Saturday, February 13, 2010

to a dear buddyroo

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
Holden Caulfield's opening statement in J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. I can vividly recall the chair I was sitting in when I started to read those words. There is nothing better than being gripped by something you start to read and you instinctively know that you are going to get lost in it.
Much of what was written about J.D. Salinger in his lifetime referred to him as a 'recluse' when, in fact, he was leading a simple life in a quiet town on the Connecticut River. Perhaps, in an effort to explain why anyone at the peak of his career would do something as unthinkable as to walk away from it all, his story wrote itself for those who didn't understand. Obviously, he liked his neighbors and the town of Cornish, NH and the residents treated him like a regular guy and not a literary icon who lived in their midst. It wasn't a conspiracy of any sort that his neighbors not only respected his privacy, but helped him protect it, when strangers inquired about where his residence was from the proprietor of the local general store. The story goes that the ruder the request of the nosy stranger the more inaccurate the details provided. In this self confessional world we live in, with the infamous '15 minutes of fame' that seem to have stretched to at least an hour now, it is a testament to the residents of Cornish that they still have not revealed anything more about Salinger after his death. He was allowed to live his corduroy pants and sweater existence in a town he was fond of and attend church suppers just like anyone else. He was the guy who got his paper every day at the general store, had a favorite diner where he liked to eat his lunch alone and he got to be the guy who scribbled in his notebook and sat at the end of the table where they kept the pies at the church suppers.
Holden Caulfield, Salinger's protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye, longed to find a place that was 'nice and peaceful.' It seems that Salinger was able to do just that. He wasn't the mysterious figure in the window that some made him out to be but the man who wanted his privacy. Being alone at lunch doesn't necessarily mean that you are lonely. He tipped the young servers at the church suppers and agreed to allow neighborhood children to use the hill on his property for a brisk trip on a sled on a snowy day. It seems that there was a mutual respect between Salinger and his neighbors and not some contractual binding agreement that demanded their loyalty to his wishes. In this day of eroding respect for others this town is an example of the human spirit of common courtesy and decency. We could all take a page from their book.
The letters of correspondence of J.D. Salinger and a friend are being reviewed and dissected and one has to wonder why the friend parted with them at any point. There is some speculation that it is perhaps owed to the fact that Salinger refused the friend's request to furnish him with an autographed copy of Catcher in the Rye. In the letter to the friend he offers the explanation "Most stuff that is genuine is better left unsaid."

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