My uncle *Harry, who lives about twenty minutes south of Cornish, NH, says a lot of famous people – oddly – come through the very small town he lives in. (I say “oddly” because it’s not really advertised with road signs, and after turning off Interstate 91, you’d have to be looking for his town to find it.)
In the late ’80s, Harry was working for the motor vehicle department when a co-worker flashed the appointment sheet and said, “Look who’s coming in.”
Harry, a poet with such a passion for reading that he would at one time own a bookstore, was so excited to see J.D. Salinger on the appointment sheet that he rushed home, grabbed his copy of Catcher in the Rye, and brought it back to work with him.
Harry said that when Salinger finally arrived, he was with a much younger woman.
“The woman he was with was…I’m pretty sure it wasn’t his wife, because she was under thirty,” Harry said. “She was clearly there running interference for him.”
Salinger went straight to Harry’s desk, and Harry directed him to the appropriate station.
“He was as tall as a tree, with huge eyes,” Harry said. “Imposing, in a way. He appeared to be healthy. I was really taken by his eyes. They were like big fucking marbles, or something. They were weird.” (Asked did he remember the color, Harry said no. “I think they were dark, though. I know they weren’t blue. They seemed dark.”)
He went on: “And he had a deep voice. But, you know, he was so tall. Or he appeared tall to me, anyway. If you go into his bio he’s probably 5 foot 3, but it felt like he was 6 foot 4.”
I remembered what Harry had said about going home to get his copy of Catcher in the Rye and said, “Did he sign your book?”
“No,” he said. “Nah. While he was over with the other guy, I told the girl with him that I had his book, I loved his book, you know, and did she think I could ask him to sign it. ‘I wish you wouldn’t,’ she said.”
He did exchange a few words with Salinger, though. I wanted to know, was he friendly?
“No. No, he was kind of cold, actually.”
And that’s the story of the day my uncle met J.D. Salinger.
Kristen Tsetsi is the author of the novels The Age of the Child, The Year of Dan Palace, and Pretty Much True, Dr. Owen W. Gilman, Jr.’s “American War Literature and Film: Vietnam to Now” 2012 course curriculum selection. Kristen’s interview series at JaneFriedman.com offers behind-the-scenes insights into all things writing and publishing.