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Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace (edition 2012)

by Michael Perry

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747162,398 (4.24)2
Member:miamiman
Title:Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace
Authors:Michael Perry
Info:Harper (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Rating:****
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Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace by Michael Perry

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There are many people in our lives whom we can learn from if we just sit down and listen to them. Listen to them not as they offer us advice and insight into being a better person but just listen to them as they tell their stories. Michael Perry's Visiting Tom is a lovely ode to his eighty two year old neighbor, Tom, and to their visits, their shared chats, and their deep and reliable friendship.

Weaving together notes from a photography session at Tom's farm highlighting the old and special features of the farm and its implements with years of visits to have Tom do some work for him or just to check in and be neighborly as well as Perry's own evolving life as a hybrid of author/farmer in rural Wisconsin, this memoir is beautiful, conversational, and eminently entertaining.

Tom is a bit of an eccentric character with decided opinions and a unique view on the world. He's lived in his house for his entire life, watching it change from a large remote farm to a piece of property with a highway slashed through it right outside the kitchen window. He and wife Arlene have been married for almost 60 years and they've raised two daughters. Tom is handy and creative both, fixing tools the county over for others, designing and implementing his own working machines, and enjoying tinkering with anything mechanical. And of course, he is carrying on a longtime love affair with vintage weaponry, gleefully firing his reproduction cannons over his driveway toward a target perched on a hill. He shares his memories of times past and the priceless stories of people and place that live on only in the minds of the old-timers.

As Perry relates Tom's stories, memories, and goofy jokes, he also opens up his own home life to his readers, discussing the joys of parenting daughters and the comfort of his own marriage. He details his own mostly gentlemanly go rounds with government and the highway commissioner about the undesirable "improvement" to the road leading to his turn. And he relates his longing for hearth and home while he is on the road traveling with the job that pays the bills (writing and promoting books like this). He shares the sentimental joys of everyday life with his girls and his own stories of growing up. And like his previous non-fiction works, Perry has written another familiar feeling, homely, reverent book. He absorbs Tom's wisdom, gleaned from his actions as much as his words, and presents this kind neighbor not as his mentor but with the unpretentious dignity befitting such. This is a meditative tale, sweet and nostalgic. It is a book to be wallowed in and, as my dad says, read slowly and with great expression. Perry might get to visit Tom regularly but with this book, we are also invited into the farmhouse kitchen to take our place at the table and listen too. Sometimes there's no greater joy than just that. ( )
  whitreidtan | Aug 14, 2013 |
I loved Perry's [b:Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time|409287|Population 485 Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time|Michael Perry|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1174506098s/409287.jpg|221161] and was ambivalent about [b:Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting|5633583|Coop A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting|Michael Perry|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347340530s/5633583.jpg|5805003] through failings all my own.

This book, as much memoir as biography, was a shimmering jewel of keen observation and reverence for humanity. There were numerous passages that brought tears to my eyes. Tom reminded me of the few codgers who walked through my youth fixing fences, hauling rocks out of fields, and generally making impossible things from the materials they had on hand. Perry's willingness to lay himself bare in so many particulars is a beautiful thing, and one I honor. His tendency to maudlin middle-aged sentimentality is one I recognize and struggle with.

A lovely book. Highly recommended.

( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
Michael Perry is one of my favorite authors and this book reminds me of why I admire his books. His “Truck: A Love Story” is perfection and “Visiting Tom” is a tender homage to the rural farming lifestyle and old school farmers, as the modern world intrudes more and more into their Wisconsin countryside. Perry’s neighbor is Tom, an 82 year old farmer who is the essence of old fashioned strength and farming virtues, with some eccentricity mixed in. Tom can fix any machine, drive a team of oxen in local parades, and fire his homemade cannons upon occasion. He and his wife survived having a horrible highway put right through their farm and now just outside their kitchen window. Perry learns a lot from Tom and they bond by sharing stories of being husbands and the fathers of daughters. ( )
  hangen | Nov 25, 2012 |
Another triumph from one of my favorite authors. ( )
  soam | Oct 25, 2012 |
Tom Hartwig, a man in his mid-eighties, has lived under the same Wisconsin roof his entire life. Tom was born in the family farmhouse, moved his bride into the same bedroom he slept in as a baby, and has worked the family farm from that house since 1958 when his father retired and moved up the hill to a small cottage. This is not to say that Tom is a stranger to change because, thanks to President Eisenhower and the Federal-Aid Highway Act, an interstate highway now runs through his front yard. The highway that opened in November 1967 carries over 8 million cars and trucks drive past the Hartwigs’ kitchen window each year. One has only to consider the constant hum of road noise the Hartwig’s have learned to cope with to understand the depth of what was stolen from them all those years ago.

Author Michael Perry (Population: 485; Truck: A Love Story; and Coop) is Tom’s friend and neighbor. Perry does not consider Tom to be his mentor, but recognizes that with each visit to the Hartwig household, he “accrues certain clues to comportment – as a husband, as a father, as a citizen. Readers of Visiting Tom are likely to come away from the book feeling much the same.

The official opening of the new highway offered an immediate glimpse of things to come. The ribbon-cutting’s opening prayer included the local pastor’s plea that drivers “use sound judgment when driving” the new road. Then, the fifty-car motorcade of state dignitaries led away a group of locals and others wanting to be among the first to test drive the new route. Just twenty-three minutes after the celebratory ribbon was cut, the interstate suffered its first traffic accident, and Tom’s life has never been the same.

Visiting Tom is a dual biography in which the author alternates sections recounting his visits to the Hartwig farm with chapters about the goings-on at his own house just up the road from Tom’s – and how Tom’s influence is helping him cope with his own set of everyday problems. Tom Hartwig is one of the most self-sufficient men imaginable. During his eight decades, he has mastered all the skills necessary to keep a farm running despite anything the economy might throw at him. If Tom cannot find a spare part for one of his farm implements, he makes one. He delights in scavenging parts from broken down machinery to put together one complete machine that works – and he has a story to tell about every machine, building, and corner of his farm, including a tale about the push broom left behind by the highway construction crew in 1967.

But the beautiful thing about Tom and Arlene Hartwig is the couple’s grace under fire. After losing their battle to keep the interstate highway from their front door, the Hartwig’s proceeded to adapt to the lifestyle left to them. Utilizing a combination of grace, patience, and inward placidity, they have made the most of what they have. Rather than becoming bitter about what they lost, they decided to enjoy what is theirs.

There is a valuable lesson there for all of us.

Rated at: 5.0 ( )
  SamSattler | Oct 3, 2012 |
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Details the author's experiences and conversations with his octogenarian, cannon-shooting neighbor Tom Hartwig, who, armed with an arsenal of stories and an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide, offers guidance and inspiration.

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