Jan 12, 2011

Growing Up Pine Valley


There are two places that we lived growing up as kids. First in the piney shady woods of East Texas on the lake where our dad was a fishing guide. And then later, along the sidewalk and shrub lined streets of the suburb/college town of Norman, Oklahoma.

But really there was a third place.

It was called Pine Valley.

If you don't know where Pine Valley is, it is vaguely within driving distance of New York City. I'm guessing Connecticut. Because sometimes the inhabitants of Pine Valley would take a brief foray into the big city. You know, like if they were fleeing their evil twin, or going to a banquet to honor their humanitarian efforts only to be reunited with their long lost wife who they thought was dead because we all saw her go off that cliff and her car burst into flames.

Pine Valley is the fictional hamlet where for forty years now, the daytime drama All My Children has resided.

And this woman?

Susan Lucci a.k.a. the infamous, irresistible, unsinkable and apparently ageless Erica Kane.

This was our "Other Mother."

Flash forward a bit with me here and I'll give you an idea what I mean.

So over winter break, while my kids were out of school, I needed to go to a client meeting. My mom, who can usually take off from her flexible job, was at a conference out of town. My husband was on a tight deadline at his job. So... I called my dad to see if he could take off a couple hours from his place of work to come babysit for an afternoon.

He was totally game. Since a.) it would be nap time for the kids, b.) I ordered him a pizza, and c.) it was during All My Children, and apparently the size of our flat screen TV was acceptable... oh, and HD enough. You know... 'cause it's like you're there.

It was really funny, because Kathleen and Donny and I hadn't watched All My Children for years. But my parents, especially our dad, have never kicked the habit.

My parents actually started dating back in the very early 70's, it was sort of an office romance. They'd take their lunch breaks together at my dad's puny little apartment around the corner from their downtown office building, and watch black and white episodes of All My Children over tuna sandwiches and Ritz crackers (I'm imagining the tuna and crackers part, it just feels right).

When we were young kids, starting in the eighties and into the nineties, the VCR entered into our lives, and mom or dad would set the timer to tape All My Children, 11:00 am on the nose. Back then I think it actually aired at noon, and then sometime in the mid nineties the network moved it back an hour. Don't ask me how I remember that.

Actually, you know how I remember that? Because if for some reasons someone either a.) forgot to set the timer b.) forgot to rewind the tape that was already dangerously close to the end of space or c.) the fates decided to momentarily make the power go out during the day... and we all came home and settled down to watch whether or not Jessie and Angie were still on the lamb, or what hi-jinx Hailey, our favorite first soap opera goth girl complete with black hair and black lipstick (surprisingly back then a not so buff or blonde Kelli Ripa of Regis & Kelli) was up to, and it didn't record? No, no, no, that can't be right it had to have recor... ahhhhhrrggghhhh!!! It didn't record!

Yep. All hell would break loose. It was like the end of our day was just f'd.

I think it ingrained good coping mechanisms in us kids for a future of DVR'd programs that abruptly cut off during the last minute, usually a weepy Grey's Anatomy last minute or funny little last joke on The Office last minute. Yeah, if coping means cursing the TV and moping for a good ten minutes afterward.

So, the other day when dad came over to babysit, as he settled into my couch, remote in hand, I started quizzing him. I felt nostalgic and wanted to catch up on my old All My Children memories. See who was still around. Is Phoebe Wallingford still alive? Nope. Is Palmer Courtland still alive? Nope. Are Tad and Dixie still around? Nope. Is that... wait... is that Erica? She looks EXACTLY THE SAME! Yep.

The number one lesson I learned from Erica Kane growing up? I mean, besides that it's okay to get married nine plus times? That when you wear really gigantic earrings, you always take one off when you answer the phone.

Now, if you saw our dad, especially growing up during his fishing guide days, complete with coveralls and fishing cap, you wouldn't peg him for someone who "needs to see his stories." But I remember one Thanksgiving family gathering at our grandparents house. All my mom's sisters and their husbands were there. And there was actually a gap in the sports on the TV, and as all the guys sat around the living room, my dad (I don't know exactly how he asked this in any sort of macho way) but somehow got that TV tuned to All My Children.

I remember I was eleven or so, like lying on the floor behind like my grandpa's armchair reading, oh, probably a V.C. Andrews novel or something, and there was this particularly steamy, but fairly innocent beachy sex scene unfolding on All My Children. (Probably in stark contrast but eerily parallel to some dark, cobwebby but fairly innocent sex scene in the attic unfolding in the tattered pages of my V.C. Andrews.)

So my Uncle Pete, gives out this appreciative chuckle and says loudly, "Ooohh... ho!" "Now I see why you like this show, Scott!"

And my dad, beer in hand, says in the most sincere and dry and perfectly serenely spoken way:

"That's not why I watch this show.
I watch it, because, it's like the characters are my family.
And every day I want to see how they're doing.
It's like... it's like... I'm part of their lives."

And I just laughed quietly to myself behind my paperback, while on the screen that red leather bound and gold embossed cover of that floating All My Children book closed on another daily chapter.

Happy Birthday dad! Lunch tomorrow? Don't worry, I know you've got All My Children "taping." Weird side note. I think Susan Lucci is actually the exact same age as my dad.


  1. wow. I laughed. I cried. We are kindred spirits.

    I began watching AMC at the ripe old age of 5. (this would explain why my Ken doll Barbie was having an affair with the “maid” Barbie while his wife Tropicana Barbie was off at work.)

    Also I learned that formal wear is appropriate and can replace all day work wear! Short sparkly dresses are worn at all times. AND new year’s eve celebrations last 1 week and someone always dies….

  2. Ha. Right, holiday parties are always at least 1 week and end in a death. In fact, one time I had a holiday party to go to back in the day after a particularly dramatic week, and I was telling my dad how all the "players" were going to be there that evening. And he said, "it's and All My Children event!" "Someone's gonna die."