Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Let's celebrate cheese balls

But bad encounter will dampen my marking of the mysterious holiday

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What with the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon, the fact spring has been replaced this year with two winters, and the looming threat of more flooding, I suspect we could all do with a little cheering up.

Well, thankfully, today just happens to be April 17, a day on which there are more than the usual number of things to make us stand up and cheer.

You probably think I'm kidding, but I wouldn't joke about vital historical issues, such as the fact today is the date on which the Ford Mustang was introduced to the North American market.

My son, a car guy, never fails to remind me that without the Ford Mustang, the world would have been deprived of the greatest-ever movie car chase scene, by which he means the one in Bullitt in which the legendary Steve McQueen rockets around the streets of San Francisco for 10 minutes and 53 seconds.

For those of you unmoved by classic car chases, this is also the date on which Geoffrey Chaucer told The Canterbury Tales for the first time in the court of Richard II, the date on which Jerrie Mock became the first woman to circumnavigate the world by air and -- if you happen to be a geek, prepare for a thrill -- the day George Lucas began writing his treatment for Star Wars.

These are all good reasons to be happy today, but, sadly, they are not great reasons. Fortunately, I have tracked down what I believe are two outstanding reasons to bake a celebratory cake.

For starters, April 17 just happens to be the birthday of the one and only Daffy Duck, the arch-rival of Bugs Bunny and a character who, in my mind, is the greatest animated waterfowl of all time. It was on this day in 1937 that Daffy debuted on the big screen, a bit part in Porky's Duck Hunt.

I am not looking for an argument, but I feel strongly that, for sheer entertainment value, Daffy beats the pants off of Donald Duck, even though Donald doesn't even wear pants, which is a bit confusing, considering he never appears in public without his dorky little sailor jacket and hat.

Daffy's big day aside, the real reason we need to be over the moon today is because -- you might want to sit down before reading this next bit -- it's National Cheese Ball Day!

For you young people, cheese balls are both a delicious bite-sized snack and a traditional holiday food formed by taking great gobs of cheese and other ingredients and moulding them into a giant ball of cheese-y goodness. Why is today National Cheese Ball Day? Well, according to my research, no one has a (bad word) clue, despite the fact it has been celebrated for years.

What we do know is cheese balls have played a large role in North American history for well over 100 years. Consider this fascinating tidbit from Yankee magazine's website: "In 1801, the town of Cheshire in western Massachusetts caused a stir when it sent a 1,235-pound ball of cheese to Washington, D.C., as a gift for the new President, Thomas Jefferson."

At 1,235 pounds, it was the largest cheese ball ever spotted outside of the Canadian Senate. Tragically, cheese balls, while delicious, are also divisive. Newspaper editors despise them because of the following grammatical dilemma: Is it (a) one word (cheeseball); (b) two words (cheese ball); (c) hyphenated (cheese-ball); or (d) an acceptable term for describing a federal politician?

I'd like to tell you I wholeheartedly endorse an all-out cheese-ball celebration, but I cannot. The truth is, I have nightmares about a haunting cheese-ball incident that occurred in my home several years ago.

It was just before Christmas and a dear friend named Julie was dropping by to show off her new baby. In preparation for the event, my wife obtained a gourmet cheese ball the size of a regulation bowling ball, which we placed on our coffee table and surrounded with about a dozen lighted candles.

The candles were meant to ward off one of the two dogs we owned at the time, a basset hound named Winnie, who, unlike most canines of her breed, was devilishly smart and capable of opening our fridge, even when it was secured with a baby lock and blockaded by kitchen chairs.

On this night, when everyone went to the front door to "ooh" and "ah" over the new baby, Winnie made her move -- catapulting onto the table, scattering the protective candles, then, in a single monstrous gulp, inhaling the entire cheese ball, which easily weighed more than a human head.

That was bad. What was worse was the fact that, in the middle of dinner, when our dog's digestive system went into reverse-thruster mode under my seat at the dining room table, the cheese ball came back.

But don't mind me. Please, feel free to pay tribute to the cheese ball today. I personally will be remembering the moment by changing my socks.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2013 A2

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