RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Time now for Story Corps. The project travels the country recording everyday stories. Today's interview comes from Milwaukee. That's where Jim Krawczyk grew up fell in love with books. His favorite writer was J.D. Salinger. And in the late 1960s, Jim Krawczyk decided to go on vacation to meet his hero in the small New Hampshire town that the celebrated recluse calls home.
Mr. JIM KRAWCZYK: I don't really recall a town or anything; it was like a building that was like the post office, the gas station, and the general store all wrapped into one. So I went inside and I told them - I says, you know, my name's Jim Krawczyk, I'm from Wisconsin. I was wondering if you could tell me where J.D. Salinger lives. He says, huh, you're never going to see him. Even the delivery boy doesn't see him. He leaves the groceries in the garage and picks up the money in an envelope.
I goes, whoa. You know, I came a long way to meet this guy. So I talked to a retired schoolteacher. She gave me directions further. Now, this is so far back in the mountains, that it was a dirt road, amazingly I didn't get lost. So I'm driving along and coming up on this house and I look and it's his house. I had a biography of him that described where he lived and everything. I goes, wow, I can't believe, it's just like the book said, you know, it's really neat.
I wasn't afraid, you know, like bashful or anything like. I thought I'm going to be cool about it. So I parked the car and went up, knocked on the door, and this woman came out and it was his wife. I says hello, my name is Jim Krawczyk and I said I'm wondering if I could meet your husband. And she goes, anything he says he says in his books; she slammed the door. I goes, whoa, I come a long way, wow, this is something.
So I turned around and started to go down the steps and she opened the door again and she come out onto the porch and she says, him and I are divorced and he lives across the road. So I went down the road, I pulled in his driveway and I knocked on the door. He had a screen that was like a copper mesh, and I really couldn't see in and I'm straining to see him and everything. And just then a crack of thunder came so loud it felt like it was just above my head, and it started to rain. He came to the door, he says, you better come inside. You know, I goes, whoa.
He didn't sit down or anything, he didn't offer me, you know, you want a cup of coffee or something? Or nothing. You know, I'm just - what do you want? And so I told him who I was, and I asked him if he'd ever been in Wisconsin. And he said he yeah, he says he was there sometime during the war. I asked, did you think "The Catcher in the Rye" would be such a popular book? And I don't remember exactly what he said, but I think it was, it's been a nightmare. And why a nightmare, I don't know.
Maybe because he gets so much fan mail or I don't know what. And I really wanted to asked him, can I see where you work? But I didn't want to be one of his phonies that he writes about, you know, so I kind of held back, you know? And I says, well, okay, thank you very much. I shook his hand and that was it. This is somebody that nobody meets. Nobody gets to see him. And I was in his kitchen. I thought, man, this is the best vacation I ever had.
MONTAGNE: Jim Krawczyk at a Story Corps booth in Milwaukee. His interview will be archived along with all the others at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And you can subscribe to the Story Corps podcast by going to NPR.org.
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