I’ve been a soap opera fan for more years than I care to admit. When I was a mere tot, my mother planned her daily chores around the many radio dramas that made doing housework less mind numbing, or was it more. Back in those days the only push button appliance that helped with the care and feeding of a family, was the on/off switch on the radio.
The advantage of listening to the radio while accomplishing the tasks of the day was that one didn’t ever have to stop what one was doing. Clothes could be washed, kitchens could be swept, vegetables peeled and shirts could be ironed (yes, ironed). The domestic engineer performed all her work to the tune of love, deception, joy, betrayal, fear, triumph and tears, both happy and sad.
I remember Dr. Jim Brent on the “Road of Life,” Papa David and Cheechee on “Life Can Be Beautiful,” “One Man’s Family” with Father and Mother Barber,” and of course, the somewhat racy “Stella Dallas.” And there were many more, because each one was scheduled for only 15 minutes. Every episode would start with a recap of the one of the day before. The story would advance a few minutes, and then there would be a teaser for the next day. There were commercials for beauty products, cleaning materials and laundry stuff, including starch for those shirts that had to be ironed. Total story time was maybe seven minutes each day.
On weekends there were children’s programs designed to be heard while one cleaned one’s room. “Let’s Pretend” provided sufficient distraction while children across the country, straightened up and dusted, ever mindful that if Mom called, one dropped everything and ran with a cheery “Coming, Mother!”
Then came TV. Some of the soaps never missed a beat and moved on in. I know “The Guiding Light” did and may even by still on the air.
The TV versions were also designed to interfere with housework as little as possible. The commercials are frequent and story’s pace sufficiently slow that running to the basement to throw in a dark load fits right into the time schedule. Folding said laundry in front of the tube is a fine no-brain activity.
When I was in college, I lived at home and worked in a shoe store after classes. So there was a period of time each day for me to have lunch that happily coincided with the airing of “As the World Turns.”
My mother and I would munch our tuna fish sandwiches in front of the tube for that precious half hour before I trotted off to work and she ironed a few shirts.
As our world turned, I got married and moved to Germany where my husband was stationed. There I listened on the radio to Armed Forces Network that played old “One Man’s Family” programs every afternoon. It was sandwiched in between “Stickbuddy Jamboree” and an hour of classical music. They tried to provide for all tastes in the GI listenership.
My mother’s letters kept me posted on the trials and triumphs of Lisa and Bob Hughes.
When I came home two years later, thanks to those letters, I was able to pick up right where I left off. I also watched “All My Children” because Erica Kane, who looked about 18 at the time, was the new soap opera star, the woman you loved to hate.
Over the years I caught the “soaps” here and there, never letting myself get snared into a story line. But when I first moved to Vermont, I worked nights for 11 years. I found myself doing those old household chores with a soap playing and I was able to catch up on Erica, who after close to 30 years now looks about 19.
It sure is the way to enjoy that tuna fish sandwich.