“Coop” by Michael Perry, c. 2009, Harper Collins, $25.99, 368 pages.
Throughout your life – and quite possibly throughout every day – you experience a series of milestones.
Your parents eagerly looked for many of your firsts: tooth, word, steps and day of school. You remember your first date, your first car, your first love and your first job. These days, you look for first signs of spring, first day of vacation and other never-happened-before things.
As a new husband, author Michael Perry anticipated a whole slew of new experiences, and in “Coop” he writes about them: his farm and his family, fresh seasons, young livestock and seeing his parents in a different light.
Perry grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin. During much of his childhood, his father milked cows to pay the bills and raised sheep to make up the difference when ends didn’t meet. From his parents – both members of an “obscure fundamentalist Christian sect” – Perry learned self-sufficiency, the value of hard work and the ability to stand for his beliefs. He also learned to cobble together what he needed from what he had on hand.
Those legacies helped when Perry, his new wife Anneliese and his “given” daughter moved to his mother-in-law’s former homestead.
Leaving behind his beloved New Auburn in favor of a smaller Wisconsin town wasn’t without adjustment, but Perry had a few things to look forward to: he was planning a coop for a long-desired flock of chickens. A weed-infested corner of the property would, with salvaged fencing, become a pig pen. There would be the beginnings of a garden beneath a hastily-made cold frame.
And Anneliese was pregnant with their first child.
During their first year on the farm, in between book tours, family obligations and deadlines, Perry noticed the land, as he is wont to do. He used a tailfeatherless pheasant and wood-stacking “punishment” as a lesson for his daughter. He reflects on waste-not, want-not philosophy when feeding his pigs with plants and game from the land. And his memories of growing up on a farm and in a warm, loving household tie into most of his observations.
On a farm, you embrace life. You know it’s cyclical. And though you never get used to it, you know there is death.
And at the end of this book, you’ll know that 368 pages of “Coop” is woefully inadequate. It’s hard to let go of. You’ll want more.
“Tell me a story from your childhood” is a plea the author is used to hearing and his readers are lucky he’s a willing talespinner. This book is part paean to devoted parents, faithful community and a good upbringing; part joyous love letter to a family and to friends-made-family; and part common-sense parenting with plenty of humor, Will Rogers-ish philosophy, and not just a little grief.
If you’re looking for the perfect Mother’s Day gift, something heartfelt for Father’s Day, or if you just need a book to take to the hammock with you this summer, look for this one. “Coop” should be the first book you grab.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.