EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


October 7, 2012

Roughneck grace is the destination

There’s a place in the newsroom where recent releases no one wants to read are piled up for all-takers.

It was from that pile that Tom Hartwig beckoned to me.

“Visiting Tom” by Michael Perry, (HarperCollins, New York, $24.99) is the story of neighbors, of farming, of making do, of rust, pain and joy in the simpler ways.

It’s a story for everyman.

Obviously, in world that values shiny new SUVs and sports cars over rickety old trucks, rutted dirt roads and hobbled-together combines, this isn’t going to be an easy sell. Modern readers often want flashy escapism, suspense and mindless entertainment to occupy time next to the sparkling pool or while rocketing across the sky in an aluminum-alloy cylinders at the speed of sound.

If they look closely at “fly over country,” they’ll see the remnants of what once was America’s real greatest generation, the self-made man, the farmer. They might catch a glimpse of the Tom Hartwigs of the world if they look close enough.

Perry’s real-life protagonist is part of a dying breed, the self-sufficient farmers of the past. His story is woven into the very fabric of America, the folks who cleared the land, who made this nation the breadbasket of the world. In rural Wisconsin, Hartwig has lived in the same house on the same farm his whole life. Now in his 80s, he’s still going strong, if not a bit slower. Hartwig is the neighbor who can fix virtually anything, a tinkerer, an innovator, a dirt-farm philosopher. We have much to learn from the likes of Tom Hartwig.

Without the Tom Hartwigs of this world, there’d be no milk in the fridge, no honey in the cupboard, no grain in the factory produced bread and no “outside the box” thinking. It’s a valuable exercise to explore our shared agricultural roots, and in “Visiting Tom,” it’s obvious those roots grow very deep.

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