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Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace

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Overview

What can we learn about life, love, and artillery from an eighty-two-year-old man whose favorite hobby is firing his homemade cannons? Visit by visit—often with his young daughters in tow—author Michael Perry finds out.

Toiling in his shop, Tom Hartwig makes gag shovel handles, parts for quarter-million-dollar farm equipment, and—now and then—batches of potentially “extralegal” explosives. Tom, who is approaching his sixtieth wedding anniversary ...

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Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace

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Overview

What can we learn about life, love, and artillery from an eighty-two-year-old man whose favorite hobby is firing his homemade cannons? Visit by visit—often with his young daughters in tow—author Michael Perry finds out.

Toiling in his shop, Tom Hartwig makes gag shovel handles, parts for quarter-million-dollar farm equipment, and—now and then—batches of potentially “extralegal” explosives. Tom, who is approaching his sixtieth wedding anniversary with his wife, Arlene, and is famous for driving a team of oxen in local parades, has stories dating back to the days of his prize Model A and an antiauthoritarian streak refreshed daily by the interstate that was shoved through his front yard in 1965 and now dumps more than eight million vehicles past his kitchen window every year. And yet Visiting Tom is dominated by the elderly man’s equanimity and ultimately—when he and Perry converse as husbands and the fathers of daughters—unvarnished tenderness.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Journal of Books
“Drop whatever you are doing and sit down to read Michael Perry’s Visiting Tom….Perry is a craftsman of the highest order….When you go back to doing what you were doing when you picked up this book, you might just see your world with a broader, more humane perspective.”
MinnPost
“Funnier than Keillor.”
Capital Times
Visiting Tom is more than just a whimsical portrait of a unique character. It’s a meditation on modernity and self-reliance that sneaks up on you with its unexpected depth.”
Experience Wisconsin Magazine
“Michael Perry writes the words that create the memoirs that make so many of us want to raise chickens and pigs, plant a few rows of corn or otherwise just make hay. Mostly, though, he makes us want to get to know our neighbors better - no matter where we live.”
Wall Street Journal
“The portrait Mr. Perry paints...is of a place and a life that is worth noting….His writing is beautiful and immediate and elegant.”
Journal Sentinel
“[Perry] is a sharp and empathetic observer.”
Express Milwaukee
“In Visiting Tom, a story that melds Perry’s unique humor with notes of Garrison Keillor and Billy Bryson, the elderly man’s tenderness and character jump off the page as he shares his thoughts on life and love.”
Daily Sparks Tribune
“It’s part memoir, part character piece. There’s a bit of the poetic to it. It’s about fighting bureaucracy, Foxfire-ish self-sustenance, life the ‘old timer’s’ way, and male-bonding foolishness. It’s about fatherhood, marriage and love. And it’s just about one of the sweetest books you’ll ever read.”
Booklist
“Charming and humorous.”
Publishers Weekly
Tom is 82-year-old Tom Hartwig, who lives in a classic twin-porched Wisconsin clapboard farmhouse down the road from Perry, his wife and daughters. As Perry puts it, “We live on a farm, but I am not a farmer.” Instead, he plays music with his band, delivers lectures, and from his office over the garage he turns out magazine articles and books. He first wrote about his Wisconsin neighbors in Population: 485 and traveled back roads in Truck before covering rural rituals in Coop. In this outing, the rustic images of Wisconsin photographers John Shimon and Julie Lindemann serve as chapter intros and fuse with the text. A photo of a dust-covered cannon in Hartwig’s cluttered workshop leads into Tom’s account of making the cannon. Every object has a story, from lathe to sawmill: “This is the most complicated thing I ever built, he says, hands on his hips as he stares at the sawmill.... There’s over a hunnerd pounds’ a welding rods in that thing.” Perry hopes his daughters will see the historical implications and “all the wisdom and history” in Tom’s stories. Blending his own autobiography into Tom’s profile, Perry plunges into the soul of the American heartland. While Foxfire fans will relish the emphasis on forgotten crafts and tools, others will appreciate Perry’s gift as a bucolic wordsmith, etching a sensitive portrait of vanishing country life where “the light of a firefly is the size of a teardrop.” (Sept.)
Library Journal
Award-winning author Perry, an NPR contributor, recently returned home to a 37-acre farm in New Auburn, WI (see his Population: 485). There, he's neighbors with octogenarian Tom Hartwig, who runs a shop seemingly "stocked by Rube Goldberg" and defies the four-lane interstate that was shoved through his front yard a few decades back. A portrait of an individual and a place; look for a big driving tour in the heartland.
Kirkus Reviews
The warmhearted account of a middle-aged man's friendship with an eccentric octogenarian neighbor. When Men's Health contributing editor Perry (Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting, 2009, etc.) met Tom Hartwig, he had no idea that this man with the "brushy shock of hair, the fatless cheeks, the deep-seamed skin and the nose like a flint broadhead" would one day become an important part of his life. A farmer who loved tinkering in a home workshop that looked like it was "stocked by Rube Goldberg, curated by Hunter Thompson, and rearranged by a small earthquake," Tom had a special fondness for assembling, and firing, vintage Civil War canons. Perry did not consciously go to Tom "seeking" anything beyond repairs for small pieces of equipment or the occasional get-together, yet he still found himself quietly inspired by Tom's feistiness and wisdom. The older man's unwillingness to surrender his dignity in the face of an interstate construction project that cut through his farm gave Perry the courage to fight a county-highway-commission project to reconfigure an intersection near his own house. The almost-60-year relationship Tom had with his wife, Arlene, offered a model of enduring domestic success that Perry also admired. Musing on his own comparatively brief marriage, the author observes somewhat wryly, "[f]amiliarity is no excuse for lowering your standards." But perhaps most importantly of all, the couple provided both Perry and his family a link to the past and a feeling of generational continuity rare in an otherwise disconnected modern age. Perry's portrayal of Tom and his life are both engaging, although the meandering nature of the narrative can be frustrating. Nevertheless, the moments of genuine emotion make up for its slow pace. Flawed, but down-to-earth and genuine.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061894466
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/12/2013
  • Series: P.S.
  • Pages: 310
  • Sales rank: 133,010
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Perry
Michael Perry is an amateur pig farmer, an active member of the local rescue service, and a contributing editor to Men’s Health. He lives in rural Wisconsin with his wife and two daughters, and can be found online at www.sneezingcow.com.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
Rating Distribution

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(5)

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(3)

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(1)

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 13, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Visiting Tom is a literary gift. The stories are all enjoyable a

    Visiting Tom is a literary gift. The stories are all enjoyable and well told.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended; A Comfort Read That Makes You Feel Good

    Visiting Tom, Michael Perry's latest memoir, gives readers another view into Perry's rural farm life in Wisconsin. Perry was a bachelor into his forties, when he met and married Anneliese. Anneliese had a daughter and they soon had another daughter together. They have lived on a farm for the past five years surrounded by chickens and pigs, performing the familiar chores that have sustained farmers and their families for generations. Perry was trained as a nurse, and still goes on EMT runs and works with the firefighters. He is also often on the road, lecturing about his life and the glories of family and farm life. But his life and his love is his family and the land they occupy and which sustains them.

    This book is organized around two themes. The main theme is Perry's neighbor, Tom, an octogenarian who farms, welds, keeps bees and in general is one of the handiest men Perry knows. He and his wife spend a lot of time with Tom and his wife Arlene, soaking up their wisdom and the stories of their life.

    The second theme is Perry's ongoing argument with the local road commissioners, who after years have decided to make a road change. While it makes an intersection safer according to regulations, it makes the trip up the hill to the Perry farm difficult and sometimes impossible in the winter. Perry spends over a year protesting the decision and its effects.

    Those readers who have encountered Perry below will sink into this book as into a warm comfortable, familiar bed; full of comfort and good cheer. Those new to his work have a real treat in store as they read of a family that dares to slow down and value the way things used to be, when a family depended on each other and the neighbors that surrounded them. It is a quintessential feel-good book and readers will enjoy their time visiting with the Perry family.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Michael and his family live on a farm in rural Wisconsin. At the

    Michael and his family live on a farm in rural Wisconsin. At the present, he is earning a living as a writer but he has not lost touch with his family’s deep agricultural roots. His first visit to his present neighbor’s, Tom Hartwig, kitchen was “a place I’d never visited, but I knew where I was.” The book he has written about his 82-year-old neighbor has the feel of that first “kitchen” visit – warm, direct, informative, humorous, and homey – it speaks directly to one’s soul.
    Tom Hartwig’s family has farmed the land he now inhabits for over 150 years. His great-grandparents having built the farmhouse in which he lives when they settled there in the mid-1800’s. In the 1970’s, the state of Wisconsin determined a new interstate highway was needed, the path of which was through the Hartwig farm. The Right-of-Way made an “island” of 35 acres of once productive farmland and condemned 18 acres of the farm for “Eminent Domain.” This roadway now passes within 100 yards of his storage silo. For the past 40 years, the Hartwigs have thrived in their lives with 8 million vehicles a year passing within a throw distance from his property.
    Mr. Hartwig is the quintessential Mid-Western farmer. He tinkers with more projects than a kindergarten class, has encyclopedic knowledge of military armory and is the go-to person in his county when someone needs any welding done. A tour around his farm gives the reader a glimpse into the diversity of his talents. On the drive up to the house, one is met by staring down the barrel of a working cannon (he creates and fires working scale replicas of such). His barn is filled with his creations: a welding unit, grain reaper, snow blower, etc. His chronological age is not reflected by his actions; he is in constant motion and continues to actively farm. This is the kind of person everyone wants as a neighbor but few of us are blessed to have.
    This is a story of being neighborly, sustaining one’s Self, defining “Self” from within and how family, once again, includes those with whom we do not share DNA. The author achieves his goal of “involving” the reader by writing from the 1st person perspective (without undue personal assessments) and by having a sharp eye, inquisitive mind and the ability to translate his experience into good prose. The author’s admiration for his neighbor is evident and justified.
    There are no vulgarities, sexual situations or violence to be found in this book, any of that would not be “neighborly.” This is the first of Mr. Perry’s books I have read, but it will not be the last. I like “sittin’ a spell” with him.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2014

    We borrowed Visiting Tom from the library and listened to it in

    We borrowed Visiting Tom from the library and listened to it in our car. Even avid readers will enjoy the audiobook edition, especially if they are Wisconsin natives, as are we. We loved hearing the author read in his unmistakeable Wisconsin dialect of his relationship with his eccentric, creative, loveable neighbor Tom, a keen observer of human (and governmental) foibles. Tom's practical inventions would impress Edison. His use of found materials makes him a world class environmentalist. His dedication to using his skills to create sight gag machinery would astonish research and development engineers. His use of explosives will frighten every parent. The intergenerational friendship that grows between the author's and Tom's families is enviable. The author's love of his wife and children and the life lessons he hopes his girls learn from Tom and his wife leave us wistful. We will use this book in printed form and on CD as gifts for friends and family. We are adding the softcover to our own library.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 27, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Down on the Farm! Framing the human American existence.

    This is a well written chronicle of American life. It is not a novel but an annotation of life in rural America. Michael Perry writes from the heart and pens words of sincerity, honesty, and clarity to describe relationships to honor peoples' existence.
    The only negatives come from our relationships with government and how we let "IT" change our lives but not without putting up resistance. Even these descriptions are telling and straight forward.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2012

    Hey ppl

    Wazzup?

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2012

    Mghan

    Gtg! Charging my nook.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2012

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