Volume 10
An Online Literary Magazine
November 30, 2015


from Tibetan Peach Pie


Tom Robbins


Tom Robbins' memoir, Tibetan Peach Pie


was eight or nine months old--a creeping, crawling carpet crab--when my father came home from lunch one day and found me covered with blood.


At least, my father, bellowing in horror, believed it was blood. It wasn’t. My mother had briefly left me unattended--always a mistake: even as an adult it’s been risky to leave me without supervision--and in her absence I’d attempted to drink a bottle of mercurochrome, spilling in the process a fair amount of it down the front of my sweet little white flannel baby gown.


One doesn’t see mercurochrome much in these days of various antibacterial ointments, but there was a time when it--cherry red, better smelling and less stinging than iodine--was widely used to sterilize and succor minor cuts, scrapes and scratches. Why was I drinking it? Someone once commented that I have a great thirst for knowledge, to which I replied, “What the hell? I’ll drink anything.”


As proof, in the months following the mercurochrome fest, I also drank ink (symbolic, perhaps?) and Little Bo Peep Household Ammonia. Ammonia is poisonous, so I doubtlessly swallowed no more than a sip before being repelled by its powerfully astringent aroma. Ah, but the intent was there.


My innate, raging, and indiscriminate thirst nearly came to an end, and my life along with it, at age two.


I’d toddled into the kitchen, lured by the smell of something sweet, chocolatey, and, yes, liquid. The source of this attractant was a pot of cocoa steaming furiously on the stove. Never one for formalities, I, on tiptoes, reached up, seized the handle, and yanked the boiling pot off the burner, emptying in the action its contents onto my chest.


There was no emergency room: this was Appalachian North Carolina in the middle of the Great Depression. The one and only local doctor washed the burned area--and then, not too cleverly, tightly bandaged it. A few days later, my mother, concerned by my high fever and obvious pain, removed the dressing. All the flesh on my chest came off along with it. Not merely the skin but the meat.


At the hospital in Statesville, some 70 miles away, I took up residence in an oxygen tent, my mother in a boarding house across the street. At one point, the attending physician telephoned Mother to tell her that I was dead. She picked up the phone after the first ring, but no one was on the line. In the meantime, you see, a nurse had run up to the doctor to say she thought she’d detected signs of life, so he’d immediately hung up to investigate.


By the time my frightened mother, alerted by the dropped call and propelled by maternal intuition, rushed into the ward, I was officially re-listed on the scroll of the living. Still in critical condition, mind you. But sleeping peacefully. Probably dreaming of my next adventure in drinking.




hroughout most, maybe all, of my childhood, my mother’s pet name for me was Tommy Rotten. I use the term “pet name” advisedly, for though it had been born in perplexity and consternation, it was invariably spoken with affection--and sometimes actually with a kind of ill-concealed admiration.


Lest anyone be tempted to characterize Tommy Rotten as a prototype of Bart Simpson, let it be known that for all my reckless (and usually hedonistic) mischief, I was as much a Lisa Simpson as a Bart. That is to say, I was cursed with that gene that causes children thusly afflicted to exhibit overt signs of sensitivity, to go around creating stuff (drawing pictures, putting on puppet shows, banging on the piano); and, in extreme cases, to behave as if the thermostats on their imaginations were set permanently on High.


It was almost as if some mad literary fairy, hatched, perhaps in a poppy in Oscar Wilde’s garden, had tapped me with her wand as I lay in my cradle, because I fell totally in love with books as soon as I knew what books were, and I hadn’t been talking in complete sentences for many months before I announced to my parents that I intended to be a writer.


Too impatient to wait until I could spell words and scrawl them on paper, I turned my mother into my private secretary. When the Muse bit me, as she did rather frequently, being indifferent to child labor laws, I’d call on Mother to stop whatever she was doing and take dictation. The fact that she was so willing to comply may be attributed to the fact that Mother herself was a frustrated writer. At eighteen, she’d been offered a scholarship to Columbia University but had been too frightened to move to New York.


It was doubtlessly her sublimated literary ambition that prompted Mother to occasionally change the wording of my dictation, to improve (in her opinion) my prose style. However, I always remembered each and every sentence I’d spoken, and would throw a tantrum until she restored my wording verbatim. When in 1975 I recounted this to Ted Solotaroff, my editor on Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, he exclaimed, “My God, Robbins, you haven’t changed in 40 years!”


In any case, when for my fifth birthday I was given a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs scrapbook, I began filling it not with pasted pictures but my dictated--and unedited stories. The very first of those stories (the scrapbook still exists) was about a pilot whose plane crashed on a tiny desert island, a barren place whose sole inhabitant was a brown cow with yellow spots. The cow had survived by learning to gastronomically process sand. In time, it taught the pilot to eat sand, as well, and they lived there together, man and bovine, in friendship and good health.


What meaning can we take from this first attempt at literature? That fortune favors those who improvise? That we humans have much to learn from animals? That we should insist on joy in spite of everything? The fact that the pilot didn’t rather quickly butcher the cow and commence cooking it up (thereby insuring his starvation when the meat ran out), was that an object lesson in sustainability; a prophetic fable intended to encourage future generations to seek alternatives to the greedy, thoughtless consumption that one day would threaten to suicide the planet? You’d have had to ask little Tommy Rotten--and he wasn’t talking.



From Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins. Copyright 2014 Tom Robbins. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.



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