Certain childhood events stick out to people. What they wore to school picture day. Vacations. The entire Saturday morning cartoon lineup on ABC.
I remember the first time I responded correctly to a "Jeopardy" answer: “What is breeching?” "Reading Rainbow" was broadcast weekly at Nashville Elementary School and I had recently read a book on whales. And so began my personal relationship with the show, and with host Alex Trebek.
Trebek died Nov. 8, 20 months after he had revealed he had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. The impact of his death was immediate on the internet, ABC aired a special "20/20" episode that night and even NFL studio announcing teams paid tribute at halftime of games.
There were many stories of how Trebek and/or "Jeopardy" had affected them. He certainly made an impact with my family.
I don’t know when my parents began tuning in to "Jeopardy."
"Jeopardy" has been around since 1964 as a daytime show, but was canceled twice during the 1970s. Art Fleming was the host of these, but Trebek was brought onboard when it was resurrected in 1984 as a nighttime broadcast. I suspect my parents, both schoolteachers, were in very quickly. It became a major part of their lives and, later, mine.
Weeknights at 7:30 p.m. were a sacred time. We could take or leave "Wheel of Fortune" but "Jeopardy" was required. It was a household competition and there were certain rules. You could respond to an answer at anytime, save for "Final Jeopardy." There, you had to wait until the music ended to reply, The only relaxations to the show rules were that you did not have to respond in the form of a question and no score was kept. You didn’t need a score to know who won the household battle.
We took "Jeopardy" so seriously that arrangements were made on the rare night you missed it. If you were in the car, you tuned to 87.7 on your radio dial, which back then matched the frequency of shows broadcast on Channel 6, or you taped it off TV. Nearly all of our surviving VHS tapes have the credits of at least one "Jeopardy," the remnant after something else had been taped over the rest of the episode.
Trebek’s show persona was a major reason why. The dry humor, the aura of intelligence and authenticity. The arbiter of everything that was real and true. The way he said “Dracula” and “genre.”
I found myself studying different things to improve "Jeopardy" skills. I memorized dates of American presidents. I spent downtime at a previous job reading summaries of Shakespeare. It was to be a boost for "Jeopardy" but no doubt has also boosted me.
Getting on "Jeopardy" and meeting Trebek became its own goal. Alas, none of us ever did.
Before the internet took over, you could apply for a tryout in a big city. Dad and I both did one of those in Atlanta at one of the fancier hotels. There, you and about 50 others wrote down responses to 50 clues. I’m sure I stunk it up, but it was introduced by Jimmy of the Clue Crew and we received complimentary "Jeopardy" ink pens.
I’ve since done several of the online tests. Thought I was pretty close once, but no phone call. Yet.
Some people prepare themselves for fantastical situations. I prepared for what I’d tell Alex as my first bit of trivia.
You’ve never been west of the Mississippi River?
That’s right, Alex. I’ve been waiting for this day.
Becky Taylor is sports editor of The Tifton Gazette.