Tuesdays with Morrie meets Bill Bryson in Visiting Tom, another witty, poignant, and stylish paean to living in New Auburn, Wisconsin, from Michael Perry. The author of Population: 485, Coop, and Truck: A Love Story, Perry takes us along on his uplifting visits with his octogenarian neighbor one valley over -- and celebrates the wisdom, heart, and sass of a vanishing generation that embodies the indomitable spirit of small-town America.
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 is about to find out.
Toiling in a shop Perry describes as "an antique store stocked by Rube Goldberg, curated by Hunter Thompson, and rearranged by a small earthquake," Tom Hartwig makes gag shovel handles, parts for quarter-million-dollar farm equipment, and -- now and then -- batches of potentially "extralegal" explosives. As he approaches his sixtieth wedding anniversary with his wife, Arlene, Tom, famous for driving a team of oxen in local parades, has an endless reservoir of stories dating back to days of his prize Model A, and an anti-authoritarian streak refreshed daily by the four-lane interstate that was shoved through his front yard in 1965 and now dumps over 8 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 over the kitchen table as husbands and as the fathers of daughters -- unvarnished tenderness.