Klaus Bung: The Cabbage Tree, and its
Eleventh Birthday Present.
Length of story (excluding footnotes): 3810 words
Length of footnotes: 610 words
Written August 1997
Click here to download printable
file (rtf file)
The Cabbage Tree,
and its Eleventh Birthday Present
for children, with undertones for adults
I do not remember your birthday:
You know I never remember anybody's
birthday, but this year I did.
But perhaps I should rather say, I always remember people's
birthday, I remember it a week, or a month or sometimes even a year
For, how can you remember anything before it has happened?
One can predict a birthday and therefore send a
birthday card a week in advance, but one can remember it only
when it is past and when the birthday card or letter cannot possibly
arrive on time.
The big question is whether it is better to predict birthdays
or to remember them.
The reason why my letters (if any) never arrive on time is
because I remember birthdays, Christmas, and so on, and I do
not predict them.
There are two types of people, those who remember birthdays
and those who predict them. We all have a gene which determines
to which group we belong.
People who in reality predict birthdays still say they
remember them. But they are prophets and I am not. We can't
all be prophets, can we? Some of us have to be
prophetesses. Are you a prophetess? I am neither a prophet
nor a prophetess.
This year your eleventh birthday was on 6 July , and the earliest day on
which I could
remember it was therefore 7 July. And that's what I did.
Then I did not have a birthday present for you, so I decided to make
one. And I made a birthday story for you, but it took five days
to grow. It is called "The Cabbage Tree, and its Eleventh
Now you have to do something nice for your brothers and your
mother to comfort them because they aren't getting a story, are
they? I am therefore sending you a $20 note to enable you to buy
some sweets (or whatever else $20 will buy) for Big Brother (Xerxes,
King of the Persians), for Little Brother (Tristan, The Most Faithful
of Lovers), for your Mother (toughest, kindest and most beautiful of
all Mothers), and for Thalia (Greek Goddess of comedy, and who should
that be but you, my little clown!). That will make them all
happy, you can read your story to them, drink a cup of chocolate
together and you can celebrate your birthday together, again.
You see, it is really a good idea that I do not predict
birthdays but remember them, because that gives you a chance to
celebrate them twice - once on the predicted date, and again when
somebody remembers them.
If you had 364 friends, you could tell
each of them to remember your birthday on a different date, one on 7
July, one on 8 July, one on 9 July, and so on, round the year and the
next until your next birthday arrives again. That way you could
celebrate your birthday every day of the year, either because it is
actually there, or because someone remembers it, and your life would be
one big never-ending birthday party. Why don't you go right now
and organise your friends so that you will have a happy life.
Lots of love
from your Mad Grandfather
PS. This is the photograph from when you
last came to visit me with your boyfriend, the sprinter.
The Cabbage Tree
Late at night before I go to bed, I visit
the flowers in my garden. I am a modern mother and give them a
lot of liberty. Most of them have chosen for themselves where
they want to grow and whose company they like. Once they have
decided, they usually stay where they are, but sometimes, I believe,
they are naughty, and during the night when they should be sleeping,
they go visiting other groups of flowers and hold noisy parties.
Noisy, that is, by flower standards. For us that noise
is barely audible. From some of the quieter flowers, such as the
daisies, I have heard complaints about what their big rowdy cousins,
the sunflowers, get up to. They are a sly lot. Before the
sun rises, they usually get back to their old places, so that I can
never be sure if they have been away. But I am wary of their
tricks. Sometimes I notice in the morning that they are not quite
where they were the night before.
When I go down to say Good Night to them and tuck them in, I
give them a drink of water, check if they have washed their stinky feet  and
brushed their teeth and said their evening prayers. Then I leave
them, lock the house, drink my nightcap, wash my stinky feet, brush my
teeth and say my evening prayers so that God is happy with me. I
must set a good example.
Well, three years ago, my flowers complained to me that they
were getting bored and that they were getting hungry. They were
fed up with eating nothing but cow dung and dog shit for breakfast,
lunch and dinner  ,
and wanted something better. They asked cheekily whether they
could not have cow shit and dog dung instead. They said that dog
dung was more poetical, but I think cow shit is rude and unfair on
cows, so I simply ignored their sarcastic remarks. But I decided
to solve two birds with one stone. I gave them a buttercupful of
mixed vegetable seeds, allowed them to scatter these where they liked
and to make friends with the vegetables which they would grow in their
These flowers are not racist, they are good mixers and don't
mind flowers with colours different from theirs. So now I have a
beautifully mixed Brazilian garden, with flowers, herbs and vegetables
all living happily together. They even marry one another.
I have a big laburnum tree in my garden,
and a cabbage plant grew up in its shadow. I love this laburnum
tree because lots of golden sovereigns  grow on it, and in summer the laburnum
sheds so many that it feels as if it was raining gold. That's why
in Germany the laburnum is called Goldregen (Golden Shower).
Germans are such a romantic nation!
Once I slept in the garden, and so many gold coins fell on me
during the night, that my body and my face were bruised all over.
"What has the wife done to you?" asked my friends when I met them in
the street, but they don't know how lucky I am.
That's how I get my money, from my Golden-Shower Tree, because
nobody wants to pay me anything for my silly stories.
Well, the cabbage plant also loves money because it helps him
to buy presents for his girlfriends, the flowers. So he fell in
love with the laburnum because he always wanted a wife with lots of
money. The laburnum fell in love with the cabbage because she
always wanted an intelligent husband, something that is hard to come
by. That was a fair exchange.
The two came from respectable, God-fearing
families, they weren't wicked tear-aways like so many youngsters these
days. Therefore they said: "Before we get any closer together, we
want to get married and what God has joined together  no gardener shall cut
asunder." I always like and support respectable people. So
I got the marriage licence for them from the town hall and brought the
priest to hold the ceremony.
Eight months later they had a daughter. They were
overjoyed, because daughters are so much cleverer than boys, give less
trouble, and shall inherit the garden and dwell therein forever  .
But would she be a plant, like her father, or a tree, like her mother?
that was the big question. A tree or not a tree!
To start with, the baby cabbage took after her father and
looked more like a cabbage than a tree. But with time she grew
tall and gawky and was tossed around by the violent storms which are
common on my hill. That stretched her neck even more. But
her deep roots clung to the soil. For a while she was lying flat
on the ground, and I had to take a bamboo stick to tie her and make her
stand upright like a man. She kept growing higher and higher and
I had to tie her to her stick again and again.
Summer and autumn passed and still she had not developed a
cabbage head. Was this going to be a brainless cabbage?
Then she would be the first such in the world. Usually cabbages
consist almost entirely of head, with just a short leg to stand on,
whereas we human beings consist only of legs and stomach so that we can
eat, play football and make love. Our head and brains are tiny by
comparison. That's why we are so monstrously stupid.
But cabbages have a reputation for being clever.
If two cabbages get into a fight, the
stronger one tries to cut off his opponent's leg. The loser then
takes him to court for assault. Then the stronger one says to the
judge: "My opponent doesn't have a leg to stand on." How could
he, poor soul, if it has been cut off! But that is justice.
If the victim sues because someone has cut off his leg, he
cannot possibly win: he must stand on his leg to prove his case.
Otherwise the court will not believe that it has been cut off.
But if he still has his leg, he cannot complain that it has been cut
off. That is the dilemma of the cabbages.
Therefore you must never go to court, especially if you do not
have a leg to stand on. That is the main reason why you are lucky
to be a little girl (never mind being stupid like all humans), and not
a smart cabbage. You start off with two legs. Even if you
lose one, you still have the other one to stand on. What good is
your head to you in court if you do not have a leg to stand on!
When we see a really brainy person, we say "He is a cabbage",
which means, "He is all head and brains. He'll never run in the
Olympics." If children want to become clever, they must eat lots
of cabbages, to say nothing of apples, oranges and bananas.
Apples are born without a leg to stand on. That's why
they must hang upside down from apple trees and Christmas trees.
Apples feel dizzy most of the time, because they are not yogis or
politicians, who can stand on their head for thousands of years.
Even next year, my cabbage would not grow
a head as I expected. She was obviously going to be a tree, like
her mother. During the nightly parties of the flower children she
must have run around like a headless chicken. The flowers wanted
to kiss her and had nothing to kiss her on.
Meanwhile she grew taller and taller. She grew blossoms
and many succulent leaves. She looked like a small tree, and
already reached up to my elbows. Her stem was now an inch and a
half in diameter.
The flowers, who wanted to become as intelligent as I, started
eating her leaves, and the little cabbage tree happily let them do
so. She did not need so many leaves. "I can always make new
ones", she said, "just watch me do it!"
Then a butterfly called Parú Paró flew five thousand miles
across the wide wild Sargasso sea  , instantly fell in love with my garden
and started kissing the cabbage tree. The cabbage tree liked that
because it tickled its leaves. Wherever Parú Paró had kissed,
beautiful little caterpillars grew up, almost as pretty, but not quite,
as their cousins, the earth-movers, which we use to build our roads, to
level football pitches and destroy the foundations of society.
The little caterpillars also asked for leaves to eat and got
them. It was an incredibly loving and generous cabbage
tree. Just like Parú Paró.
I asked the cabbage tree if I would live
long and stay healthy if I also eat her leaves. "Of course, you
will," she said. "If you eat cabbage leaves, you will live twice
as long as normal people".
"And what is normal?" I asked.
"Man's life lasts 70 years", she said, "and if she is lucky,
it will be 80, but the extra ten will be nothing but toil and trouble.  But
if you eat cabbage leaves all your life and always love your monster
and your Parú Paró, you will live to 140 years, and enjoy them to the
So I also started eating cabbage leaves and always loved my
monster and Parú Paró. Because I will live and work till I am
140, just watch me do it!
"Who is your monster?" you ask. He is an extraordinarily
loveable creature who has the miraculous ability to be in two places at
the same time. He lives in the kennel in my garden and in my
heart. God alone knows how he does it.
The cabbage tree had become so big, that the bamboo stick was
too weak to hold her up. So I bought a metal pole to support
her. It cost me £5, just imagine! Next year she continued
growing, and during midsummer night  that year I had a strange dream.
I dreamt of St John eating grasshoppers
and wild honey
 in the desert, at the banks of the river Jordan.
First I saw the grasshoppers hopping away and St John hopping after
them to catch them. But they were professional hoppers, whereas
St John was a professional baptist. Baptists (anabaptists and
alike) are only amateur hoppers  . Therefore
hopping after them was such hard work for St John that he became quite
emaciated. It was not a case of anorexia nervosa but, like his
old friend Cassius Clay, he had that lean and hungry look that
characterises the true philosopher. "Would he were fatter", said
Julius Caesar compassionately when on 13 March 44 B.C. he was flown to
Jordan for an emergency baptism  two days before his premature
death. Suddenly I understood why St John (as you can see when you
visit him in the Chiesa dei Frari  ) is so much leaner than his Pope and
his Bishop. If they also did some aerobics, they could be as fit
as St John and your Mum.
I also want to shed some weight, and I have decided to join
the St John's Aerobics Club across the road. They use clay
grasshoppers there for hopping after because most of its members are
vegetarians. Now you know why St John is the patron saint of
Suddenly my dream changed. I couldn't figure out what
grasshoppers were doing in the desert since, in the desert, there is no
grass on which they can hop. Moreover how can St John live on
wild honey, when there are only three flowers left in the desert - not
enough to feed an army of bees on, especially wild ones, who are as
greedy as ten-year-old children.
So I went to Paris and asked St Merry and his new neighbour
Madame Pompadour 
for an explanation. They told me that every night three ravens  come
to visit St John and bring him a tin of grasshoppers from Egypt, a jar
of wild honey from South Africa, and a videotape from Denmark so that
he doesn't get bored in his desert and can test his self-control.
St John has grown so old on eating
grasshoppers and wild honey (he'll soon be 2000) that he has only one
tooth left in his mouth - upper right one. It is in front, behind
his upper lip, is long, strong, uncommonly sharp, and winks at you
triumphantly when St John laughs, which is not very often. The
other hermits and hippies there in the desert call him John The Tin
Opener. They love to see his tooth wink, therefore they hatch
plots to make him laugh. "Anything for a good laugh!" they say,
"for our God is a merry God".
Their pranks are so many that, if I should write them all
down, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books
that should be written.
 Therefore I must leave them for another letter.
After St John has said grace, he opens his tin of grasshoppers
with his one tooth and immediately the grasshoppers come goose-stepping
out and hop straight into his mouth. This is not only a very good
service but also a miracle.
I always thought St John should become a vegetarian like me
and start eating grass and cabbage leaves. Suddenly I understood
why there is no grass in the desert. St John used to be a
vegetarian and has eaten it all.
Mark Antony Tyson had the same problem. He is a
vegetarian, a pacifist and a deserter. When he couldn't find any
more grass in the desert, he went without food until he saw some grass
growing out of Evander Holyfield's ear and started grazing there.
"Evander Holyhead, lend me your ears,
I come to whack your hollies, not to graze them,  "
he whispered, perhaps to show off his
erudition, but graze he did. He was near starvation, and in his
excitement he followed St Peter's example  and bit off
Holyfield's ear  .
An obvious act of clumsiness by someone used to grazing in the desert
and not in other people's ears. Evander Holyfield has now changed
his name to Evander Holydesert and will never again box with a
When the grasshoppers no longer had any grass to hop on, they
became simply hoppers. It was so boring to hop in the desert with
nothing to hop on that they decided to make a quantum leap, which is
the tiniest leap you can possibly imagine, and hopped straight into a
tin factory in Cairo
 , which is a big city in Egypt, where the Gyptians and
the Gypsies come from. The manager was a romantic German, Werner
Heisenberg  .
He ruled his tiny tin empire with a rod of iron, a reign that has
become affectionately known as Verner's Law  . When the
hoppers arrived in his yard, he taught them goose-stepping while from
the jukebox came strains of "Honour your German Masters"  and
they taught him quantum leaps: as a result, their love and friendship
grew in bounds  .
They asked him for food and shelter. He had no food for
them but, out of gratitude for teaching him to make quantum leaps, he
gave them tins to live in and made them draft-proof and
water-proof. That's how the grasshoppers became plain hoppers and
how the hoppers managed to get into tins, even though the tins were
draft-proof, water-proof, and hopper-proof. When the hoppers come
out of the tins, they hop straight at St John's head trying to get into
his mouth. This is how they became hopper heads. Sometimes
you can still see them clinging to English drain pipes.
Then I dreamt that my cabbage tree had
trebled in size. On its branches lots of cabbages were
growing. These were intelligent cabbages with real heads.
They were dangling from the branches like apples, gently swinging and
singing. It became winter, the cabbages froze and as they touched
each other in the breeze, they started ringing like green silver bells,
and there was heavenly music all day long. But in reality it was
Suddenly a raven came to peck at one of the cabbages, croaked
Nevermore!  ,
the cabbage dropped on my head and I awoke.
That was a mad dream. But who knows, perhaps it was
I rushed into my garden and there I saw the cabbage tree
exactly as it had been in my dream. It had been transformed
overnight, in this night of love and miracles.
There were exactly eleven cabbages on it. I asked: "Why
The cabbage tree said:
"They are for your American granddaughter
Thalia, because it is her 11th birthday today. That is the most
important of all birthdays, because it comes around only once every
eleven years, and she has been waiting for it all her life!
On her birthday she will be allowed to stuff
herself with cabbages. What nicer birthday treat could there
But do not worry, you won't go short.
When she has finished, I will grow more cabbages for you, and for my
I will also cater for the wriggly little
caterpillars so that they can grow up and become strong pillars of
Caterpillars are called caterpillars because
when they are little I have to cater for them, and when they
are big, they are pillars of society  , watch Ibsen  in the
theatre and clap loudly when they have been exposed, didn't you know,
That surprised me since I had been told that caterpillars are
called caterpillars because they look like cats
with pile or hair, in other words, like pily cats or hairy
cats. But that story with the pillars of society makes much more
sense to a simple mind like mine. Have you ever seen a naked cat!
Unfortunately, little Thalia, you do not
live in England but in America. But I have picked the eleven
cabbages for you and sent them to the greengrocer near where you
live. He will keep them for you. Your Mum only has to go
and collect them. I hope you will enjoy them and become strong,
clever and good. And don't let your brothers Tristan and Iseult
boss you around. Eat plenty of cabbages and if the boys get
bolshy, do like Halima and Yamina here and punch them on the nose or on
their cabbage head. I wish you a happy eleventh birthday.
6 July 1997
On what date was your eleventh birthday
last year? return
Indignant parents have since told me that children do not have stinky
feet (to say nothing of plants or adults) and that dogs do not shit and
that children should be made aware of these linguistic facts early in
life. Since it is too late to change the text of this story (quod
scripsi scripsi), I herewith retract what I have said. The only
people who had stinky feet (and this has transpired in John 13:2-5)
were Philoctetes and the other disciples of Jesus. But they had
it bad, and it drove Jesus to his premature death! He patiently
suffered the stench during his last supper with them, but then he could
not stand it any longer. He got up in person, put on a gas mask,
an apron and rubber gloves, and got down on his hands and knees to wash
their feet, one by one, with Persil or St Peter's herb, since this is
parsley (in French), and Petersil (in German). It is so called
because St Peter, who loved his smell of rotten fish, affected an
allergy to it. St Peter therefore, like a naughty child,
struggled violently to stop Jesus from washing his feet. "Never,
never, never, never, never, Never (sic!) will I allow you to
wash my stinky feet!" (John Lear 13:8 and 5.3:307). Peter gave in
when Jesus threatened to dispatch him to the Greek island of Lemnos,
the ancestral home of all people with stinky feet. return
Plants, curiously enough, eat with their feet and, considering their
daily diet, it is not surprising that they had stinky feet, as
mentioned above. Civilised human beings, regardless of their
diet, should not even eat with their hands, but with knife and fork. return
24 June, the summer solstice and the Feast Day of St John the
Baptist. During the night preceding it Freud, Shakespeare and
Wagner (in alphabetical order of importance) had notorious dreams. return
Paedobaptists are members of Christian sects (e.g. Roman
Catholics and Anglicans) which baptise infants. They are
considered perverts by Anabaptists, who baptise only adults who have
reached the age of, and given their, consent. return
Go to any Baptist garden fête and the chances are you will
always win. return
Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, 1.2:194-198 return
Church in Venice, c/o Donatelli, St John's European
The church of St Merry and the Centre Pompidou are side by
side. The Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Lustiger, goes there when
he wants to relax and have a good laugh. He was born Bruder
Lustig but after these visits
a lustiger and wiser man
he wakes the morrow morn. return
Hopping is a traditional pastime in Egypt:
"I saw her once
Hop forty paces through the public street."
(Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra 2.3:32-33) return
The physicist Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) developed
quantum theory and the uncertainty principle. Many children
suffer from it at examination time. return
Note the Sound Shift from W to V; see Encyclopaedia
Britannica under "Germanic Languages". return
"Ehrt eure deutschen Meister" from Wagner's opera The
Mastersingers of Heidelberg, celebrating the invention of computer
generated poetry on St John's Day. return
Some historians argue that it grew also in leaps. return
hence also known as "religious caterpillars" (Marlowe: The
Jew of Malta, Act 4) and weakly worshipped by Mr Eliot during his
morning service. return
The Norwegian playwright Ibsen wrote the play "Pillars of
Society" in 1877. It is a shortened version of his Ph.D. Thesis
"The Survival of the Fittest Caterpillars in Rural Norwegian Society". return