Monday, October 10, 2011

Memories Evoked by "Brazil" and "Babka"

The students sat lined up behind the tables in opposing rows of four, square black pieces of plastic wedged firmly in their hands in anticipation. The moderator began to read the question.

"What third world country...?"

A buzzer sounded, cutting the question off. In Quick Recall, unlike the modern version of Jeopardy!, interrupting a question is actively encouraged. This has the potential payoff of rewarding a good prediction by getting a response in before the other team has even figured out what is about to be asked, but it also has the obvious risk of potentially requiring an answer before the crucial clue has even been revealed.

This appeared to be one of those latter instances. Although the number of potentially correct responses was limited not only to countries, but third world ones at that, that still left a rather large number of potential guesses. Upon being recognized by the moderator, my teammate went with his guess: "Brazil?"

The moderator blinked for a moment, stunned. "Correct!"

For the next couple of years, during practice sessions, and especially when alumni who still lived in the area would stop by to visit, this incident became something of an in-joke among our team. If our coach started a question with "What third world...?", pretty much everyone would be scrambling to buzz in to say "Brazil" even before he could get out the word "country." When the end of the year came, members of the team were given mugs with an approximation of the Quick Recall scoreboard on it, surrounded by popular answers from our time on the team. Perhaps most prominent among these was the word "Brazil," a word which even to this day cannot fail to bring this story to mind.

If a group of family or friends spends enough time together, shared stories like these inevitably become a part of the relationship. Sometimes all it takes is a single word or image to trigger a story. For example, I recently posted this picture on Facebook, knowing that the word "Babka" would remind my siblings of an episode of the '80s sitcom Perfect Strangers. Sure enough, my brother quickly chimed in to give the entirety of the "bibbibabka ditty" in the comments.

The ability to evoke whole stories with a simple word or image is perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of a close friendship. The role memory plays in our very identity cannot be overestimated. This is perhaps just one reason why conditions that rob a person of his or her memory, such as Alzheimer's (a condition currently suffered by one of my grandparents), are so tragic. The sense that an essential part of the victim's very self is being lost—even while the person is still physically alive—is both frustrating and heartbreaking. When such situations develop, it sometimes becomes the responsibility of those who do remember to keep the stories alive for those who no longer can.

What stories do you share with your family and friends? What word or image tends to "trigger" those stories? I'd be interested to read about them in the comments.

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