From Susan Parker: A Worm, a Horseradish and a Bespectacled Monkey

Susan Parker
Tuesday January 20, 2004

“You forgot the worm,” said Irit. 

“What worm?” I asked.  

“The worm in the story about the onions and oranges. I told you that it was a worm that lived in the onion and never got to taste oranges.” 

“Jeez,” I said. “I forgot all about the worm. How could that be?” 

Irit was referring to a tale she had told me at a dinner party about how a worm who tastes only onion thinks it is the sweetest taste in the world, until the day he/she/it gets to eat an orange. I had written an essay about Irit’s story and I had e-mailed it to her for her approval. 

“I’ll change it,” I said. 

“Don’t bother,” answered Irit. “I like it the way it is, except you made me sound old. I never peer over my glasses.” 

“You think that makes you sound old? I’ll change it.”  

“No,” said Irit. “Leave it as it is. You got the essence right and that’s what matters. Really, I don’t know where I learned that orange-onion-worm story. I’d like to find out.” 

“We can do a Google search,” I suggested. 

“I already have,” said Irit. “I put in “worm + onion + orange”. Then I tried “onion + orange + worm”. And then I tried “orange + worm + onion”. It was no use. I got millions of hits and none of them were right.” 

“Did you try Yiddish proverbs, Jewish folktales, Israeli stories?”  

“Yes, all of them.” 

“Listen,” I said. “I’ve got a friend in Israel who knows about these things. I’ll e-mail him and see if he remembers anything about onions, worms and oranges, okay?”  

“That would be great. And while you’re at it, can you find out about the monkey and the glasses?” 

“The monkey and the glasses?” 

“Yes. It was my favorite story while growing up in Jerusalem. The monkey wanted a pair of glasses and when he finally got them he put them on his feet, his knees, his tail and his head, but he never figured out how to use them. The moral is something about you don’t need to accumulate things that you don’t know how to use.” 

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll see what I can find out about the worm, the onion, the orange, the monkey and the glasses. Anything else?” 

“Yes,” said Irit. “Don’t make me sound like I’m fat when you write about me, okay?” 

“Did I make you sound fat?” I asked. 

“No,” said Irit. “I’m just warning you.” 

When I got off the phone I e-mailed my friend Ephraim in Haifa. Ephraim is 81 years old, a Holocaust survivor, a 1948 freedom fighter, a former kibbutz resident, a scholar of the Old Testament. If he didn’t know about the onions, oranges, monkeys, worms and glasses, then nobody did. 

I received an answer from Ephraim within 24 hours. “The worm is in a horseradish,” said his message. “He thinks that the horseradish is the best place to be. There are no onions in this tale though your friend got the gist of the story right.” 

I called Irit. “You forgot the horseradish,” I told her.  

“Ohmigod!” shouted Irit. “But of course! How could I have forgotten the horseradish?” 

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe the same way I forgot the onion?”  

“You didn’t forget the onion,” corrected Irit. “You forgot the WORM.” 

“Yes, you’re right. I forgot the worm.” 

“What did your friend Ephraim say about the monkey and the glasses?” 

“He didn’t,” I said. “He must have forgot.” 

“You know, there is an old proverb about forgetting important details. I just can’t remember it right now.” 

“Good,” I said. “Keep it to yourself with the worm, the horseradish, the oranges, onions, monkeys and glasses. I’ve had about all I can stand on this subject.” 

“Me too,” said Irit. “But remember, don’t make me sound fat.” 

“Of course,” I assured her. “How could I possibly forget?” 

Footnote: Further searching on Google discovered the following: “To a worm in a horseradish, the whole world is a horseradish.”—Yiddish Proverb [Also considered Hasidic Proverb] 

“The Monkey and the Spectacles,” By Ivan A(ndreyevich) Krylov, 1769-1844/Russia. 

Found in: Ride the East Wind: Parables of Yesterday and Today, ed. Edmund C. Berkeley, New York: Quadrangle 1973.