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J. D. Salinger on the Road

J. D. Salinger on the Road
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AP Photo/ (c)The Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire, Lotte Jacobi
Photo/Art by AP Photo
AP Photo/ (c)The Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New
Hampshire, Lotte Jacobi

I live in Cornish, New Hampshire, just up a dirt road from J. D. Salinger. Every year dozens of tourists and students, mostly guys, come up Dingleton Hill looking for J. D. Salinger’s home. It’s hard to imagine what they think they’ll find in an 90-year-old man who wants to be left alone.

When I was asked whether I knew where J. D. Salinger lived, I always gave clear, intricate, wrong directions that would propel the pests to Claremont or Meriden by way of unpaved, rutted back roads.

On occasion, while I was walking on the dirt road near Salinger’s, people would stop their cars and ask whether I was J. D. Salinger. Sometimes I’d tell them no. But many of them didn’t believe me and kept driving slowly alongside me, conversing while I continued my walk. They were convinced that I was J. D. Salinger and was just being reclusive.

So, I did the only thing I could: I told them they were right; they’d found me and now what? They’d ask about my writing and tell me how much Holden Caulfield had influenced them, and they’d ask me to sign a copy of one of the books. I’d tell them that I never sign books. On several occasions, after much cajoling, I relented and had my picture taken, with and without family members, and with an occasional dog. I’m certain, now that J. D. is gone, that some of those family photos will appear on eBay. Sometimes avid writers would mistakenly drop off manuscripts in my mailbox. One called MANIFESTO was really good.

I’d been with Salinger at town meetings to discuss zoning issues, and I was at the registration table on Election Day when he came to me to give his name (registered Democrat) so that he could vote. And, of course, I’d seen him on the road numerous times, either walking or driving like a maniac in his green Jeep. We didn’t talk much. You see, I’m up here not to be bothered, as well.

Like most of us who come to Cornish, all Jerry wanted was to be left alone. But when he went shopping at Shaw’s supermarket in West Lebanon, a small town eight miles north of Cornish along the Connecticut River, the Valley News had to print a picture of him pushing a shopping cart or carrying a bag of groceries.

A few years back, a memorabilia collector named Rick Kohl, from Gainesville, Florida, took out a quarter-page ad in the Valley News. He said he’d pay $1,000 for a Salinger autograph, $2,000 for a signed book. He also wanted to know where J. D. had his hair cut. Rick Kohl would pay big bucks for J. D.’s clippings, what little was left. I sent Kohl some of my clippings; I’m still waiting for the check.

Why would anyone bother J. D. Salinger? He wrote a few good books five decades ago, but nothing since. And what would people have said if they’d seen him? “Hi, Jerry, I read Franny & Zooey” or “What exactly is a bananafish?” It wouldn’t have done any good to ask questions then. J. D. was stone deaf.

It’s anybody’s guess why on earth Joyce Maynard, who lived with Salinger for a while and seemed to be a very pleasant person, decided to tell us that she and Jerry ate frozen peas together while watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show. His daughter, Peggy, has written another tell-all book on J. D.’s life. She reveals that he was seldom around and how distant he was. Blah, blah, whine … Peggy, get over it.

We all have Salinger stories, like the time Orville got locked in Jerry’s garage and couldn’t get the new electronic door to open and was stuck there for hours; while he was waiting to be rescued, he discovered stacks of unpublished stories J. D. had been writing under an assumed name. And that name was …

Well, Orville did get locked in the garage, but he didn’t find any stacks of unpublished stories. Everyone knows that those stacks of unpublished stories are buried in several trunks near a stand of birches in the field across from Whitten Cemetery …

I’m right at the top of Dingleton Hill. A sign at the bottom of the driveway reads Fern Hill. If you come to Cornish and feel the urge to visit J. D.’s home and you need directions, stop by my place. I’ll be glad to tell you where to go.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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4 Responses to J. D. Salinger on the Road

  1. Sue Hirons February 12, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    Rumor has it that a nephew of mine, who used to live in Cornish many years ago, took a check from Salinger in payment for groceries. My nephew didn’t know who the shopper was until he saw the signature. As I remember it, my nephew said if he had the money in his pocket to cover the check, he would have kept the check for the signature. Alas, like most teenagers, he was mostly broke. Missed chances……..

  2. Sharon Lambert February 15, 2010 at 8:59 am #

    Good article Franz. I very much enjoyed reading it. I’m always amazed at how forward and thoughtless some people can be. Just because Mr. Salinger wrote a well known book doesn’t mean he and his life should be put on display, though I can understand the appeal in this ‘anything goes’ media crazy world we live in.

  3. Danielle Johnson February 15, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Sometimes the urge to pick a man’s brain in much the same manner as one scours a museum must be satisfied by merely reading the words that the man left behind…

  4. jon casey May 24, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    I ran a tavern in Vermont for some years…I met Jerry through my neighbor Lenny who was one of Jerry’s go to guys for jobs odd and not… We never used his last name … 1) Reticence is a Vermont trait.. 2) Vermonters are nosy adverse….

    When the interstate arrived in Vermont the late 60’s, it brought with it a flood of wild eyed down country enthusiasts with “a need to know”… That is not a civil right in Vermont… Since that time Vermonters have become masters of misdirection… Nosy people need it…

    Kudos to the author (even though he is a flatlander)…

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