November 8, 2020. Alex Trebek has died. It is, for me as for many TV watchers, the end of an era. When I think of how many years Alex Trebek and Jeopardy! have been in my life I am amazed. Jeopardy! has been a constant through my careers of teaching, public speaking, counseling, writing, and storytelling. Over the decades, I juggled meetings, dinner dates, and phone calls so I could watch Jeopardy! without interruption. When Art Fleming retired, I doubted I could transfer my allegiance to “some new guy.” But I did.
Alex Trebek first hosted in 1984 and became as welcome as Art was during his reign. I watched Alex Trebek through his full head of dark curly hair, to mustache, to beard, to clean-shaven eras. And always admired his impeccable language and style. He seemed to enjoy his job and I got the feeling that he also felt responsible to each of the contestants.
With Alex Trebek’s passing, my husband and I shared our histories with Jeopardy!
How, When, and Why I Started Watching Jeopardy!
Could it have been forty-four years ago that I first started watching Jeopardy!? In the mid-1970’s I lived with a colleague and her family in New Jersey, just a block from the elementary school where she and I taught kindergarten. One of the beloved members of the family was Grammie, my friend’s mother. In her late 80’s Grammie was an avid crossword puzzler, reader, baker, and “sharp as a tack.” Which leads me to Jeopardy!
Kay and I walked home for lunch each day. This was back when lunch hours for educators were more than an hour, and no one had a “working lunch.” Lunch was lunch. Walking in via the back door of Kay’s house, the aromas of that day’s lunch greeted us-vegetable soup, bread with butter, and fresh-baked apple pie. Through the kitchen, past the dining room table, we’d head to the living room. Three TV tray tables with plates, utensils, napkins and lunch were set and ready. This was not a “What do want, sweetie?” lunchtime. It was always Grammie’s choice, always filling and delicious. Kay, Grammie and I would settle in for lunch and Jeopardy!
In her late 80’s then, Grammie was quicker with answers than most of the buzzer-holding contestants. Literature, history, geography, science-she seemed to know ’em all. My friend Kay was almost as quick and correct. Listening to Kay and Grammie was like hearing an unbreakable call-and-response between TV and humans. Category-Answer-Jeopardy-Question! Watching with these two incredible women inspired and motivated me to learn more, more, more. Not necessarily to be a contestant but for the thrill of knowing information, from worldly to whimsy.
Years later and now in retirement, if it’s 4:30 PM MT here in Arizona, the TV is on for Jeopardy! We’ve been there for many of those 8200 episodes hosted by Alex Trebek. We “know” Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer. When Alex Trebek announced on March 5, 2019 that he had been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, I felt a thud in my heart. And he continued taping shows as host with his usual courtesy and quiet humor until October 29. More inspiration that came from watching Jeopardy!
RIP to my Jeopardy! friends.
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire with the Eastside Writing Room, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Tucson’s Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.