My Story is On
by Amy Kenneley
This morning's paper celebrated the 50th anniversary of "As The World Turns" on television. The reporter began by citing how his grandmother ironed as she listened to "my story" as she called it.
Upon reading this, I was immediately blown back into the past, to an apartment on Hough Avenue, to an old wooden ironing board covered with an old bedsheet pinned at the bottom.
Great Grandma would plug in the iron first, which she kept calling a "flatiron" even though this modern one was electrified for heat. (She also called the frying pan a "spider" but that's another story)
Soaps and Irons
While the iron was heating, and I sat at the kitchen table with 3 Lorna Doone cookies and a glass of milk, Great Grandma fiddled with the knob on the radio set until the familiar musical theme of "Portia Faces Life" would float across the afternoon airwaves into our apartment.
Then, thump, thump, thump went Great-Grandma's "flatiron" as she sighed and shook her head over the comings and goings of poor Portia and her endless trials.
My mother's blouses were ironed, and my school dresses ironed, the old woman bent over with a widow's hump making creases and ruffles carefully around each piece with arthritic fingers bent so much I had to pull them open in the morning, hurting her as I did so.
"Oh, Grandma, it hurts you!" I always said as she winced and moaned. But she always replied, "I can't do nothin' if I can't get my fingers to work" So I pulled them open and then she could work. In her nineties, she still wanted to work.
So we listened together, the pair of us the old one and the young one listening to the "soaps" on the radio.
As the one radio soap lead to another, Great Grandma said "My, the troubles those people have! Aren't we lucky?" I nodded in agreement. Yes, we were lucky.
By the time the procession of problems had finished for the afternoon, with resolutions sometime tomorrow or the near future, Great Grandma had finished the ironing and I had finished the Lorna Doones. I was a slow dipper, treasuring each dripping, dunked bite.
I have never been attracted to "soaps" since. Call me weird, but it always seemed to me that our own lives-ordinary or extraordinary-were much more interesting and worthy of mention than concocted lives of imaginary people.
Not having encouraged such wastings of time, I was astonished when I was visiting my son in college several years back. While walking through the student center, I saw scores of students crowded around the television set in the main room.
Was there an important news announcement, I wondered? "Wait a minute, Mom-my story is on" And this big 19 year old stood transfixed, as all the others, with a current television soap which was, apparently, a campus "must see."
After this, I had to revise my thinking about soaps. Even though I wasn't a fan, I had to think about what these stories-MY STORIES-meant to people.
A Real Soap Opera
I thought about my Great Grandmother's life. As I grew older, I was able to put together her own trials and tribulations in the context of having lived with her and researching her life after she was gone.
She came from a large family which became destitute after a family business burned to the ground. She had an "early" baby from a marriage that dissolved. She raised a son alone, then was remarried, divorced again, and all the time working as laundress, housekeeper, and later, hauling huge bales of raw rubber from the moving belt at a rubber manufacturer in Akron.
She also held her son's family together through worse trials, raising 3 grandchildren. She took on helping to raise a great grand child when she was in her early 80's. Her possessions could be put in a small box when we cleaned out her room when she died.
Through all her trials, she merely nodded and accepted. Sometimes she added a phrase or two, learned from her youth-a wise proverb, a snatch of song. "Portia Faces Life? How about "Nellie Hilderhof Hill Dixon Faces Life"?
Suds from Soaps
So what is so fascinating about soaps? Is it because for a brief moment we can escape into a fantasy world, forgetting our own troubles? Do the concocted stories-first on radio, later on television- seem to be more challenging than our own lives?
Are we, at the end of each program, saying to ourselves, "Boy! I wouldn't wish that on anybody!"
Does peeking into a television for a brief episode give us a feeling of intimacy with the characters, making us feel connected and a part of their imaginary lives?
Maybe it is all of those. But the writers are making up illusions-- plot twists and turns, deaths and marriages and births and back-stabbings and infidelity and true love and
wise counsel and impatient youth all churned up together for an afternoon's entertainment.
Where do the stories these writers make up come from? From their imagination, of course, and from plotting a season's programming. But perhaps also they get their ideas from…here it comes-real life!
So-hurray for the 50th anniversary of "As The World Turns" to those of you who know and love it. And all the others soaps as well. They will always have their followers and dedicated viewers. So enjoy -- your story is on!
Gotta go now. Lots of things to do-holiday planning, a chair cover to sew, mailing a letter to a friend, picking out just the right birthday present for a grandson.
"My Story" is on, too. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode…..
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