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Southern Seen — Learning to question starts in the cradle

Southern Seen — Learning to question starts in the cradle

By: Larry McGehee

On a typical evening, now that our girls are grown and gone, we eat off TV trays in the den while watching Wheel of Fortune, hosted by witty Pat Sajak (whom we recall from his earlier career as a Murray, KY, radio disk jockey and as a Nashville WSM-TV weatherman, and married his first time to a minister’s daughter from my Paris, TN, hometown).
After that, we watch Jeopardy, hosted by the wise (he has a philosophy degree from the University of Ottawa) and dapper Canadian and horse raiser, Alex Trebek.
Rumors circulated in December that Trebek had died of a heart attack. While it is true that his employer and close friend, Merv Griffin, had died, Trebek’s seizure was mild, and he was scheduled to return to work in January. He has hosted the show since it was revived in 1984. (Category: Writers, A: 1984, Q: “Who was George Orwell?”) It had been very popular in the 1960s and early 1970s when hosted by Art Fleming in both daytime and nighttime versions.
While both hosts are always entertaining, we watch the programs because we enjoy the challenges of the quizzes themselves. We become the fourth and fifth contestants against the three seen on the screen.
Recently, Jeopardy has been inviting former contestants to write or e-mail memories of their appearances or subsequent lives. That invitation was accepted by Betsy, my wife.
I don’t know what she e-mailed the show, but I do have my own recollections of her appearances on Jeopardy.
Betsy and I had wed in 1961, and in 1965 she was in her fourth and final year of teaching history and coaching debate at a junior high school. I was immersed in doctoral studies at Yale.
Located in New Haven, CT, Yale is a short train ride from New York City, and the distance from Grand Central Station to the television studios was relatively short.
Quite a few Yale friends and classmates had tried out for spots on the two quiz shows, and some had been selected as contestants, especially on Password. I made the trip to New York myself and tried out for that one, but was not selected.
We lived on limited income-Betsy’s teaching salary and my scholarship-which never seemed to last to the end of a month. (The last day of one month in our first year of marriage we heated and split a can of corn for our dinner.) The prospect of game show winnings was very appealing to us.
Betsy tried out for Jeopardy and was picked to compete on the daytime show. Best I can recall, she either taped the show in the spring of 1965 or it was shown then. Art Fleming was the host.
This was before videotapes existed, so we have no copy of the shows. It was also before color television, so the show was in black and white. I think Betsy wore a blue and white checkered dress with a white collar, although it was black and white on the screen.
It was a maternity dress. Betsy was pregnant with Elizabeth, our first-born, scheduled to arrive sometime around Halloween. Betsy won her first round and stayed on for the second, both taped the same day. She won that one, too.
Then she returned next day for her third appearance, adding an unbuttoned sweater to her attire, and this time she was defeated by a uniformed serviceman-a sailor, best I recall.
For her two wins and her three half-hour shows, Betsy received a set of Compton’s Encyclopedia (which we gave to her niece and nephew the next Christmas) and $1,225 (her memory–I recall it as $1,210).
Elizabeth was born November 2nd in what was then New Haven Hospital (now Yale Hospital). Betsy’s Jeopardy winnings paid the hospital and doctor’s bills. That fall and spring we house-sat a professor’s home for a year while he was on leave, and the absence of rent coupled with funds left from Betsy’s winnings made it possible for her to give up her teaching position. A year later we moved to the University of Alabama for my first post-graduate administrative job.
Occasionally we suggest to Elizabeth-now 42 years old and even better at trivia questions than we-to ask Jeopardy to let her “make a return appearance,” this time as an educated adult rather than as a tummy-bulge, to thank the show for paying her way into the world. Maybe that is what Betsy advised Jeopardy to do when she wrote the show in December.
If Jeopardy ever uses mother-and-daughter teams, Betsy and Elizabeth could be together again on the show, nearly a half-century later.
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Larry McGehee, professor-emeritus at Wofford College, may be reached by e-mail at mcgehee@wofford.edu
Published in The Messenger 1.22.08

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