The Deacon's Bench

Of all the appreciations that have been written about the late, great, curiously quiet J.D. Salinger, this one in the New York Times, focusing on his hometown in New Hampshire, may be the most surprising and poignant:

CatcherInTheRye1.jpgBy 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.

In the 1950s, Mr. Salinger would socialize with students at Windsor High School, residents said, meeting them at Nap’s Lunch, a soda fountain.

Mr. Salinger and his wife, Colleen O’Neill, were “very generous” to the town of Cornish, said Keith L. Jones, a selectman and owner of Cornish Automotive. Ms. O’Neill, who married Mr. Salinger in the late 1980s, is a blue-ribbon quilter and is active in town issues. She is also a preservationist who bought tracts of land throughout the area that were threatened with development.

This summer Ms. O’Neill preserved an old barn on the couple’s property, which is said to overlook Mt. Ascutney and the Vermont landscape. “She would say, ‘Jerry just wants me to tear the barn down, but I want to keep it,’ ” said Stephen Taylor, a local resident.

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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