The Wonderful World Of Soaps
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Michael O'Leary;Amy Ecklund
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Lifestyle

The Wonderful World Of Soaps

Why I'm not the only one tuning in again.

I was introduced to the world of soap operas by my Grandma Pearl. She loved her afternoon “stories” and shared that love with me.

Grandma Pearl lived in a two-family house in Brooklyn and she smelled delicious — a combination of chicken soup and Jean Nate that went together better than it might sound. My mother, brother and I visited her several afternoons a week. I loved baking with her and playing games like dominos, cards and checkers.

But the best activity of all was when we watched the “stories” together. Grandma liked Search for Tomorrow and As the World Turns, but Guiding Light was her favorite story — and mine, too.

In her bedroom, perched on her dresser, was the only television in the house. We would sit on top of her floral comforter and eat lunch off a metal folding snack table while we watched Guiding Light. The main characters were the Bauers, and their matriarch was Bert. Bert was petite in stature, but strong, loving and fierce; she reminded me a lot of my grandmother.

Throughout my life, soap operas with their over-the-top plots, engrossing characters and epic love stories have entertained me, kept me company when I was lonely, and helped me to connect to real people in my life.

After my grandmother passed away, I continued to watch the stories. As a socially awkward teenager, I looked forward to immersing myself in a fictional world when I got home from school. I'd drop my backpack, grab a package of Drake’s or Hostess cakes and head downstairs to our basement. Guiding Light or ABC after-school specials provided a welcome respite from my daily struggles.

In my sophomore year of high school, my life took a complete dive. I got mono, aka the kissing disease, even though I had yet to kiss anyone. I felt sick and lonely, stuck at home for several weeks. Tylenol and chicken soup were salves for my physical ailments, but emotionally, my greatest comfort came from the soaps. I’d watch the ABC line up of Ryan’s Hope, All My Children and One Life to Live and then switch to CBS for my beloved Guiding Light. Spending all afternoon immersed in fictional lives in fictionally towns soothed my real-life woes.

During my junior and senior years of high school, soap operas were at the height of popularity, with General Hospital being the all-star. As much as I wanted to fit in, I couldn’t let go of Guiding Light. Luckily my parents had invested in a DVR, so I could watch both. And in college, soap viewing proved an easy way to make new friends. My dormmates and I planned our classes around our shows.

Once I started working full time, my interest in the daytime soaps dissipated. I didn’t have as much free time, so I couldn't fully invest in the daily storylines. If I had a day off I’d tune in, but it wasn’t the same obsession (although if I had a business trip, I’d always treat myself to an issue of Soap Opera Digest for the plane ride).

Then in the winter of 1995, the soap world rescued me again. After I gave birth to my oldest daughter, I quit work to stay at home with her. My husband worked long hours, and I didn’t know anyone in our neighborhood. I loved being with my baby girl, but I was lonely.

Once again, the “stories” reappeared to help me get through a rough time.

I scheduled my daughter’s feedings around my shows, especially General Hospital. I don't know if it was being postpartum or the storyline about Robin and her first love, Stone, who was dying of AIDS, but I cried a lot that year. It was the release I needed.

Since then, I’ve tuned in sporadically to the soaps but not with the same intensity. I guess many people felt the same way, since a lot of the shows have gone off the air. I did reinvest for several months each time one of my stories came to a final close (Guiding Light in 2009, All My Children in 2012 and One Life to Live in 2013) to pay homage and say a final goodbye.

Occasionally there will be a storyline on General Hospital that grabs me, and I'll be hooked again for a few months. My mother, brother and sister-in-law are fans, too. We like discussing our shared fictional friends. It provides a light, easy way for us to all stay connected.

In recent weeks, I find myself home a lot again due to social distancing rules to combat COVID-19. Like most people, I feel lucky to be healthy, but I also feel out of sorts. So, it’s not surprising that I have found myself tuning in at 3 p.m. for General Hospital. In the past soaps have provided me comfort and a place to escape real life, and I desperately need that right now. When I tune in I'm a watching the goings-on in Port Charles, and I get to visit with some old friends for an hour. But where I am in my heart is back with Grandma Pearl in her bedroom in Brooklyn — where I felt safe, happy and loved.

Note: I guess I am not the only one feeling nostalgic and appreciative of the soaps right now.

On May 19 ABC aired a two-hour primetime special dedicated to the impact soap operas had on television. The Story of Soaps, presented by ABC and People magazine, traced how the genre became an iconic and influential part of television history.

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