Visiting Tom, Michael Perry

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show

Larry Meiller visits with farmer-philosopher Michael Perry to talk about life, farming, and the characters that he encounters. His most recent book,”Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace,” is a New York Times bestseller and is coming out in paperback.

Featured in this Show

  • Wisconsin Author Michael Perry Shares The World Of Tom Hartwig With His Readers

    The most touching and humorous stories are often those about everyday life. Whether it’s the joys or challenges of parenting, working, or spending time with friends and neighbors, those tales speak to us on a very human level. And few people have more of an eye, or ear, for that than Wisconsin writer Michael Perry.

    Michael Perry is an author, humorist, musician and the host of Tent Show Radio. His most recent book, “Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace,” is about to come out as a paperback, and is a New York Times bestseller.

    Perry lives on a farm in rural Wisconsin with his wife and two daughters. And it was through his wife that he met Tom and Arlene Hartwig. As a young woman, she had worked on Tom’s hay crew. Perry remembers Tom saying that “she could out-work any man he’d ever hired.” That made an impression on Perry, as did the warmth he felt visiting there, and how much their “rough kitchen” reminded him of his own childhood.

    Now, they are neighbors. Tom lives about two miles from the Perry farm “as the crow flies.” Perry generally goes over when he needs Tom’s handiwork on something broken, or that needs some tinkering. Perry says “my abilities there are pretty limited, and his are extensive.”

    When preparing to write the book, Perry asked for Tom’s permission. His only request was that Perry change his last name. Perry was happy to oblige, but it complicated the proofreading process a bit. When final revisions were due, after many sessions together of reading it over and making corrections, Perry told Tom that this was it. And that because it was non-fiction, accuracy was important. Tom assured him that “we got pretty much everything. It doesn’t matter, though, because you changed my name, so I’m telling everybody it’s fiction.”

    Overall, being featured in a New York Times bestseller hasn’t affected Tom much. Although, when he ended up in the hospital for treatment, he was a bit of a celebrity . Perry relates that Tom told him that “nurses and doctors would show up with a copy of the book and ask him to sign it, which was great.” Some people figured out where Tom and Arlene lived and would stop by. Perry liked that on those occasions, they would sometimes ask Arlene to sign the book. “I liked that,” Perry says, “because she was such an essential part of Tom.”

    Some things have changed since the book first came out. While Arlene achieved her dream of living to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, Perry relates that she passed away in the last year.

    One thing that hasn’t changed is that Tom still shoots off his cannon on occasion. Perry says that a group of neighbors went over on July 5th and Tom “fired several rounds. Everyone was highly entertained.” Here is a video of Tom “rearranging a silo” with his cannon.

    Perry says that “when the book was over, it was really nice just to go back to being his neighbor. Not fact-checking anymore, not transcribing interviews, just shootin’ the breeze without having to worry about getting it all down.”

    There is a gallery of photos of Tom and Arlene on Perry’s web site. They give further insight into two ordinary, yet extraordinary, people.

    If you’d like to see Michael Perry live, check the events page on his web site for upcoming opportunities.

Episode Credits

  • Michael Perry Guest

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