bridge the gap between adult and child was also a central part of Ms. Goodwin's love of the game. At night she relayed each Dodger game to her father in vivid detail. "By the time I had mastered the art of scorekeeping," she writes, "a lasting bond had been forged between my father and me."

The chronic tension that runs through Goodwin's memoir of life in the Fifties is this: How does a progressive historian deal with the virtues of the past, particularly the Fifties, a decade despised by the liberal imagination?

Goodwin awkwardly resolves this problem by prefacing her personally warm memories with perfunctory political correctness: "The media and pundits of the day instructed women that their only true fulfilment could be found as wives and mothers "she feels obliged to rant, before going on to note that her own book-loving mother "took great pride in being a housewife and seemed to enjoy her inviolable routine."

The Fifties as Goodwin describes them seem a child's paradise: "We raced our bikes down the street, with playing cards $H clothespinned to the spokes to simulate the sound of a motorcylce. ... When we began to tire, we played hopscotch on the sidewalk, leisurely jumped rope, rolled marbles, played jacks, or flipped cards against the stoop." The houses on young Doris' block "functioned almost as a single home. We felt free to dash in for a snack from the mother-in-residence, race through the side door in search of playmates."

Was it television, video games, working mothers, divorce, the pill, crime, or cars that put an end to this free, creative, adventurous life for children?

In any case, this is what childhood was really like in the Fifties, the decade which, one of today's college textbooks asserts, "brought only a flicker of contentment to a minuscule number of white, middle-class suburban U.S. families."

As the tenured radicals attempt to rewrite our nation's history, the warm, witty, eloquent personal testimony of someone of Doris Kears Goodwin's stature is well worth reading.

Maggie Gallagher writes a syndicated column for Universal Press. Her latest book, "The Abolition of Marriage: How We Lost the Right to a Lasting Love," was published last year by Regnery Press.

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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