One hot Philadelphia day

File photo
File photo
Posted: July 26, 2013

By Nancy Savoth

You never truly experience the heat of a Philadelphia summer unless you are nine months pregnant. As I was in the globally warmed days of 1987, when blacktop streets melted as pedestrians waded through the blanketed humidity of 100-degree days.

My husband John and I plotted how to best go the three blocks to Thomas Jefferson Hospital from our apartment at Eighth and Spruce. One too many times he announced his plan to park a grocery cart at our stoop for use on the big day. I was not amused.

Turns out we didn't need the cart. In a still and airless night, John and I walked slowly from contraction point A to contraction point B in the middle of eerily quiet streets with no one in sight. We arrived at the ER with a feeling of "this is it" excitement, only to hear a snide resident suggest I wasn't ready. Wrong. I was. Cooked. Roasted. With the oven-roaster belly button popped out as proof.

The next steamy day there was still no baby, but from the cool breezes of the Jersey Shore came John's parents, as well as my mom and her husband. They set up camp in the aptly named Waiting Room, where hours moved even slower than the people walking by on the street.

Like a sequence of time-lapse photography, the two couples - Cathy and Ed, Peggy and Don - began their time together seated at the sofa and chair around a table covered with magazines. They then moved through various furniture configurations. On the final check, John said Peggy and Don were at the sofa having peanut butter crackers. John's mom was at a window ledge reading an old Ladies Home Journal, and his dad was down the hall sitting in an unused wheelchair.

The two couples were not exactly close, which is why I was surprised when, following the announcement at 2:35 p.m. on July 18 that Alexander Charles Savoth was finally born, the ladies announced they were going shopping - to buy me a nightgown.

I thought of them as very different, but they had much in common. They came of age during World War II, waiting out the war in Asbury Park. Cathy worked as a switchboard operator; Peggy as a personal shopper at a department store. They celebrated victory on the boardwalk, where there were cheers, tears, and kisses all around. One married an Army man, the other a sailor. Years later, one lost her husband to a heart attack, and one lost her arm to cancer.

And on a hot Philly day, Peggy and Cathy were together on a mission, but they hit a snag at Market Street. The street between them and Strawbridge's flowed four lanes deep with a mass of people carrying colorful banners and walking in unison. Determined, the two women linked arms and joined in the festive crowd, angling themselves safely two blocks down to the other side of Market.

Alexander's grandmothers picked out a white-on-white embroidered cotton nightgown that buttoned down the front for easy nursing access. I can imagine this was a subject of much discussion on the walk back. Both women were proud mixers of Enfamil baby formula in their day. Why use breast milk when you could buy something?

Back in my cool and hushed maternity room with the ironic Planned Parenthood motif (a billboard outside filled my window), I explained to Peggy and Cathy that they had just marched in the Philadelphia gay and lesbian parade. We laughed hard that day. And for many years that was a favorite story to tell - I recently repeated it to my friends Sandy and Christine, mothers of 5-year-old Henry. Both my mom and my mother-in-law recounted it to me from their hospital beds before their deaths many years apart: a funny story, but also a proud moment for both women when they just went with the flow.


Nancy Savoth is a writer in Swarthmore. E-mail her at npsavoth@comcast.net.

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