3 out of 4 stars
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History has always been fascinating to me, and by extension genealogy is interesting as well. Thinking about what our ancestors accomplished in the past, how they lived and what their day-to-day lives were like in different periods of time is rather cool; it's like a historical nonfiction novel that anyone can be a part of! In school I once had an assignment to give a speech about some of my own ancestors, and my father told me that we're related to president Andrew Jackson. While I found that hard to believe then and almost shameful now if it's true (but still really crazy!), he also told me that somewhere in the family tree was a man who was executed by hanging for stealing chickens.
I mention all of this because what made me the most interested about Peregrinations was this line from the Amazon description: believed to be descendants from a long line of pig thieves exiled from Wales as indentured servants to Virginia in the New World. Could you imagine being exiled from your home country, forced into indentured servitude and sent toward unknown, foreign lands? What a heck of a way to start life in America!
In Peregrinations author Tom Davis briefly explores his family history beginning in the early 1800s. More is said about his grandmother and grandfather who were part of a land rush into a town called Guthrie, Oklahoma in 1889. This was Indian Territory (also referred to as IT, which is a slightly different IT than having your grandparents ask how to post photos on Facebook), but instead of a bunch of "cowboy and Indian" action his mother - Vida K. - actually learned the languages of all five "civilized tribes" and opened a school to teach their children to read and write English. From here, Tom touches on the lives of his parents, Earl and Inez Davis, who gave birth to him in the mid 1920s.
Once Tom starts discussing his own life things really become interesting. He talks about his early years in the 1920s, living on a farm in a tiny town and using Sears catalogues and corn cobs for toilet paper. There are various other anecdotes about Tom's youth, including plenty of cutting switches for punishment, and this continues on through the rest of Tom's life. Within this 200-ish page autobiography Tom joins the military (Army) and climbs the ranks over a 40+ year career that includes WWII and Vietnam. He also found the love of his life, Connie, and courted her while in the states, then moved to New Jersey which was "the first of 55 home addresses in our first 50 years of marriage"! They had a child and Tom continued on in the military, moving frequently, accepting all sorts of positions and excelling at them all. He became a door-to-door salesman for the second time in his life and did such an excellent job he quickly managed a location. Dental school was no exception for his incredible work ethic and in retirement he fell back into his love of bowling (including a perfect 300 game!) and discovered a love of lapidary (cutting and polishing gems and stones).
The entire time I read the book it felt like someone just sitting down and recounting their life for an audience, and around two-thirds of the way through I found out why: he was dictating the book with Via Voice! He was literally sitting (or maybe standing or laying, I can't verify that bit of information) and recounting his life for an audience, except that instead of audio his voice was converted into this very book. There were so many interesting stories in the book that I had trouble narrowing down which areas of his life to discuss, although perhaps the most famous was when he accidentally opened a door "a little too forcefully" and knocked down RONALD REAGAN back when Reagan was an Air Corps First Lieutenant. Tom includes several photos throughout the book - a great deal toward the beginning and then a handful throughout the rest - and they all really help picture the journey Tom lived.I am still in awe that a child of the Great Depression and a dirt farm was privileged to get to see so many places on this fascinating planet we call Earth.
Also worth mentioning is the definition of peregrination itself. It's something I wasn't familiar with (it sounded like the title of a Rush song), but the Oxford Living Dictionary defines it as "a journey, especially a long or meandering one". This is an incredibly fitting title as Tom's life wasn't a "50 year plan" kind of life but was instead a "seize every opportunity" kind of life, and seize life he has!
As with anything in life, nothing is perfect. The book includes a fair amount of errors, and while Tom did mention in the book he knew they were there (but he found out too late to fix them without a great deal of effort), they're still worth mentioning. They aren't major in any way until the Addendum. Here Tom included a short (20-ish pages) piece written by his father back in 1974. While I understand wanting to leave this in its original state, it wasn't written to be published and therefore wasn't edited at all. At times this meant it felt even more like sitting with a person and hearing their story, but other times it meant re-reading sentences to figure out what was being said. There were also errors converting it into a digital file as some words included numbers instead of letters. Finally, while they were very rare, there were a couple odd inclusions like the author's (presumably) current address and the (presumably) current address of his daughter and her husband.
Overall I really enjoyed Peregrinations. It's one of the more interesting autobiographies I've read, and Tom not only succeeds in leaving his legacy in writing for his family he also managed to write something interesting for anyone to pick up. He's also quite the role model as he shows again and again that a strong work ethic and pride in what you do will get you far in life, even when things get rough. I'd rate the book 3.5 stars if I could, but due to the errors and the issues with the Addendum I'm forced to rate it 3 out of 4 stars. For folks who love autobiographies, stories of underdogs, stories of people who bust their butts to make something of themselves and military stories (generally not in the line of fire) you should absolutely pick this one up.
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