The recent death of Muhammad Ali’s saddened me as I realized yet another icon “with me” since the days of my youth has preceded me to whatever awaits us all some day. On a happier note, it also brought me back to some of my earliest and most treasured of memories of times with my dad. But then whenever I think of boxing I always think of Daddy. Daddy loved boxing which he always called prize fighting, and its participants were, of course, always referred to as prize fighters.
This particular trail had its starting point way back before Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, and perhaps since it was 1950 or 51, perhaps even before he put on his first pair of boxing gloves. Other little girls might remember their fathers teaching them to dance. I learned how to box. We’d spar and prance about the living, he constantly reminding me to “cover my face.”You see, I was the son he never had, until he did, that is. After my younger brother was born, he must have realized I was the daughter he did have, because he taught me how to do the Charleston. After my youngest brother was born, I was old enough for him to begin to worry about boys and he was probably glad he’d taught me how to box.
But back to when I had Daddy all to myself – Back then boxing, oops – prize fighting – was on TV every Wednesday night. And although I was only four years old and it didn’t come on until 10 PM, I was allowed to stay up to watch with him, as long as I took an afternoon nap.
One prize-fighter always had on white trunks and the other, black, or so I thought. Now I realize this may have been because it was on black and white TV. If you know me, you won’t be surprised to hear that I had loads of questions to ask and when my curiosity had been satisfied, loads to chatter about. And so Daddy established the rule that I could only talk when the Cheese Man came on. The “cheese man” was a cartoon-like figure whose head suggested a wheel of cheese and was perched on a stool and directing a TV camera. But instead of ABC or CBS, the side of the camera was emblazoned with the Kraft logo, Kraft being the sponsor of the Wednesday Night Fights.
Memories inevitably morph with time and so I know that one day, the Ali frozen in Parkinson’s disease will fade into the early Ali: Ali the greatest, Ali, the prettiest, the graceful butterfly floater, the lightning-quick bee stinger, just as in my Wednesday night memories, Daddy was young and vibrant and it would be 60 years before he too would be taken away by Parkinson’s. Memories are funny like that.
And I’ve discovered my prize fighting memories are not quite as they seem either. Take the Cheese Man. In Google fact checking my memory, I could find no reference of Kraft Cheese sponsoring Wednesday Night Fights, but I did find this on a website called Old Time Radio catalog
“The Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts were Wednesday night fights from 1948 through 1955. The show was on all three major radio networks over the years and was a popular part of the television lineup. The fights broadcasts originated from several arenas around the country and featured a number of title bouts.”
That’s when I realized I had to wait for the bell, and not the Cheese Man.Waiting for the Cheese Man was my mother’s rule – when she was watching the Kraft Television Theater.