Thursday, January 23, 2020

Tom Robbins Impeaches Tibetan Peaches

By Fred Owens

Peaches don't grow well in LaConner, in the lush, green, moist Skagit Valley north of Seattle. Peaches like summer sun and frosty winter days. So there has been talk of impeaching them, pits and all, to LaConner, where author Tom Robbins has lived for many years. But let's talk about peanuts, which also don't grow in LaConner. When I worked for the Wilson County News in Floresville, Texas, I did a feature story about peanut monuments around peanut country, which stretches from Jimmy Carter's farm in Plains, Georgia, all the way across the red dirt country to Oklahoma and Texas.

Here's what I found. The most beautiful peanut monument was carved from native limestone and perched on the courthouse lawn in Durant, Oklahoma, six feet across. A bigger ten-foot peanut graces the courthouse lawn in Floresville, Texas, made of painted fiberglass. A much smaller peanut is displayed in Dilley, Texas, which has a sign that says World's Biggest Peanut. That's Texas bragging. You say you're the biggest and let someone prove you wrong. But the biggest peanut of all, made of painted sheet metal and kind of ugly, stands somewhere in Georgia, 30-feet tall. The biggest. These are what we call roadside attractions. You find them all over the country, corny as heck, like giant green dinosaurs sculpted by Gomer Pyle.

So Tom Robbins wrote a book about this on the highway leading to the mummified body of Jesus Christ on display, on view for a small contribution. His book says Jesus never rose from the dead, but they spirited his body away right after Easter, carried his saintly body down to Egypt to be preserved and hidden for centuries. You can believe that or not.

That was Tom's first book, Another Roadside Attraction, published in 1971 and still in print. I was on that road myself and saw the monuments. It's what we do for fun in our American highway--obsessed world, going down the forever road to the last standing statues of Sasquatch and Paul Bunyan.

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious." This is the opening passage  of another of Tom's novels, Jitterbug Perfume. Beets! I know from beets. I spent an entire week  riding behind a tractor planting beet seedlings in a field near LaConner, where they grow beets for seeds. Seed Beets, to sell to other farmers. During that week of beet immersion I thought about this wonderful vegetable, but could not quite put it into good words, like Tom can do. He's an amazing fellow. He makes a good living writing novels. Nobody makes ten cents writing novels, but he does. Well, good on you, Tom.

Reading Tibetan Peaches, the autobio of Tom Robbins. Quite a life. Born in 1932 so 88 years old. Easy to find in LaConner, he's the guy wearing sun glasses. Can't say I really know him well, just to say hello at the post office. A good writer, he works pretty hard at making it look like he's not working at all. An honest man, whether fact or fiction, he tells the truth.

I write Frog Hospital and today I wonder if it's like the stuff Tom Robbins writes. Tom and I lived in the same small town for 25 years, breathing the same air. I am currently reading his autobio called Tibetan Peach Pie. What I admire about him is his hidden strength. Sure he is funny, very funny and he is fantastical and magical...... But so grounded. He is an agent of change, but not dangerous. Where I feel the common thread is his feelings about vegetables.
Tom was born in rural Virginia in 1932. Both his grandfathers were Baptist preachers and they tried to reach him and they tried to preach him, but to no avail. You know, the Baptists are not that stupid. What they saw in Tom was "he ain't never gonna be one of us, so let him go." And they let him go! He went to college and became a news writer and arts critic. He enlisted to serve four years in the Air Force. This was in the 1950s when young men signed up for four-years in the Air Force or Navy in order to avoid being drafted for two years in the Army.

The Air Force sent Tom to Korea where he developed a life-long interest in kim chee, the national cabbage dish, and Asian culture in general. Then they sent him for two years to Omaha in Nebraska, which did not kill his spirit, but made him a bit thicker. He is actually a solid fellow and that comes from his Omaha days. He came out West after that and settled in Seattle and then LaConner, where he resides to this day, although I have been gone from that town for almost ten years so I have no recent contact or news. I know he did get old, being 88, which is surprising to many people, but it does happen to almost everybody.

But back when I lived there I used to spend many hours and days working in the garden across from his house. And there was his front door, and right across the street was the Methodist Church, so when Tom goes out his front door every day, he faces God, or the Methodist version. I don't think that bothers him. Like I said, the Baptists let him go, and if the Baptists ever did anything right it was to let Tom Robbins go, let him go away and become the writer he became. We are all enriched by his efforts.

Sciatica. What a lovely, sweet name, you could name your new kitten Sciatica. Aw, she's so cute. Well, it is a nice name, but it is also a nasty painful condition. I have it now. and I have discovered that so many other people have it that I won't relay the symptoms except to say that it hurts and I cannot do any garden work. I am out of work and stuck here on the couch writing this newsletter and watching the impeachment trial on TV. I don't like being retired, it's like being unemployed forever. But I am getting too old for garden work. I need to find something less strenuous, like teaching other people to do garden work. For instance, just last night at the Kiwanis club social, three members -- Lauren, Jordan, and Anita -- asked my advice on their garden projects, like I knew something. Anita sings my praises high and low because I pruned her table grapes last spring and she brought in a good crop. In all humility, it wasn't my pruning that brought in a good crop, it was the abundant rain that came in last winter. You can't beat a good rain for making a garden flourish. But I accepted the praise that Anita gave me -- took a bow.

Thank you,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

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