Monday, November 1, 2010

Old Stories and Old Friends

            This is the actress K.T. Stevens, who portrayed Vanessa Prentiss on the early years of the soap opera The Young and the Restless.  Vanessa appeared on the show in 1976, wearing a black veil over the lower part of her face to cover scars she incurred while plucking her son Lance from a house fire.  She was housebound and bitter, and insanely protective of Lance and his brother Lucas.  In 1978, viewers rallied around their television sets to see Vanessa, finally unveiled!  I was only ten years old at the time but I was one of those viewers.  And to this day I remain disgruntled and disillusioned because it turned out that Vanessa had undergone plastic surgery and her face was miraculously unscathed.  Hoping for graphic and disturbing burn-marks, we saw instead clear and lovely skin.  Vanessa was never quite as intimidating, post-veil, even as she repeatedly targeted and blackmailed her nemesis, Lorie, who ended up marrying Lance.  In 1981, Vanessa leapt to her death from a balcony, leaving behind evidence to frame Lorie for her murder.
            I have to think that this early exposure to soap operas contributed to my dramatic flair and love of a good story.  I watched the show at the home of our neighbor and family friend, Elsie Cole.  My brother, sisters and I spent many summer days at her home while my mom worked at the family auto electrical shop.  Her home was a duplicate of ours, only flipped, a fact that I pondered often.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it opened some creative valve in my mind, this knowing that other people could have the same framework but be very different.  Our house was messy and full of kids; Elsie’s home was neat and organized and smelled of things that still remind me of childhood:  frying hamburger, cigarettes, laundry drying.  And Elsie herself was someone you wouldn’t soon forget.  She had a loud voice and an exuberant laugh, at times a quick but harmless temper and at other times, a sudden tenderness.
            Elsie Arline Cole died on October 1st of this year, one month shy of her 88th birthday.  I don’t have a photo to share but her face is vivid in my mind, where it matters.  The memorial service was peopled with old neighbors and friends, and grown children who had been kept safe in her care, everyone with fond memories of the fun and food to be had at Elsie's.  Thanks, Elsie, for your laugh and your open door, for taking care of us and for letting me watch soap operas with you.  One of these days I’m going to work a scarred, veiled woman into something I write.  And there will be no plastic surgery.

1 comment:

  1. Not only well written, my writerly friend, but so kind....lucky you were, and lucky you are.


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka