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