Crisis on Laurel Street©Averyell A. KesslerMama’s story opened with a dramatic organ glissando and a vivid shot of a revolving globe against a dark background dotted with twinkling stars. Dramatic to be sure. We hadn’t made it to the moon yet, and it was the best the tv folks could do. Then a deep, intense voice boomed, “And now for the next thirty minutes……………….AS THE WORLD TURNS……brought to you by Instant Niagara and new Niagara Spray Starch.” Although it was a soap opera, Mama and Ella, our housekeeper, called it “the story.” It was a mandatory Monday through Friday noontime event. No matter that it crept along at a glacial pace, the plot took at least one plodding step forward each day and couldn’t be overlooked. The Edge of Night was a close second.The seductive Alexis Carrington and Sue Ellen Ewing had not yet appeared on the tv scene, and the daytime antics of the Hughes Family as well as the perceived normality of Oakdale Illinois were as far from ordinary as 1950’s TV would allow. Then an unexpected twist occurred that shook the foundations of soapdom at our house on Laurel Street.I was a rising fourth grader at Power School and Mama had decided the ‘’the story” was bland enough for me to watch during the summer months, especially during the blistering noon hours of July when I was forced to rest. In short order, I became familiar with all the characters as they trudged through one blighted romance after another, took calm advice from Nancy, the straight arrow matriarch of the family, and watched as carefully coiffed women competed for the attention of a handsome physician. Then it happened, a vaulting leap into the future as the story mentioned the unmentionable.Dressed fit to kill, my mother was on her way to Maids and Matrons, one of her many lady’s clubs that gathered at the Municipal Art Gallery on North State Street. It was an organization which published a cookbook called Pots and Pans and included only one maid. After she left, Ella and I were sitting the den, inches away from our console tv and shelling our way through a bushel of crowder peas. “Ya’ll be sure to watch the story today.” Mama said as she closed the back door. “I think something big is gonna happen.” We had no intention of doing anything else. The story opened with the following exchange:“What to do mean? You accepted an engagement ring from Bert!” Nancy yelled. (Bert was a stray Englishman who arrived in Oakdale for some obscure reason)“We’re going to get married,” her saccharin sweet daughter, Penny replied.“Have you told him about the baby?” Nancy asked, her eyes narrowing into searchlights.Ella sat us straight in her chair, dropping a handful of unshelled peas back into the basket. She lowered the volume, but I kept listening.“Not yet,” Penny answered quietly. “Maybe I won’t tell him at all.”“But your baby was born out of wedlock,” Nancy continued. “You have to tell him!”Sharp, ear shattering chords erupted from the show’s organ and Niagara interrupted with a jaunty starch commercial.“What baby, Ella? Penny doesn’t have a baby.”“The story hasn’t said anything about Penny having a baby.” Ella whispered. “Don’t worry about that mess. It’s nothing – bound to be.”“What does wedlock mean?” I asked innocently. “Mama said a big deal was coming!”“Ask your Mama when she gets home.”“Tell me, now, before I miss anything!”“I said, ask your Mama,” she replied, and changed the channel to The Edge of Night.I tore into my room, found my Webster’s Elementary Dictionary, and thumbed through the W’s. I found a simple definition on page 712. I also flipped past “voluptuous,” “weasel”, and “warlock, but I ignored them.“It means marriage,” I told Ella as the commercials ended.“Yes, it does,” she sighed.“How can Penny have a baby if she’s not married?” I whined.“Not my business to tell you. Ask your Mama.”Ella was waiting in our driveway when Mama returned from her club meeting. I watched from my bedroom window as they had an animated conversation in front of our garage. As a result, we left the distraught Penny moldering in Oakdale for a complete conversion to The Edge of Night, a crime drama also featuring a mysterious piano introduction, smoky trumpet solo, and Mike Karr, a hero lawyer and criminologist. It was Perry Mason during the daylight hours. There was another midwestern city, Monticello, and a cast of entrancing and disreputable characters. As a result, I learned an array of new words – grand jury, indictment, and testimony. I also became familiar with Proctor and Gamble’s many products. Luckily, The Edge of Night did not include unexpected announcements of surprise babies. It was a soap opera, advertising soap, with an occasional murder and a bit of blackmail tossed in. What could go wrong?When school began in September, summertime soaps and I parted ways. Their snail like pace and gordian knot difficulties couldn’t compete with cartoons, Lash LeRue or the Lone Ranger. I was more concerned with Sky King’s Penny, who flew in her uncle’s Cessna, hung out with Clipper, and help rescue the endangered. Lucy and Ethel were my new best pals because they allowed me to stay up for an extra half hour a school night. Mama, now fully aware that television wasn’t always benign, kept a careful eye on was flowing into our home. As a result, I almost missed Elvis’ Ready Teddy performance before an astonished audience on The Ed Sullivan Show. Almost, but not quite!

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