Other Uses For Soap

I’m talking about The Soaps — the TV kind, the kind our grandmothers and mothers and aunts watched everyday, like a religion.  They might be late for church, or late getting supper, but never, ever late for the opening sequence of The Young and The Restless.  Once that intro music started, they were running for the living room with their iced sugar-tea and a pack of cigarettes, ready for a rest.

Yesterday I read — in the New York Times, of all places — that ABC is canceling two of their daytime staples:  All My Children and One Life to Live.  And though I’ve never seen either of these shows — we were CBS people — I thought I’d cry.  While I was growing up, soap operas were daily fare in every house and apartment we lived in.  I got hooked in the summer of 1974.  My parents had just split, and while Mom was at work, I spent those summer days with Grandma Ann.  We’d adjust the rabbit ears just so and turn on The Young and the Restless at 11:00, have a lunch break at noon, then follow with As The World Turns and Guiding Light.  Looking back, I see how the surety of this routine brought quiet and order to an otherwise angry and chaotic household.  There would be none of Grandpa’s ranting or stomping about, no cursing aunts and uncles, while Grandma’s stories were on.  The luxury of escape, right there in the living room.

The Young and The Restless was my favorite from the beginning.  In 1974, TY&TR had only been on for one year, so I felt like I knew Katherine Chancellor and Jill Foster and Snapper from the start.  They lived in the midwest, like me, in a place called Genoa City.  Genoa City didn’t seem all that far away.  Genoa City seemed reachable.  And of course there were the clothes.  My mother got her factory clothes second-hand (why ruin something store-bought?), and Grandma Ann wore her snap-up-the-front, tent-like house dresses all day, everyday.  But these Soap women wandered about their magnificent homes in the kind of fancy duds and jewels I’d not yet seen on a real live person.  When I grew up I wanted to live like them.

Flash ahead 30 years …

I’ve grown up and moved away and gone to work, but my mother and I always had CBS and its daytime TV.  Kind of like fathers and sons talk about sports, we had the drama of our soaps to mask the harsher subjects that were often too overwhelming for words.  In the last year or two before she died, Mom and I talked on the phone multiple times a day, and many of our “talks” centered around her stories.  What was Victor Newman up to these days?  That scoundrel.  Would Nikki, the former stripper but now class act, ever find the love of her life?  Did Katherine Chancellor age?  She’s looked the same since 1974!  Thank god for these stories.

Sometimes when I’m writing dialogue — fiction or nonfiction, it doesn’t matter which — I swear I learned my easy rhythms by watching soaps all those years.  I’m one of those writers who has to work hard on the general narrative, the scene set ups, the description, but hearing dialogue in my head, seeing the reactions, and writing it down feels like the most natural thing of all.  One of the best compliments I ever received was, “Your ear for dialogue would make Mark Twain proud.”  What could ever beat that?

And even though I haven’t watched a soap opera in at least a decade, I’m going to miss them when they’re all off the air.  When they’re all gone.  Another disappearance.

By the way, here are the words to the theme song of TY&TR.  Who knew there were words?

Come, dreams of the past
Come with a love that moves so fast
Come, those shiny days
Caught in a young and restless haze
Why did we love
Then run away
So little time
So much left to say
And now its come
Young and Restless dream
You'll never pass this way again
Treat the summer wise.
Reach for the stars while you have time
Your restless dreams
Will lead the way
So dream your dream
And live for each day

26 thoughts on “Other Uses For Soap

  1. Les

    When I was 15 I had a horrendous illness and was home sick for almost a month. When I could sit up and watch TV I became COMPLETELY addicted to OLTL, GH, and AMC. Went through major withdrawals upon returning to school (this was pre-VCR). Then years later when I could afford a TV and VCR, I recorded them and my gf and I would watch them at night :).

      1. Les

        So true! Frankly, I was a bit shocked. I’ll always remember my Aunt Lou rushing from her kitchen into the living room promptly at 1:00 in the afternoon so she could watch her “stories.” Everyone in the family knew: you don’t bug Louise between 1:00 and 4:00!
        *Sigh*…So it goes.

  2. Laura

    I was never a soaps fan, but the cheesy music and the big revolving Earth in the intro to As the World Turns from the early 80s are ingrained in my memory. I think I always assumed soap operas would be on TV forever, so it’s kind of strange that things are changing and they’re all dropping off.

  3. Lyra

    There has got to be somewhere in our family trees that you and I are related.

    I can remember getting home from kindergarten (I was morning), having a sandwich, and then me on one couch, my mom on the other as we watched her “stories”. Ryan’s Hope, All My Children and One Life to Live.

    It has never occurred to me, but I wonder what influence watching that melodrama starting when I was 4, had on the formation of my storytelling. I’m going to be thinking about this all weekend.

  4. Averil Dean

    My mom used to love the soaps. I happened to surf by Days of Our Lives a few months ago and saw Hope, who looks like the female version of Charlie Sheen these days. Poor thing. She must have had big dreams, once upon a time.

      1. amyg

        awww, sweet, sweet, bearded, mullet-ed BEAU.

        Beau and Hope.

        One day I will have a boat named beau in honor of his hair and the boat he lived on.

  5. MacDougal Street Baby

    I wasted so many hours of my life watching soap operas! My favorite was General Hospital back when Demi Moore was a nobody but I loved One Life to Live almost as much. I can only imagine how many women are in mourning over this.

  6. erikamarks

    Oh wow. This is how I know we are all kindred spirits. I was a CBS girl, too. I was CRUSHED when they took of ATWT (oh, yeah, I used the acronym. THAT’S how crushed, baby.) and the LIGHT. I grew up on those–would always covet the holiday episodes and all that gold lame (where’s a darn accent when you need one? Not lame. lam-aye.)I watched Beth and Phillip fall in love, then Mindy and Rick. And don’t even get me started on Reva and Josh. Or Lily and Holden. Duncan and Shannon. Meg Ryan! Julianne Moore!

    I had made the same comment, Teri, to someone when the news broke yesterday–that so much of what I learned about plotting and dialog I learned from soaps.

    I hadn’t watched one in YEARS. But, boy, I sure liked knowing they were still there.

    1. Teri Post author

      Reva and Josh! Lily and Holden! I haven’t watched for years, but it’s sad to know they’re gone. Another era, passed along. It certainly doesn’t sound erudite and literary, but I swear that’s one of the places I learned to set a scene and tell a story.

  7. lisahgolden

    It’s so hard to believe that another staple of our past is evaporating. My soap watching began at a really young age. I remember being in the family room with my mother as she ironed and watched Days of Our Lives.

    In high school, I got caught up in the Luke and Laura story on General Hospital and had a mad crush on Tad on All My Children.

    In college, I lived with a girl who watched CBS. That stuck with me for the next many years. I got through pregnancy bedrest watching ATWT and The Guiding Light. I first started watching it when Julianne Moore was Frannie Hughes. It seems like forever ago now.

    Shortly after moving to Chicago, I became friends with a woman who worked with me at my night job (Petite Sophisticate). She was a huge CBS fan, too. For the next several years, we would call each other and discuss our lives and the lives of our soap friends.

    Was it just me, or did any of you like how the interiors always seemed so dark? I used to love coming in from outside in the summer and watching the people move around in those dark interiors.

    1. Teri Post author

      I loved those dark interiors. I have them now in my own house. Before we moved in here, we were still in Minnesota and I had a painter, well, painting. He called one day and said, “Do you know this living room color is chocolate brown, like a Hershey bar?”

      Of Course I Do!!!

  8. Jennifer Sanford

    My mother started watching Days of Our LIves when I was in a playpen. We watched it together all the way through college (when I did a term paper on soap operas for my media class). Although I snootied up and deemed soaps ‘stupid,’ my mother continues to watch Days to this day (and sometimes when I visit she makes me watch too…same story lines, same characters!!)

  9. amyg

    Days of Our Lives.
    Another World.
    And the short-lived Santa Barbara (you’ll see it listed at the bottom of Robin Wright Penn’s IMDB profile.)

    i scheduled college classes around Days and Another World view times. for real. (wouldn’t that be fun to put on a resume?)

    i remember watching the opening sequence of edge of night with my great grandmother who watched me when i was wearing corduroy jumper shoots and ugly brown correctional shoes.

    what about Soap? (with billy crystal?) and the move Soap (with Sally Field and kevin kline?)

    i could talk about soaps all day.

    1. Teri Post author

      Soap, with Kevin Kline and Sally was hilarious! My mother did not like it one bit though, as it poked fun at her very serious dramas!

      1. Teri Post author

        Oh my god, yes! The Edge of Night. It came on at 3:00, right as I got home from school. Grandma and I would go down to the dark basement to watch it, because right after The Edge of Night we watched Dark Shadows with that sexy Barnabus! Grandma loved all vampires (before they became so en vogue).

  10. Oma

    I have the same memories as Aim watching the soaps with my Grandmother, {her Great GM}, Grandma started listening to The Guiding Light when it was on radio before tv was around. I started watching Days of Our Lives from the BEGINNING. But there were interruptions, school, work, then when Amy was born, I started watching it everyday. My best friend Jeanie and I would watch DOOL and Another World, then one would call the other while Amy, Matthew and Nathan would take naps, and discuss that days episodes. Remember Patch? I liked that bad boy. I saw Luke from General Hospital on an Oprah episode last week. Oprah asked him about Liz Taylor, she guested on GH, she loved the show. Liz apparently confessed to a liason with Luke when she was on the show. Oprah asked him about it and he said that yes, it had happened but he was a gentleman and would not say anything about it till Ms. Taylor had, and she was a lovely woman. Oprah said, “how nice you are, how long did you see each other?” Luke says “Two Years.” Oprah almost fell out of her chair. It was a good Oprah moment.

    1. Lyra

      In Chicago, you are born into a Sox family or Cubs family.
      Reading Oma’s comment, made me realize how many of us followed soaps from the previous generation. I was ABC, all the way. You couldn’t get me to watch CBS. It’s my mom’s generation’s equivalent of a sport family.
      Also interesting to me, how many of us are writers and the impact we can see on our writing. Thanks, Teri.

      1. lisahgolden

        You are so right! You know, when I met my husband’s grandmother (a diehard Sox fan), that was the first question she asked me: Cubs or White Sox? I got a pass since I didn’t grow up in the city and responded “Reds fan?”

        I became a Sox fan and understand that you don’t just love the Sox, you also HATE the Cubs.

      2. Lyra


        (Except by Sox, you mean Cubs…right, Lisa? Alas, our love of Tad supercedes transplanted faux-foe rivalry.)

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