Terry Godbey is a freelance writer and editor in Maitland, Fla. Her poetry collection is titled Behind Every Door, and some of her poems appear at terrygodbey.com.
THANKS to Terry for this eerie link to Walter Cronkite interrupting ATWT to announce JFK’s shooting.
The cancellation of As the World Turns, which first aired in 1956, saddens me and churns up a soapy sink full of memories. Although I haven’t watched the show in decades, it was a fixture when I visited my grandparents in Belfast, Maine, back in the ’60s.
Those summer days burst with card games, jigsaw puzzles, and ham-and-butter sandwiches and fish chowder in my Nana’s large kitchen. I served afternoon tea, trying to be as graceful as the soap opera stars, to my dolls and stuffed animals on the child-sized Blue Willow china set I treasured.
But all activity stopped when it was time for “the stories.” Nana, my mother and I would climb the narrow stairway to the living quarters of my grandparents’ lifelong friends, Emma and Whiff, who occupied the top floor, which had its own kitchen.
My father and grandfather thought it unmanly of Whiff to watch a soap, but watch he did, with a kind of bravado. I didn’t understand all the convoluted plots and interwoven family histories, but I was enchanted. As the World Turns introduced me to the exotic world of adults, a faraway land that swirled with romance and secrets and made the mundane seem mysterious. I learned years later that Emma and Whiff had their own secret, the death of their only child before I was born. No one talked about it. The boy’s photos were put away before our visits.
In my teen years, I watched soaps on days when I stayed home from school, sick with asthma, my chest smeared with Vicks. I breathed easier with the distraction of The Edge of Night and Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.
Even my paternal grandmother, who died in 2004 at 100, became a soap addict once her Texas farmwife days were behind her. Widowed, she moved alone to the city and got caught up in the shenanigans of the soap I liked, The Young and the Restless. When I visited, she’d turn on Y&R without fail, explaining “I’m not really going to watch it.” But she wouldn’t talk to me until a commercial. She often complained about the sex scenes, tsk-tsking for just a moment before turning her attention back to the TV.
Nearly everyone has seen the short clip of As the World Turns in which Walter Cronkite interrupts to announce President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. What a collision of fantasy and reality: Actress Helen Wagner, as matriarch Nancy Hughes, was seated on the couch discussing Thanksgiving plans with Grandpa. They sipped tea from delicate cups. Wagner, now 91, still appears on the show, making Nancy Hughes the longest-running continuing character in television history.
Let’s all raise a dainty china cup, if one can be found among the sturdy coffee mugs, to soaps’ heyday, to Wagner and the other actors who elevated eavesdropping to an art form, were never at a loss for clever repartee and, most astonishing of all, reared children who played quietly upstairs whenever the adults wanted to talk. When they invited us into their homes, which were glamorous and tidier than our own, we dropped everything and went. And we stayed for years.
~~~end~~~ (photo credits: ATWT logo- rankopedia.com; cast-sn.soapnet.go.com)