Pine Valley is being wiped off the map. Erica Kane will no longer need a dozen changes of clothes to get through the day and a dozen men to wear in each new month, because she will no longer exist. If you never followed soap operas you probably have no idea what I am talking about, and you may want to stop reading because this is about soap operas.
After decades on television and some significant length of time before that on the radio All My Children is being cancelled. I can’t say I was sorry when I heard the news, it had easily been 25 years since I had seen an episode, but I did feel a pang of nostalgia as that piece of my childhood and my family history was severed.
When she died at 91 my Great Aunt Irene had, to my knowledge, never missed an episode of AMC. I don’t remember if family legend says she had been a fan of the radio program, but the characters of the show where as much a part of her life as those corporeal bodies that moved around her. She was buried on a beautiful, sunny afternoon at a time that coincided with the broadcast of her show. When the rabbi suggested that she would be smiling down on us I whispered to my mother that I doubted it because she would be busy watching the overly dramatized antics of Erica and friends. No one who really new Aunt Irene would dare suggest she would be doing anything but watching AMC from 12-1, Monday through Friday. And so when I heard the show was finally being taken off the air my first thought was of Aunt Irene, if she had a chance to keep up with the show from the beyond, and if you could feel heartbreak even after your life was done.
I watched soaps as a child, sort of. My mother was a Guiding Light gal so that is where I trended. I watched when I was home on holidays, summer break, and lying on the couch sick. Today I can remember Reva and Josh, Phillip, Harley and no others – I see their faces but the names have gone. My last year in college I was planning to move into a house with Days watchers, so I spent the months leading up to my move watching and catching up so I would be relevant to my new roommates. Turns out I moved in with my boyfriend instead but by then we were hooked so kept watching for about a year. After the umpteenth miraculous return from the dead we got bored and moved on, or perhaps we just got cynical in preparation for grad school, whatever it was we had had enough.
That is one of the truly fabulous parts of soap watching: you never have to give up. You never really have to move through grief or despondency because they will always come back. Beheading, terminal brain cancer, death by fiery explosion – no matter. If you let enough time pass there will be a plausible explanation for why it only looked like Hope’s head rolling along the street. The miracle of science will now allow for not only a brain transplant but a memory transplant as well. The beautiful little magic fairy fish of the sea put all the body parts back together, but that is why I can never eat fish again. That last part I made up, maybe, I’m not aware that it has not been a plot line but then again I don’t watch soaps anymore so you never know.
Soap Operas are beautiful, they are dramatic, and they move at the pace of a bygone era. Which frankly, is why I never understood why Auntie I could never miss an episode. It wasn’t like anything was going to happen anyway! And yet somehow things did happen. Babies were born, albeit to the wrong parents, marriages and divorces, characters who were young became old (though they always looked fabulous). The fantasy of the other world where somehow love aways came back to you, where telling the truth was never quite embraced, where you would always dress for everything, and where logic was defied by romance moved along. We could vicariously try on such a variety of nonsensical emotions that the reality of an everyday life was welcome respite.
Once when I was fifteen and taking driver’s education during the summer I was at the home my grandmother shared with her two sisters, the aforementioned Aunt Irene and the hitherto hidden Aunt Sylvia. Only Auntie I was available to drive me to the class but that would have meant missing part of AMC. I asked, I pleaded, I begged and I raged (using bad words in fact). And she would not budge. Chair planted firmly in front of the television she was the picture of zen serenity focused only on the doings of the Pine Valley residents.
I remain confounded by her refusal to miss not only an episode but even a part of an episode, and I have thought long about this particular incident over the last 23 years. I am sorry I yelled at her and I am sorry she couldn’t get up and leave that show for even a few minutes. What was she missing that could only be supplied by Pine Valley. What are we all missing that the lives of others become so much more interesting than living in our own moments. Aunt Irene lived with Erica and crew for much of her ninety-one years. I suppose we all have to make a decision about with whom and how we are going to live the number of years we have allotted to us…like sands through the hours glass, so are the days of our lives.