“Zee Cabbage Rules,” by Jon Sindell

Feb 28th, 2018 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

When your name is Dave Von Hoffenschnitzenberger, you always get asked, “Why don’t you just shorten your name?”

“Shorten it?” I’ll chuckle. “We lengthened it, man. From Hoffman.” My inquisitor then leans back with a cold one—German, of course—and I launch into my tale. “Hoffman was the name my Great-Grandfather Heinz took when he first came to America, before he settled in Tillamook County. He was a great man, Fathah Heinz. He sold dry goods for years, and saved enough to buy a small farm. He minded his business, and kept out of trouble. It was all well and good ’til the war broke out. World War I, his new country at war with his old one. And anti–German feelings ran high.

“Now, I can’t say there was out and out anti-German hysteria around here—most folks in these parts were pretty level-headed—but it was war, and some things were done that were not very nice. Like one night, a bunch of kids in a wagon went past the Hoffman farm. When they came abreast of the place, they started heaving cabbages into the front yard, making hand grenade sounds and shouting “Kraut for the Krauts!” Then they lobbed a big crock of honey, yelling “Hon for the Huns!” Great-Grandpa came running out waving a pitchfork. And while the wagon was clomping away, some dirtbag slung a bag of walnuts at him, yelling, “Nuts to the Kaiser!” Great-Grandfather picked up the cabbages, and discovered they’d been painted with crossed eyes and buck teeth—they knew we couldn’t afford dental work. ‘Zehr funny,’ he muttered. ‘Zehr, zehr funny.’ My grandpa and his sibs were standing there watching Great-Granddad for instructions. ‘Vell,’ he told them, ‘don’t yust stand zere, kinder. Iss time to clean up!’ So they gathered up the cabbages and the crock of honey, and he told Great–Grandmother, ‘Forget zee schtinkina Yankee Doodle pot roast, Hilde. Tonight you vill make zee cabbage rules mit zese lovely cabbages. Ja, Hilde, zee cabbage rules mit zee sveet und sour; und you can use der honig in zat, zee crock didn’t break. Zose dumbkopfer yust gave us ein early Weinacht present! Ja, Hilde, zee cabbage rules und der sauerkraut, und alzo your vunderbar cabbage zoop. Ve vill show zese schweine yust who vill laugh lautest!’

“Now, Great-Granddad was a stoic man, and he might have let it drop after that—if zee Amerikaner had let him. So he bit his tongue when a farmer came into the store and asked for ‘three pair of hosen, huh-huh!—I mean, socks.’ And he fumed when the woman at the bakery asked Great–Grandma if she wanted any strudel. ‘No vun makes ein moonkey out uff my vife!’ he thundered. ‘But liebling,’ she told him, ‘I buy zee strudel zair every wochen. Zey’re alvays sehr nice to me, really.’ So he quaffed his schnaps and let that drop, too. But there was no holding back when Great-Aunt Katrina came home from fourth grade in tears ’cause the kids called her Heidi: ‘Heidi, Heidi, tore her nightie!’ they said.

“‘Genug!’ yelled Great-Grandpa. ‘If ist German zey vant, ist German zey get!’ That very night he put the harness on the workhorse, Stephen Foster—’Er ist Beethoven now!’ he told the clan—got in the ol’ wagon, and headed off to the county seat, an overnight trip, singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” in his bird–killing baritone. He filed the name-change papers the next morning, then returned home at midnight to a big German dinner of cabbage soup, cabbage rolls, sauerbraten, and sauerkraut. That’s when he made his big announcement: ‘Ve are now,’ he told his wife and kids, ‘vunce again, ze prout Von Hoffenschnitzenberger Family von zee vunderbar land uff Bavaria! American Hoffman, you are now kaput!’

“‘Gott hilf uns,’ said Great-Grandmother, making the sign of the cross. And there was no turning back. For dessert now, it was always German chocolate cake—und homemade strudel. In the dry goods store, Great-Granddad played Bach on the gramophone. On the farm, at meal time, it was cabbage, cabbage, cabbage, and cabbage. Most important of all, he made his sons vow never to change the family name.

“Oh, they compensated, of course. That’s why there’s never been a Von Hoffenschnitzenberger born since that day with a name longer than one syllable. Curt. Norm. Dirk. Frank. And when World War II came, and the taunts came back, my grandfather spoke the Von Hoffenschnitzenberger name with pride, especially when he boasted to the townsfolk about the battlefield heroics of Sergeant Dirk Von Hoffenschnitzenberger of Patton’s Third Army. That’s Von Hoffen-schnitzen-berger, man—with the accent on schnitzen.”

The first time I told that story to my woman, she looked at me with those dreamy brown eyes. “Great-Grandfather Heinz was a German soul brother,” she said.

Two years later, when she accepted my proposal, I asked if she was crazy. Because to take on the name Rosalita Maria Garcia-Von Hoffenschnitzenberger,” you’d have to be nuts.


Jon Sindell wrote the story collections The Roadkill Collection and Family Happiness. His humor has appeared in The Big Jewel, Thrice Quarterly, Feathertale, Hobart, and The Higgs-Weldon, and before captive audiences in living rooms and cafés everywhere. Much of his writing hides in plain sight at jonsindell.com.

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