Some parts of your childhood will never leave you. In the best-case scenario, those moments will stick with you for the rest of your life. One of those moments is my love of Jeopardy! I feel that confessing my love for a nearly 60-year-old show may have aged me more than I would like to admit but it did stick around for that long for a reason, right?
It started when I was a kid, while I would watch the show with my great aunt. She lived with my mom and me to look after me. Being the sole breadwinner of the house, my mom worked long hours at her job and did not leave much time to be at home outside of sleeping. When you live with only one parent and have plenty of family members around, there is never a need to hire a babysitter.
Sometime during the early afternoon, like clockwork, we turned our TV on and saw Alex Trebek grace our screens. His calm demeanor and approachable self were always nice to see after long days. It’s good to have a friendly face. We both watched the 30-minute segment until it ended. By the end of each episode every night, my mom would walk through the door, and I would smile to see she made it back from work safely.
Jeopardy! may not be the first show anyone would think of as their favorite show as a child, but it was for me. I grew up incredibly sheltered but also alone and being an only child didn’t help either. Some family members lived close by, but I was only around them for major holiday functions, weddings, or when I went to Florida for my summer vacations to be with my grandma.
My great aunt though, who did live with me, did not speak English. She knew a couple of words, but not enough to have a conversation without struggling greatly.
My great aunt was my grandma’s sister and they immigrated from Haiti during their 20s. They grew up speaking Haitian Creole and French and not English. They had to learn on the go when coming to the states to be fully integrated into society and not become othered by people around them.
Unfortunately, my great aunt didn’t grasp English well enough like her other siblings. She didn’t pick up as fast by the time my mom’s generation was growing up. And by that point, it didn’t seem like she ever would.
Well, I started to learn how to speak English and my great aunt was around me as well. I lived for everything PBS had to offer. The programs were fun to watch, to sing along to, and to create memories with. After the initial kid block was over and primetime television came on, Jeopardy! was the first show to come on. It was fun to watch adults respond with random topics to this tall white man in a suit. They all seemed so accomplished when the man said ‘Correct’ and swiftly moved on to the next category. I began to notice my great aunt trying to repeat some of the answers after the contestants said them.
At that moment, I realized I genuinely liked learning new things. It could be about anything and everything, but I just like knowing. My love of trivia began, and I was always excited about answering questions and being engrossed with what’s always talked about. I realize this is me adapting to topics, so I know how to talk to people when the time comes.
I will always have something interesting to bring up and seem knowledgeable as a result. I won’t feel so lonely if I have my abundance of knowledge wherever I go.
Likewise, I also saw that my great aunt was still trying. Despite her being in her 70s by the time I was born, my great aunt didn’t give up. She still took English classes to get her to actively speak, outside of talking to me of course. By extension of learning a new language, you are being immersed in a new society. Through Jeopardy!, we both learned about culture, pronunciation, and how to be together while similarly being apart.
In the unlikeliest of ways, we bonded over our own version of isolation. She, from not being able to properly communicate with others around her in an English-speaking world, and I, feeling like an outsider and feeling lonely all the time. Now, I didn’t learn Haitian Creole when I was younger either. My family was too concerned about keeping up appearances and not revealing their ethnicity due to the bad reputation being Haitian was in the area.
Ironically, by the time I was growing up, my hometown became predominantly Haitian. I felt disconnected from those around me being open about their upbringing while I had to hide or even felt shunned because I wasn’t Haitian “enough”.
However, they kept it alive during family gatherings while dismissing my generation for wanting to share in our culture. Multigenerational stories like this are not new, but it does shed light on living separate lives from those inside and outside your house.
Every day for years my great aunt and I fell into the routine of watching Jeopardy! until she moved to Canada by the time I was in high school. It became a comfort show and just a pleasant show to have on when nothing else was going on. Only years later did I truly realize the impact it had on me and my development. She recently passed away a couple of months ago, but our moments will always live on. The first thing I looked back on was seeing Alex Trebek greeting the viewer and my great aunt saying, “Hi Alex!’ enthusiastically in her deep Haitian accent. I’ll be remembering her and Alex Trebek fondly for years to come.
I miss you Auntie and also you, Alex. Thanks forever.
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