Magazine

J. D. Salinger on the Road

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 […]

By Franz Douskey

Feb 09 2010

J. D. Salinger

AP Photo/ (c)The Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New
Hampshire, Lotte Jacobi

Photo Credit : AP Photo
AP Photo/ (c)The Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire, Lotte Jacobi
AP Photo/ (c)The Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New
Hampshire, Lotte Jacobi
Photo Credit : AP Photo
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. Franz Douskey has published in The New Yorker, The Nation, Rolling Stone, Down East, and Yankee Magazine, among many others. He has read from his writing at Cronkite Graduate Center at Harvard, the University of Arizona, the New School for Social Research, Donnell Library Center, and Yale University, where he taught creative writing for five years. He is president emeritus of IMPAC University in Punta Gorda, Florida. He produces and co-hosts Once Upon a Bandstand on WQUN, Quinnipiac University.