That Salinger Lady

J.D. Salinger, my favorite author owns the title to the Michael Jordan meets Adolfo Cambioso of my literary soul.

I was enticed into a cunningly camouflaged Salinger chapter, a literary sorority where no Delta, Gammas or Epsilons need apply.

A friend of my aunt's, Jean Miller Biddle, owned a Fort Knox of letters that Salinger had sent her.

She was a teenager on vacation in Florida, when they met.

"How's Heathcliff?" a pale visitor clenched in a white bathrobe asked her.

She looked up from Wuthering Heights, accepting his invitation into a long and well documented friendship.

My imagination unravels these epistolary mysteries from an impeccably kept envelope, tied with a tentative white bow, while sealing wax drips into a Jackson Pollock inky free-flow.

Reality is a messy living room floor with papers scattered at the mercy of an open window.

Jean asks me to work on her memoirs. I am dazzled into a pinch-me zone.

As a teenager, I fenced a youthful battle in his name.

We were assigned a term paper on a work of fiction. My English teacher looked down from her bifocals, her grayish white bun punctuating her age and authority, while the Whitney Museum, under construction a block away, blasted up anything but art.

"I have a wonderful book for you to write about," she commandeered.

"George Eliot. The Mill on the Floss." You'll adore it.

I couldn't get through the first three pages.

Over spring vacation I worked up the wherewithal to tell Mrs. D that I appreciated her suggestion, but...

Mrs. D inquired how I was coming along with The Mill on the Floss.
I swallowed a few "ers" and "uhs," and was ready to duel.

"It's not for me."

"And what do you want to write about?" she meow/hissed, crescendoing into a cliffhanging grrrr-owl. It was a tone that she usually reserved for "I really should have taught at Brearley," naming New York's then best girl school, implying that we weren't deserving of her talents.
I prayed for the Whitney construction team to silence my plea.

" Catcher in the Rye."


Authority strangles then wrings the potency out of many an intention.

"That," she snarled an unladylike snarl, "that is simply not literature.

She exhaled for a brief close encounter of the: "I'm the teacher, you're the student" kind.

"Now I'll have to read it," she pouted a pre-smelling-salts pout.

The time I spent with Jean was a fantasy gone "Glass" ceiling. The mystique of their relationship unfolded to the sheer delight of a dazzled one woman audience.

She was thought to be the muse for Esme.

When Jean died, our work was passed on to her daughter, who has entwined her own perceptions into the Biddle/ Salinger saga.

"What did she have that attracted a man like Salinger?" I asked.

"Let's put it this way. When she was in her seventies, four men proposed to her."

Salinger's kind of woman.