CHARLESTON, W.Va. - I owe a huge debt of gratitude to a guy I never got to meet.
And until a colleague pointed out to me his obituary last week, I couldn't tell you who Edwin Traisman was or why he should be important to me.
But I know now if it weren't for Mr. Traisman and his development team at Kraft Foods back in the 1950s, there wouldn't be any Cheez Whiz.
And if there weren't any Cheez Whiz, my dad might have flunked out of medical school and I'd be living the life of a rice farmer's shiftless son somewhere out in the Philippine boondocks.
To hear him tell it, Dad got through med school on a steady diet of coffee, cigarettes and Cheez Whiz. The spreadable processed cheese food on white bread and a cup of joe made for an easy snack, he told me.
I can only imagine if he had to leave his quarters to forage for a bite, he could have lost precious hours of study, which could have cost him exam points, which could have cost him a medical degree and then what? Back to the farm and the wrath of my grandfather.
As it worked out, Dad, well-nourished, caffeinated and nicotined, graduated third in his class and eventually went on to practice medicine in wild, wonderful West Virginia.
And the cheery, cheesy, red-labeled companion that sustained him journeyed along through marriage, children and raising a family in America.
I can't remember my first experience with that gooey, orange stuff, but I do remember singing its praises - literally - along with those of Skippy peanut butter as a wee lad in the tub with my little brother as Mom bathed us.
My folks, with their accented English pronounced "i" as a long "e" and turned the product's name into a single, rhyming, two-syllable word: "Cheezwheeze."
I called it that for years after I'd learned to read, until one day I actually applied phonics to sound out the words on the label and made my first discovery of commercial word play: "Cheez Whiz" was supposed to sound like "Gee whiz," a common American interjection.
"Gee whiz," I thought, "this is a mighty tasty Cheez Whiz sandwich."
And in those pre-microwave days before kids were allowed to cook, sandwiches were pretty much all we were allowed to make.
They were nearly always toasted, so as to stand up to the spreading of the product cold from the refrigerator.
Plain bread would stick and rip from the stiff orange globs stuck to the knife, unless you were lucky enough to be the one who opened a new jar at room temperature. Then the stuff had the viscosity of yogurt or sour cream.
Even now, breaking the vacuum seal and catching that ripe, tangy whiff of processed cheese sends me back to lost school-day afternoons parked in front of the television with my sibs, watching cartoons and munching on toasted sandwiches - or sometimes little cheesy saltine hors d'oeuvres - washed down with tall glasses of chocolate Nestle's Quik.
(This became an illegal activity after stains from spilled chocolate milk began appearing on the shag carpet in front of the TV.)