A Sunday visit with J. D. Salinger in the 1960s turned out to be his last interview



J. D. Salinger's name has been back in the news. He is again fighting for anonymity and for the privacy in life to which he is certainly entitled.

Twenty years ago* I was a neighbor of Salinger's in Cornish, New Hampshire, where the author still lives. I had moved to Cornish to live alone for a year. I was going though a divorce, and after attending to the responsibilities as publisher of the Claremont (N.H.) Daily Eagle, my remote cottage in Cornish was a place to retire alone to read, write, take long walks on remote country roads, and to generally lick my wounds and reassess life.

I soon learned that the mysterious and celebrated author lived not far away, and it was not long before we silently passed on our solitary walks about the countryside. I knew who he was and I'm sure Salinger knew who I was, but since the Eagle had been the only newspaper in the country to have published an interview with the reclusive author, he was not about to cozy up to its publisher.

A Cornish girl attending Windsor, Vermont High School was able to charm Salinger into giving this interview. Salinger no doubt thought the interview would not go beyond the high school paper, but like others in the area, the high school paper was in fact a high school page that appeared periodically in the Eagle, and as an integral part of that afternoon daily newspaper. It was not long before the interview was picked up by other newspapers and the wire services.

For many years after its first publication, the Eagle received requests for copies of Salinger's interview, many world-wide. Recent publicity about the reclusive writer may have rekindled a new wave of requests to the Eagle for that Salinger interview of more than 40 years ago.

As the harsh winter of 1968 gave way to long days of March sunshine, I would often make up a small pitcher of martinis on Sundays and sit outside in the sun hand-feeding chickadees and watching flocks of pine siskins and evening grossbeaks sweep in and out of the branches of the large sugar maple in front of the cottage.

On such a Sunday J. D. Salinger sauntered by. We waved our usual silent exchange; then on the spur of the moment I said, "Come up and have a martini."

Salinger paused, I'm sure to consider the dangers of any such rupture in our mute relationship. Then he made his move, striding up to me with a hand extended. We made no introductions, nor were names exchanged. Instead we chatted about the hard winter, the birds, and whether or not we'd be planting peas this May in that upland country.

I did not mention Salinger's books, all of which I had tried to read, and later set aside as incomprehensible. To excuse myself and my ignorance, I reasoned that Salinger was a genius, whereas I, a pedestrian plodder in the world, an unworthy beggar at the shrine of enlightenment.

Salinger thanked me for the libation, but before he left I said, "I see by Friday's Eagle that we do have something in common besides being silent neighbors."

Salinger was puzzled. I pointed out to him a clipping which listed divorces granted at the January term of court. The name Salinger appeared next to Bennett. Our divorce decrees had been granted, quite coincidentally, at the same time. A trace of what might be called a smile creased Salinger's somber countenance.

"You have a point there," he said, "and perhaps we share other similarities, too. Thanks for the drink." If there were any other likenesses between Salinger and me I never found them out, for so long as I lived in Cornish we resumed our previous relationship - passing by one another, like ships in the night.

Illustration by James P. Reidy

*This piece first appeared in Yankee Editor by Edward Jackson Bennett, published by Pasquaney Press, East Hebron, N.H. (ISBN 0-9618624-0-8), copyright 1987 by Edward J. Bennett, all rights reserved, used by permission. The article was also reprinted in The New Hampshire West Century edition of New Hampshire Magazine, September, 1999  New Hampshire Century.

Hulton Archive - Anthony DiGesu

J.D. in later years.    



A word about Edward Jackson Bennett

BURLINGTON, Vt. - Edward Jackson Bennett, 86, former New England
newspaper publisher/editor and New Hampshire legislator, died Aug. 8,
2011, after a brief illness.
Between 1950 and 1961, he purchased and ran several New Hampshire weekly
newspapers, including the Canaan (N.H.) Reporter and Enfield Advocate
(1950-1955) and the Bristol (N.H.) Enterprise (1955-1961). From 1961 to
1972, he owned and edited the Claremont (N.H.) Daily Eagle. In 1977, Mr.
Bennett purchased the Vermont Standard in Woodstock, which he edited for
six years.

Mr. Bennett served two terms in the New Hampshire Senate in the late
1950s and was elected for two terms in the New Hampshire House in 1986.
He also was a past president of both the New Hampshire and Vermont Press

Mr. Bennett serve for several years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras in the
early 1990s.

A prolific writer, Mr. Bennett was the author of Yankee Editor, two
autobiographies, 70 Years of It and Ink in My Blood for family; and
in 2010, Bill Loeb: As I Knew Him.

He is survived by four children as well as four grandchildren, one
great-grandchild and a brother.

There will be a memorial service in New Hampshire at a later date.

-- August 17, 2011

Edward Jackson Bennett obit, Plymouth Record Enterprise

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