The end of daytime dramas…
Oh, boy. This is a rough week to be a soap fan. For those of you not in the know, ABC has decided to (tragically, I might add) cancel One Life To Live after being on the air and in our living rooms for more than 43 years.
Yes, the fact that a major network has decided to cancel a long-running and beloved television series (even a soap!) is in itself hardly blogworthy. Shows have been cancelled for as long as the boob tube has been around, and I would argue that some still need to be cancelled! Have you seen some of the junk that’s on T.V. these days?! Oye. But that’s another rant blog post entirely. What makes this cancellation particularly notable, not only to me, but to millions of loyal viewers, is what the end of this show will mean.
As we prepare to say goodbye to the fine denizens (I always wanted to use that word in writing) of Llanview, Pennsylvania, I am suddenly feeling very nostalgic and very aware of exactly what this show has meant to me and the impact it has had on my life.
I have only peeked at the show the past two weeks and was stopped cold when I saw Clint clutch his chest as he lay down next to Vikki as she lay bleeding from a gun shot. My eyes welled with tears. I could not breathe. I am teary now just thinking of it. What in the world was going on? Not only were the powers-that-be flushing the show down the turlet but they were going to crucify all of the beloved characters? Sabotaging all of Agnes Nixon’s history, one by one? Could they not just let everyone gather around the Christmas tree one last time and play a montage of flashbacks with a sappy song sung by the glorious Kassie DePaiva and fade to black? For. The. Love.
The weak and the strong,
The rich and the poor,
In sickness and in health,
In joy and sorrow,
In tragedy and triumph,
You are All My Children…
I can remember cutting my first soap opera tooth as young as 3, maybe 4 years old. I spent summers with my grandparents in a very small rural town. A town so small that it was totally safe and normal to send your preschool-aged grandchildren to go play “downtown” or down in the crick by themselves until supper time.
Summers with my grandma were sacred and I really enjoyed my time with her. My grandma was a Swedish farm girl. This lady would wake up before the crack of “Oh my God the roosters ain’t even up yet!” to start a load of wash and cook breakfast. Yes, imagine being 3 years old and eating a full breakfast at 5:30 a.m. every morning! But we did because we loved her and we wanted to eat! Ha! We knew the next meal was going to be a ways away, and if we couldn’t bum a freebie from the bakery on Main street, we were gonna be starved.
So, with breakfast and The Price Is Right over, my grandma would switch the T.V. over to ABC and settle in for All My Children (another long-running ABC daytime drama that was axed this past fall after 41 years). But before her show would start, she would gather up grandchildren and make this announcement…repeatedly: “If you’re hungry, you must eat now. If you want lunch, I will make it for you now. Are you hungry, now? Because I will not cook for you while my show is on.”
And we would have to hurry and think: “Am I hungry? Was the nice lady working at the bakery today? Are there crackers somewhere we can reach? Lint-covered Tic-Tacs in pockets?” AHHH!
“No, grandma, I’m not hungry now.” Stomach already starting to grumble and regretting my response. But her show was on. We had to wait. And wait we did. Because grandma watched the hour-long drama and as soon as that was over she would hop up and turn the dial on the antenna’s receiver (you ‘member those antenna boxes where you had to wind the dial and wait until a clearer signal came through?). And we would listen to the click…click…click…and then magically, the San Francisco ABC station would appear and she’d watch the next day’s episode! So, either out of boredom or plain starvation, my love for All My Children was formed. Yes, at 3 years old.
My beautiful mother was also a huge soap fan. I was, in fact, named after a soap actress that would later star on The Young and the Restless. My older brother was born when All My Children first hit the airwaves. The first episode of Y&R (three years later) was broadcast the day after my birth. Not much else for a Stay-At-Home-Mom to do in the 1970s but watch soaps. I even remember wondering at a very young age if my mom didn’t want more for herself than to stay at home on the couch and watch soaps all day. Ahem, I was very young.
And so my life with soaps began. First, as something to do over the long summer breaks (no job – no car!). During the school year, I would head straight home after school, run to the bathroom (never used the public potty in H.S.), grab a salami sandwich (never ate lunch in H.S.), and search for that corded remote and start rewinding that VHS tape! Days of Our Lives, Santa Barbara, General Hospital, All My Children, and One Life To Live.
I’m not really sure where or how this passion came into play in my real life. I cannot ever remember hanging out by the lockers at school and discussing with my friends what Julie Chandler was wearing (and we all had those high-top Reeboks with the double Velcro straps and the colored soles after that episode!) or wondering if Max and Gabrielle would ever escape Eterna with that nutty Ursula who would later become that nutty Opal! I don’t know other than to say that these characters were my friends. Not to say that I didn’t have friends, but these were the friends I wanted to be hanging out with! Their lives were slightly more messed up than mine, they looked good, and they somehow always had Christmas no matter how screwed up the families were. I liked that. I needed that. I needed to feel that there would always be a Christmas. With flashbacks. And montages. And voice overs.
My mom died early on February 26th, 2005. I can remember somewhat clearly that my love for the shows died about that time also. Edmond Grey was killed around the same time. Maria was beside herself. I couldn’t watch. I remembered when Erica lost Mona (the sweet Frances Heflin) and Bianca was still a baby. And when Vikki lost Megan. It was just too much.
I had no one in my life that could relate. I was busy at University and starting my career and my life over without my mom. I didn’t, no, I couldn’t, carry her memory and the memories I had of those shows together. And I remember thinking back to when my mom’s mom died in 1993, how my mom also stopped watching the ABC soaps and turned to the telenovelas that her mom loved. Soaps in our family were synonymous with ‘mom’. And sadly we were running short on moms.
My son was born in 2008 and I became a (very reluctant) Stay-At-Home-Mom soon after that (along with more than 10,000 other California teachers). The first, and I mean the very first day I was home alone with my 7-month old, my hand was on the remote so fast at 11 a.m. it made my head spin! I was home alone 4 1/2 days a week (my husband worked in Southern CA). I had no family to lean on. I had no friends with small children. I was not on Facebook. I was not blogging. I was not in a mom’s group. I was slowly drowning in my new life and I needed my mom. Desperately.
I headed straight for the next best thing, what I knew would get me through this season – my soap moms. Katherine Chancellor and Vikki Buchanan. Ah. Things were not going to be so bad. Llanview looked the same as it did all those years ago: The decor at Landfair, Dorian, Angel’s Square, Marty Saybrook, Fraternity Row, Megan, Joey, Todd, Nigel, pictures of Asa, ugh, we lost Asa too? I…was…HOME.
Yes, there was a new Jessica/Bessica/Tessica and I had to figure out the whole Mitch Lawrence deal but it felt real and it felt safe and it felt normal and they used BIG. ADULT. WORDS.! My God the WORDS! There were plots and schemes and dialogue and things to think about! My brain would not be turned to mush like the bananas I was feeding my son.
I had something to hold onto when my husband left on Sundays. I had something to look forward to after a long sleepless night. I had something to do while my baby napped. And cue the choir singing “HALLELUJAH” I could lay on the couch and eat my bon-bons! Well, I could crash on the floor in my pajamas at 1 p.m. and try not to think of the million things that needed to be done by myself with an infant before my husband came home on Fridays or before the baby woke up. And some serious time spent reflecting on how my mom tackled everything as a Stay-At-Home-Mom with two kids running around and still had time to watch her soaps!
And so it has come full circle. I have watched my sweet little boy dance around as the OLTL theme played in the background. And I have struggled to get him lunch before 1 p.m. every afternoon because mama’s show was coming on. And I have cherished the very early mornings (when I didn’t get him fed by 1 p.m. the day before) when I would steal away downstairs and watch episodes on my husband’s laptop and clip coupons and sip hot coffee. Alone. In peace.
Soaps saved my life and I don’t write that to sound dramatic. Plain and simple those shows saved my life. Saved me from sulking around or being shut up in my bedroom day after day or wearing black eye-liner and Dr. Martens in my teen years. Saved me from losing my connection with my mother and grandmother in those awkward rebellious years. Saved me from forgetting my past. Saved me from letting go of my mom. Saved me from losing my sanity in learning to not only accept but appreciate being a Stay-At-Home-Mom. (And it saddens me to no end to think that my future daughters or granddaughters will not have daytime soaps to save them.)
Soaps, and more importantly, OLTL gave me reason to hope. Reason to hold on. Reason to believe. Because I only have…One Life to Live. Goodbye Llanview…