I remember being at the Laundromat once when I was a young bride and overhearing a rather personal discussion about the actions of a young woman and her fiancé. It was one of those “I shouldn’t really be listening” moments when you wish you were somewhere else, but have no other choice but to continue folding towels.
The two women having the discussion were quite animated and I found it a bit embarrassing that they weren’t being more discreet. Then something about one statement sounded quite familiar. I paid closer attention and finally a name was mentioned. Good grief!! They were talking about a couple on “As the World Turns”, my mom’s favorite soap opera! I forced myself to stifle the laugh that threatened to choke me. My brother and I were fond of asking Mom about “As the Stomach Churns”, our attempt to disparage her show, and we were critical of her affection for the characters, but NEVER had Mom ever carried on a conversation that made the characters seem this real. I wondered if the two women had their own families or had literally adopted the people on the show as replacements.
We didn’t always have a television when I was growing up, but when we did it provided my mother with a diversion from the more tedious tasks of daily home maintenance. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and child care were much more labor intensive than they are now. My mother spent hours shelling peas and snapping beans, starching and ironing laundry, washing windows and cleaning floors. To make the tasks, especially ironing, more enjoyable, she watched game shows or soap operas while she worked. The people of As the World Turns, The Guiding Light, Another World, The Edge of Night, and Days of Our Lives provided a welcome distraction from the fact that she was ironing fifteen shirts, ten pairs of pants, six skirts, two jackets, and five blouses…again.
I have to confess that if we had a school holiday or I was home with a cold I was apt to be right in front of the set during Days of Our Lives. There was just something about that one that I found irresistible. Mom always said that the appeal of soap operas was that the people were so preposterously perfect. They could suffer anything from a near-fatal car accident to a hurricane and still look good doing it. They argued and cried and schemed and deceived and still managed to live “happily ever after”. Some even came back from the dead…well sort of.
The one emotion I was always left with after a dramatic episode of Days of Our Lives was disappointment. Why was my life so boring and ordinary? Why couldn’t we look that good? Why didn’t my mom wear heels and jewelry while she washed dishes? Why didn’t our house look like a magazine layout? But quite often my mom would discuss situations on the shows that revealed her wonderful insight into the way people truly lived. And then I felt lucky that we had such an ordinary life.
I abandoned soap operas shortly after leaving home. They just lost their appeal as my life moved in other directions. Mom, too, watched only her favorite, and not as often. I’m aware that some are still on the air and watched by loyal fans, but they must compete with a plethora of game shows, talk shows, cooking shows, and “reality” shows. And of course there is always Facebook to occupy our spare moments in the afternoons, but I’m not sure Mom would approve. After all you can’t “like” and iron at the same time!