By Terri Schlichenmeyer
Your friend called the other day, but you had to call him back. You were on your way out the door and didn’t have time to talk. But when you return-phoned him, he was busy and said he’d call again.
You’ve played Phone Tag like this before, and you know the only antidote is to make an appointment – which is funny because, once upon a time, you couldn’t understand the appeal of “visiting.” Now you wish you had more time to just sit and talk and listen because, as you’ll see in “Visiting Tom” by Michael Perry, you learn a lot, and a lot about life.
Tom Hartwig lives on the land where he was born 80-some years ago. It’s the same farm where he brought his bride, raised kids, milked cows and made a living.
Just about everybody around knows Tom, but those who don’t could be forgiven for thinking he’s some kind of superhero. That’s because Tom’s renowned for fixing what’s broken and making what’s needed. He created a snowplow out of pieces of machinery. He manufactured a saw for planing lumber. He made a few working cannons, just for fun. When he finds a bit of steel, he sees possibilities.
But there’s one thing he couldn’t fix. Back nearly 50 years ago, progress came to his little valley and, after considerable back-and-forth, Tom’s beloved farm was cleaved in two by Interstate 90 that runs right through Wisconsin. His outbuildings now sit snug up to the highway. The background of his life is the ka-thumpa-ka-thumpa-ka-thumpa of semi tires on the road.
Mike Perry is friends with Tom Hartwig. But what could a 40-something man have in common with someone old enough to be his grandfather?
Perry knows a kindred spirit: Both are men who love the land, love their families, and have a touch of poetry in their souls. Perry, a storyteller himself, also knows a good tale when he hears it. And he knows a good story when it walks into his life.
Let me tell you about “Visiting Tom.”
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.
Author Michael Perry admits to more than one lump-in-the-throat moment, and his descriptive way of explaining them causes the same in his readers. He’ll make you homesick for an old way of life (whether you lived it or didn’t), but he’ll also make you laugh because he laughs at himself. Spending time with Perry, in fact, is like a lemonade-lazy afternoon on a front porch with an old friend who loves to jaw about everything and nothing. I loved that.
I think this book will appeal to anyone who longs for a time when life was slow and friends were fast. If that sounds like heaven to you, then “Visiting Tom” is a book you’ll want to call on.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with two dogs and more than 9,500 books.