My mom started college when I was in junior high. One of her first classes was on the short story. I remember finding Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger on the kitchen table one afternoon and dove in. This was my first “adult” book other than a few classics force fed on me at school. I fell in love with the stories and was hungry for more. So I read them—all four of Salinger’s published books.
Of course I liked Catcher in the Rye. Holden was the kind of character I wish I had known because I understood all too well what it was like to be in a world of people who don’t understand. If he had asked me to run off in the woods with him, I would have done so (even if in the real world the results would probably end in something tedious and unromantic). I named my son after him though my Holden is a lot more level-headed and abstract than Mr. Caulfield.
It was Franny, however, who I connected with. Franny had challenges—a boyfriend who didn’t have a clue and a crisis within her soul. Two brothers could have helped her, but one had committed suicide and the other lived as a recluse. It is her other big brother Zooey who throws her a lifeline by reminding her of something their brother Seymour used to say to them. Seymour reminded them to do kind things—like shine shoes—for the Fat Lady. The Fat Lady didn’t exist, but it was a reminder of kindness, of purpose; Franny needed purpose.
When I was twenty-one and going through my own sort of crisis and wondering what life meant anyway, I remembered Seymour’s fat lady.
This past month my goals seem futile and my meaning comes in question. Salinger’s death today reminded me of Franny, reminded me of myself. We do things for others even if we don’t know the person—even if the person doesn’t exist. We make up our purpose.
I will continue to shine my shoes for the fat lady.