'Days' of their lives

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Soap opera family brings trio of sisters closer despite sickness, loss

By Meaghan Downs

A member of the Cooper sisters’ television family was about to disappear from the screen forever.
Instead of her typical “Days of Our Lives” daily phone call to recap the show with her two sisters, Lawrenceburg resident Maxine Cooper Stinnett was able to break the news in person to the youngest sister, Patricia Cooper, last Wednesday afternoon.
“Gabi’s going off? Don’t tell me this stuff,” Patricia said, laughing and turning to Maxine as the three of them — Patricia, Maxine and Margaret Cooper Perry — sat to watch the show in Maxine’s living room.
But there’s hope: the actress who plays Gabi Hernandez on their beloved long-running soap opera “Days of Our Lives” could come back from the dead.
Who knows with “Days,” Patricia said. It’s happened before.
It’s likely that this conversation has happened before ever since the three Lawrenceburg natives found themselves hooked on “Days,” and have been for nearly 50 years.
With every incredible plot twist and curveball in the soap opera’s narrative, the Cooper sisters have followed their afternoon guilty pleasure — broadcast every day at 1 p.m. — as though the actors and actresses are members of a second family.
Gathered for the rare opportunity to watch an episode together last Wednesday afternoon, the Cooper sisters gossip about who’s staying and who’s leaving and which actors and actresses they’ve enjoyed watching since the very beginning.
Patricia verbally drools over a gorgeous dress “Sami Brady,” played by actress and “Biggest Loser” host Alison Sweeney, is wearing during last Wednesday’s episode.
“I’d like to have Sami’s dress,” Patricia sighs from her spot in the living armchair and then laughs. “Is that covetous?”
All three sisters love Sami, who is scheduled to leave the soap opera soon after more than two decades on the show.
Maxine, 71, knows this because she’s the one who keeps up with soap opera news through magazines like Soap Opera Digest, and relays the information to her sisters. The three women like to track the progress of actresses who begin their careers on “Days,” and then move on to bigger and better things.
“She’s very human. She makes her mistakes,” Patricia, 63 and the youngest Cooper sister, said of Sami.
The sisters said they often identify with the family they see on screen.
To a point.
“(Sami’s) killed people and stuff and we haven’t,” oldest sister Margaret said with a laugh.
There are worse guilty pleasures, Margaret said, than watching “Days.”
The show takes you out of yourself, Patricia said.
Sometimes, Margaret added, watching somebody get primped up and have everything is going her way — that’s nice.
In life, not everything goes your way, she said.
All that remains at the end, she continued, is faith and family.
“Family. It’s mostly about family,” Margaret, 77, said when asked why the three sisters still continue to watch the soap opera. “Ups and downs and all arounds, Like us.”
“Days of Our Lives” debuted on television in November 1965, and ever since, the soap opera has entertained the Cooper sisters with the machinations and intrigues of the dysfunctional Alice and Tom Horton family.
Setting aside one hour to watch “Days” began with the Cooper family matriarch, the late Sarah Alice Cooper of Lawrenceburg, and the “best woman there was,” according to Margaret.
Busy with the duties and responsibilities of running the household and their Anderson County farm, Sarah Alice always squeezed in an hour to sit down so she could watch “Days.”
It was her time, Margaret said.
Patricia, the youngest, was a young teenager when the soap first aired, and Margaret was already married.
But the girls all watched the show with Sarah Alice, including their other sister and fellow devoted “Days” fan, Peggy.
Peggy Cooper Henderson died in 2008 after battling an aggressive form of breast cancer, the sisters said. Margaret showed a pink ribbon pin she has on her hat to remember Peggy.
Patricia said there’s a special episode of the show at Christmastime where characters hang ornaments with the names of former cast members on a Christmas tree. She cries every time she watches it, she said.
“I hardly watch it without thinking of Momma and Peggy,” Margaret said of the show. “It makes you think back.”
As loyal watchers as the women are, life doesn’t stop entirely whenever “Days” is on. The women, of course, have lives of their own outside of watching television. Margaret spends much of her time with her daughter and granddaughter in Nicholasville, and Patricia only recently moved back to Lawrenceburg after decades of living in Frankfort.
When the sisters worked, they’d tape the show and watch it later, Patricia said.
Now she said catches up on episodes she’s missed by streaming it online, and checks in on new plot developments over the phone with her sisters.
Although they all manage to catch up when they’ve missed a few episodes, Patricia said she remembers the entire year Margaret missed “Days.”
The two of them had just finished watching an episode of “Days,” and had gone out to eat in Frankfort. Margaret didn’t feel well, and said she wasn’t hungry.
Margaret spent the next year in the hospital. She said she doesn’t remember much about that year.
“It was just like we went from nightmare to nightmare,” Maxine said of first losing their sister and then Margaret’s illness.
It’s a blessing to be able to even talk about “Days” with each other, Maxine said.
“The older you get, you realize that’s all you have in the end,” Margaret said of her family.
The sisters have converted a few friends and family into “Days” fans over the years. Patricia said many of her friends still follow the show.
Sometimes Maxine’s husband, Gary Stinnett, will watch an episode with her.
Maxine recalled watching Gary’s first cousin and close friend, Dewey Searcy, enter her living room while Maxine was watching an episode of “Days.”
Searcy, now a Virginia resident, was visiting the Stinnetts at the time, and Maxine assumed he’d have no interest in a daytime soap opera.
To Maxine’s surprise not only did Searcy watch the show, but he knew one of the actresses, Elizabeth Roberts.
The sisters got another surprise this January when Searcy mailed three large, glossy head shots signed by Elizabeth Roberts, who played Marge Bernardi on the show. Searcy said he knew Roberts, who’s moved on from “Days,” through a mutual friend.
“I was so taken with their enthusiasm about the show and their reaction to my knowing one of the actors that I immediately had the idea for the signed photograph,” Searcy, who lives in Richmond but has deep ties to Anderson County, said via email.  
Margaret said she’s gotten her son-in-law’s mother watching “Days” as well.
“We’ve kind of adopted her,” she said. “She’s kind of like a sister.”
Like her mother, Margaret schedules housework like laundry before sitting down for a needed break to watch “Days.”
There’s another generation of the clan who understands the Cooper sisters’ tradition: Margaret’s granddaughter, Perry Cate. Perry Cate sometimes watches the show with Margaret, saying, “Mamaw, it’s time for ‘Days.’”
Maybe by watching “Days,” Margaret said, the Cooper sisters have made an even bigger family.