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'Jackie's Gift' A Baseball Tale For The Holidays

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'Jackie's Gift' A Baseball Tale For The Holidays


'Jackie's Gift' A Baseball Tale For The Holidays

'Jackie's Gift' A Baseball Tale For The Holidays

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

During the holidays, most families tell and re-tell magical stories of years past. Steve Satlow has us all beat. His childhood tale includes a special gift from Jackie Robinson — yes, THAT Jackie Robinson. Host Scott Simon speaks with Sharon Robinson and Steve Satlow about Robinson's new children's book, Jackie's Gift.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Scott Simon.

During the holidays, most families tell and retell magical stories of years past. Steve Satlow has all of us beat. His childhood tale includes a special gift from Jackie Robinson - yeah, that Jackie Robinson. Sharon Robinson, children's book author and daughter of number 42, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, has retold that story in her new book, "Jackie's Gift: A True Story of Christmas, Hanukkah and Jackie Robinson."

Sharon Robinson joins us from New York.

Sharon, thanks so much for being back with us again.

Ms. SHARON ROBINSON (Author): Thank you for having me back, Scott.

SIMON: And joining us from Gainesville, Florida is her old neighbor from Brooklyn, Steve Satlow.

Dr. Satlow, thank you very much for being with us.

Dr. STEVE SATLOW (Physician): Glad to be here.

SIMON: Sharon, let's turn to you. We should explain, you weren't born when this gift was given.

Ms. ROBINSON: No, I was not. But I grew up hearing the story.

SIMON: Okay. Well, tell us what you heard.

Ms. ROBINSON: Well, Steve's mother is an amazing storyteller. So she would remind me periodically that she met my father when he delivered a Christmas tree to her son, Steve.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: This presented some problems of etiquette, right?

Ms. ROBINSON: Yeah...

SIMON: I mean your mother was trying - I mean, you know, your father was trying to be nice.

Ms. ROBINSON: My father was being generous. Steve had been over at the house, helping them decorate a tree. And neither my father nor my mother understood that Jews did not have Christmas trees on Christmas Eve. So when they heard that Steve didnt have one, dad said, okay, and he went out and brought a Christmas tree and met Steve's mom for the first time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. So when Jackie Robinson brought over a Christmas tree, did your mother plotz?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SATLOW: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it was my father. What are we going to tell your mother? You know? And eventually it was told and my mother accepted the tree with my dad. And it turned out great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Now, Steve, we should explain. Jackie Robinson was already your hero.

Dr. SATLOW: Oh, yes. The whole neighborhood was abuzz that Jackie was going to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. And us being accepted as friends of the Robinsons was just wonderful. And of course I remember over the years going to multiple, many games, especially with Little Jack, your brother...

Ms. ROBINSON: Right.

Dr. SATLOW: ...and being down in the clubhouse with the Dodgers and on the field before the game started.


Dr. SATLOW: And all the Dodgers knew us: Pee Wee Reese, Junior Gillian, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Don Newcomb.


Dr. SATLOW: I mean, and they would feed us hotdogs in the clubhouse.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SATLOW: I loved that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SATLOW: I loved that.

SIMON: So as depicted in the book, were you this adorable little towheaded boy with a Brooklyn Dodger cap on your head, looking up at Jackie Robinson?

Dr. SATLOW: I was an average kid in Brooklyn. I used to love to play softball and two-hand touch football and stickball. And it was a wonderful experience because Jackie took a special interest.

And just to mention two quick stories. I had a ruptured appendix. I was in the hospital for a few weeks. Jackie came to the hospital and gave me one of his practice mitts.


Dr. SATLOW: And he also later - believe it or not - gave me a personally-signed 1955 baseball when the Brooklyn Dodgers defeated the dreaded Yankees, finally.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SATLOW: And when Brooklyn went wild, you wouldnt believe it, I gave that ball to a baseball fan who ran an Italian restaurant so I could get extra big veal parmesan sandwiches...


(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SATLOW: ...when I was 17.

SIMON: Oh! Im sorry, for a lifetime of veal parmesan sandwiches, thats not worth that baseball. But oh my word.

Now, you grew up hearing this Christmas/Hanukkah story, which I guess - it begins with, I guess, a bowl of cherries.

Ms. ROBINSON: Yes. My parents moved in to Tilden Avenue. Steve was waiting outside, you know, hoping to see, meet Jackie Robinson. And he's disappointed when the moving van comes, 'cause he sees my mother and he sees my older brother, but doesnt see my dad.

So then the next day, he and his mother deliver a bowl of cherries. They had a big cherry tree in their front yard. And Sarah said, let's bring them a welcoming gift, and she and Steve brought the cherries over. And my most fun piece of art in the book is Mom and Sarah talking and Steve peeking around the corner, still looking for Jackie.

But once again, he's disappointed because Jackie's not home.

SIMON: In the book, young Steve is aware of the fact that there are some people that dont want Jackie Robinson to play for the Dodgers, some people that dont want him to live on their street in Brooklyn. And Steve, in the book your parents say, well, you know, thats just wrong and it's especially wrong for Jews to think that way.

I mean your family kind of knew the sting of anti-Semitism, didnt they?

Dr. SATLOW: Yes. The reason my grandfather came from Moscow, Russia was because of persecution against the Jews in about 1903, and he felt it personally, and the same with my grandmother.

SIMON: Sharon, you know, it's often been pointed to - your father really developed - boy, how do I say this in these politically correct times? Well, he had a lot of Jewish friends and really developed a feeling for Judaism.

Ms. ROBINSON: We had in our family we - we worked together with Jews to raise money right at our house for the civil rights movement.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. ROBINSON: The religious difference made us closer because we both had gone through both segregation, which - and the persecution against Jews. We both had been through hard times and we felt very, very much, very close to each other and like we had a common goal.

SIMON: Dr. Sadlow, if I could get you to talk in front of Sharon, who you've known for so many years, what was it like as a kid to be in the presence of Jackie Robinson?

Dr. SATLOW: It was fantastic because the friendship, like I said, continued. We visited them maybe once every two or three months in Saint Albans, Long Island, and eventually North Stamford, Connecticut, and it was - Jackie was a regular guy. He was always - and Sunday he was in front of the TV. You know, he played football for UCLA. He was...

SIMON: He was the best running back of his time.

Dr. SATLOW: He was one of them and all these dignitaries would be marching around in their living room, but Jackie would be eating a hamburger, a chocolate milkshake, and watching football. He was a really regular guy and a straight shooter all the way through.

SIMON: And Sharon?


SIMON: Steves mother and your mother have remained devoted friends, I guess.

Ms. ROBINSON: They have. In fact, I have a PowerPoint that I show the children in school, and after going through the book and doing a reading, I end it with a picture I took of them, Steve, about three weeks ago three or four weeks ago?

Dr. SATLOW: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ROBINSON: And their heads are together and theyre down at - Steve's mom lives now in Florida with - on Steve's property - and so their heads are sort of together and the cows are in the background.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Cows? Youve got...

Ms. ROBINSON: Hes gone from being a doctor to a cow farmer.

SIMON: Oh my word. Do the cows get a Christmas tree, Dr. Satlow, or are they Jewish too?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SATLOW: They are the fattest cows in - west of Ocala(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SATLOW: They get everything.

SIMON: I found this an utterly charming book and story, and I just wonder what each of you hope youngsters and their parents who read the story to them are going to take away from this story.

Ms. ROBINSON: I hope that they take away the importance of friendship, that they should treasure friendship and let it develop in spite of race, religion, that doesn't matter. If you find a really good friend, you need to nurture that relationship.

SIMON: Dr. Satlow?

Dr. SATLOW: Well, I think that's an excellent summary. I can only add that every child should have aspirations and dreams. Mine was to be like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson. But I couldn't be that, so I strived in other areas to do what I could. But it's always great to dream, especially around Christmas time.

SIMON: Well, it's a wonderful book - for Hanukkah, for Christmas.

Ms. ROBINSON: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: For everything. Wonderful to talk to both of you. Thanks so much.

Dr. SATLOW: Thank you.

Ms. ROBINSON: Thank you for having us.

SIMON: Steve Satlow, who's in Gainesville, Florida, and Sharon Robinson in New York. Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas.

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