Recluse or just from a small town?

Recluse or just from a small town? February 2, 2010

Maybe J. D. Salinger wasn’t a recluse after all. Maybe he just lived in a small town and nobody could find him. This report describes the novelist’s life in Cornish, New Hampshire, including his love of church dinners:

Mr. Salinger was just Jerry, a quiet man who arrived early to church suppers, nodded hello while buying a newspaper at the general store and wrote a thank-you note to the fire department after it extinguished a blaze and helped save his papers and writings.

Despite his reputation, Mr. Salinger “was not a recluse,” said Nancy Norwalk, a librarian at the Philip Read Memorial Library in Plainfield, which Mr. Salinger would frequent. “He was a towns- person.”

And last week, after his death, his neighbors would not talk about him, reflecting what one called “the code of the hills.”

“Nobody conspired to keep his privacy, but everyone kept his privacy — otherwise he wouldn’t have stayed here all these years,” said Sherry Boudro of nearby Windsor, Vt., who said her father, Paul Sayah, befriended Mr. Salinger in the 1970s. “This community saw him as a person, not just the author of ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ They respect him. He was an individual who just wanted to live his life.”

The curious constantly descended on Cornish and the surrounding area, asking residents for directions to Mr. Salinger’s house. Instead of finding the home, interlopers would end up on a wild goose chase.

How far afield the directions went “depended on how arrogant they were,” said Mike Ackerman, owner of the Cornish General Store. Mr. Salinger, he said, “was like the Batman icon. Everyone knew Batman existed, and everyone knows there’s a Batcave, but no one will tell you where it is.”

Cornish, a town of about 1,700 on the banks of the Connecticut River, has two general stores, a post office, a church and miles of pines, oaks, farmland and rolling hills. The town has long been a summer haven for artists and writers, a solitary escape in the woods.

By all accounts Mr. Salinger loved the area. He would, until recent years, vote in elections and attend town meetings at the Cornish Elementary School, and he went to the Plainfield General Store each day before it closed. He was often spotted at the Price Chopper supermarket in Windsor, separated from Cornish by a covered bridge and the now ice-jammed river, and he ate lunch alone at the Windsor Diner. Mr. Salinger was also said to have frequented the library at Dartmouth College and to have attended the occasional house party. . . .

Over the past few years Mr. Salinger made fewer trips out of his home, but “he loved church suppers,” Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Salinger was a regular at the $12 roast beef dinners at First Congregational Church in Hartland, Vt. He would arrive about an hour and a half early and pass the time by writing in a small, spiral-bound notebook, said Jeannie Frazer, a church member. Mr. Salinger usually dressed in corduroys and a sweater, she said, and would not speak. He sat at the head of the table, near where the pies were placed.

Mr. Salinger last went to a supper in December, and Ms. O’Neill picked up takeout the past two Saturdays. Mr. Salinger was one of the few who gave the children who waited on diners a few dollars. “Not everybody tipped,” said Stuart Farnham, whose son received a $2 gratuity from Mr. Salinger.

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