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Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend: All My Children

Losing the characters in “All My Children” is like the death of longtime friends. These were the best kinds of friends: always there when you needed them but not demanding when you were absent.

Through the 41 years of “All My Children,” I was an intermittent, not a regular, watcher. My viewing started in high school because other kids watched the soap opera. To be accepted, I needed to know what was going on.

Initially, I was sort of horrified that high schoolers would be interested in a soap opera. My mother was allergic soap operas, and I had thought they were for lonely housewives. Yet I was surprised at how easy I became involved in the stories of the families of the mythic Pine Valley: Erica and her many husbands and lovers, her mother, and later her children; the cunning, manipulative Phoebe; the escapades of Tad; the romance of Nina and Cliff; and the nasty maneuvers of Adam, to name a few.

At the center of “All My Children,” Erica Kane was a late 20th-, early 21st-century version of Scarlett O’Hara. She was manipulative, selfish, and extraordinarily competitive, but Erica was also beautiful, sometimes generous, and occasionally kind. Despite everything, she was fun to watch and never boring.

The people around Erica were related by blood, many marriages, and rivalries. Brooke was the rational counterpart for Erica. She could stand up to her and come out a winner, at least sometimes.

The continuity in the many of the families made it easy to go away for many years, and then return and figure out what was going on easily. That’s what happened with me. After high school, I didn’t watch “All My Children” again until I was unemployed for a few months during the recession of 1991.

In 2006 and 2007, I returned again when I worked out at gym during lunch. If I could, I would switch one of three TVs to “All My Children,” which was much more entertaining than watching a sports program on ESPN. Because I love stories. And although some of the story lines were absurd, other stories were moving and dramatic. I could take my mind off my pain, and think about something else.

So I am very sad to see these wonderful characters leave the airwaves. Somehow, their stories made life at tough times a little more bearable, fun, and dramatic. And since “All My Children” had actors of all ages, the glimpse into other lives was more comprehensive than soap operas that only focus on the young and beautiful. I watched Erica, Tad, Brooke, and Dixie grow up and get older, although not always wiser.

I can only hope that “All My Children” gets picked up somewhere else, so viewers can find these friends when they need them.

May. 13, 2012