Meeting Jerry Salinger, A Writer
In the summer of 1953, J.D. “Jerry” Salinger had moved to Cornish and I had returned to Windsor, having just graduated from college. His purpose was to write while enjoying relative peace and obscurity in New Hampshire, while mine was to assist my vivacious but overworked mom at Juniper Hill Inn, located just across the Connecticut River in Vermont. My stepfather had died the day I graduated from Smith, and my mom was frantically dealing with four disparate, demanding and financially-challenged businesses, including the inn. At that time I was engaged to a Yale man, but because he needed to complete business school before we could get married, I was free to help out my mom.
We had a number of interesting visitors to the inn that summer and one early autumn afternoon a tall, dark, fortyish man stopped by. After a lengthy conversation with my attractive mom, which I had quietly joined, he asked the two of us out for dinner and we left immediately in his car. He drove rapidly to an unlikely dining destination, the “Top Hat,” a now defunct and slightly tacky restaurant/bar some miles down the road. There in the smoky interior we three found the food barely edible, the chanteuse barely listenable, and the conversation barely audible due to the noise level. All along I had no clue as to who this guy was except that his name was Jerry. My multi-tasking, newly-widowed, preoccupied mom had not filled me in. Besides, she was not one whose head could be turned by a famous name since a number of renowned, unusual or notable personages had previously stayed at our inn.
Several days later, Jerry invited the two of us to a square dance in Cornish, but as mom couldn’t go, I went with him alone. We had a jolly time “doe-see-doeing.” Still having no idea who he was or even his full name, I asked him in the car on the way home: “OK, Jerry, why did you come to Cornish? What are you doing here?” He looked surprised but answered, “Oh, I am a writer.” “That’s nice,” said I, “What do you write?” “Mainly fiction,” he said. “Like what kind of fiction? (I had been an art history major at college but had taken many literature courses). “Oh, short stories, and also a novel.” (Jerry was enjoying himself.) Now intrigued, I queried, “Would I know the name of your novel? What’s it about?” He answered, “Have you heard of the The Catcher in the Rye? I gasped and turned toward him in disbelief, “WHAT! YOU wrote the The Catcher in the Rye?” “Well, yes,” he said. “Have you read it?” “No,” said I, “but it’s on my list.”
Sure enough, the next time he stopped by the inn, I was on the sofa reading The Catcher in the Rye. “So what do you think of it?” asked Jerry. “I dunno — only halfway through.” It was late afternoon/early evening with no guests, so we sat on the sofa in front of the big lit fireplace and talked. He brushed off my questions and instead asked me many, including about my fiancé. “He is Catholic and wants me to convert,” I said. He allowed that he was half Jewish but organized religion was not a factor in his life now — except perhaps for Buddhism. He listened bemused by my chatter, making several snide comments on a few of my more mundane pronouncements. Then, during a pause, he put an arm around my shoulder. I shrugged him off. After all, I was engaged to be married.
Several weeks later, having finished reading Catcher, I stopped unannounced at his Cornish house. This was after a few abortive turns on narrow dirt roads since his place was difficult to find and he had no listed telephone number. However, I had a book to share with him (I’ve forgotten the title) as well as some thoughts as to the similarity between some of his fictional characters and several of the more infamous teenage kids in town. When he opened the door I could see that he was not delighted by this unexpected visit. Still, he invited me inside. While I petted his big dog, we chatted a bit until he announced, indicating a large disheveled stack of papers, that he had to go to the Dartmouth Library for research. Leaving the book, I departed promptly, never to see him again. Soon after I went to New York to become a copywriter; and he became a world-famous recluse.
The writer lives in Hartland.