(Host) J.D. Salinger spent much of his life in Cornish, New Hampshire.
But for years he got his mail at the post office in Windsor. And although they were hounded by inquisitive reporters, the people of Windsor protected their famous neighbor’s privacy.
On the announcement of Salinger’s death, VPR’s Susan Keese spoke with one Windsor resident… who recalls a time when the reclusive author wasn’t so reclusive.
(Keese) Joyce Pierce was a teenager when J.D. Salinger first appeared in Windsor more than 50 years ago.
(Pierce) "He had a little foreign car … and he had a raggedy old dog, I think it was a schnauzer. And he would pull up on Main Street and my word, we were in a tizzy here in Windsor."
(Keese) Pierce describes Salinger as elegant, "author-ish" and tall. Despite the fact that he was 10 or 15 years older, he started hanging out with the high school set that gathered at Naps Lunch on Windsor’s Main Street.
(Pierce) "He seemed to think we had something to say, which was pretty flattering. So there were a bunch of us who became friends with him and we would go over to his house and play the Ouija Board. Ha ha!"
(Keese) It’s been suggested that Salinger was studying the young peoples’ gestures and dialogue for his work. Pierce isn’t so sure.
(Pierce) "He’d already written about Holden Caulfield so he kind of had that down pat. And any of his short stories, I don’t recall that we could have helped him much with. So… I really don’t know why he was drawn to young people like that."
(Keese) But Pierce says Salinger helped her through a difficult time.
(Pierce) " He was a good friend to me because I had not been able to go to college with the rest of my friends because of a serious illness of my father, and my college money went down the drain… so he was so kind to me…. He found out I was interested in jazz. He would save the New York Times music section for me … and just kind of reinforced my self-esteem."
(Keese) Pierce says it didn’t take long for the urban press to come hunting for the elusive author.
(Pierce) "Somehow or other they knew he got his mail at a post office box in Windsor Vermont. And they would say, ‘Pardon me but do you know J.D. Salinger?’ And most of us would say, ‘Well yes, we do.’ And that would be the end of the conversation because nobody was going to give him away because we knew he didn’t want to talk to these people."
(Keese) Salinger married and had two children. After his marriage ended, Pierce says he seemed to withdraw even more.
(Pierce) "And we all hoped that the great American novel was still coming, and I think for a while it may have been, because they say he spent a lot of time in Howell Library in Hanover researching World War II. And according to J.D. he was an O.S.S. Officer, which was the precursor to the CIA. And we were just waiting for that great Novel, which never materialized."
(Keese) In more recent years, Pierce pretty much lost contact.
(Pierce) "You would still see him in the grocery store or going to pick up a paper or something. But he was hard to converse with because he was profoundly deaf, but he would say hello and how are you and that sort of thing."
(Keese) But she says he never lingered.
(Pierce) " But it was like, I can’t stay and talk too long, somebody might catch us."
(Keese) While Pierce was willing to share this part of her story, she says she won’t be writing a book about Salinger and she’ll always be grateful to her old friend.
For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.