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.