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Tuesday, 07 April 2009

The Day Chris was Born

By Nancy Leitz

We were married in 1950, and wanted to start a family. Roy was an apprentice Steamfitter in Local 420 and I was working as a switchboard operator at Philadelphia Dressed Beef Company after having been a bookkeeper at Penn Packing Company for three years. Before that I worked at Loft's Candy Company for two years.

I had spent most of my teenage years at the movies so had seen Cary Grant and James Stewart learn they were to be a father many times. It went like this: June Allyson or Donna Reed would go to the doctor and be told she was "expecting.” She would come home and begin knitting little booties and when James or Cary would come in from the office they would notice her knitting and get a dumbfounded look on their face which would cause Donna or June to smirk the "I've got a secret" look and spill the beans about the baby.

Then all bets were off! The men would immediately tell the women to put their feet up and did they want a glass of water or a pillow? They were to do NOTHING for the entire pregnancy (Whoops! Can't use that word. Forbidden by the Hayes Office, who censored all movies.) They could do nothing until the baby was born.

So, with this as background, I went to Dr. Zubrow at 5th and Pine Street and he confirmed that I was, indeed, "expecting.” He was not a obstetrician, however, so suggested I go to Dr. Edward Winheld who had his offices in the Medical Arts Building at 17th and Locust Streets.

But first I had to tell Roy and have him put my feet up and get me a glass of water and make a gigantic fuss just like Cary and James did. I went home and waited. He came in and I told him I had seen Dr. Zubrow that afternoon.

He said, "What did he say?"

I said, "We're going to have a baby."

To which Roy replied, "Yeah, I know."

Oh,well, life is not the movies, and sure as hell, Roy is not Cary Grant.

Dr. Winheld told me the baby was due in April 1952. He took my history and gave me a physical. He was very concerned about my blood pressure which was high for someone my age (22). We both thought it was just excitement about having it taken, but as the time went on my blood pressure continued to be high.

He knew of a drug that was still new and asked if I wanted to try it because it had been proven not to harm the baby and it did keep the blood pressure under control. I started to take the Reserpine and I did feel better and my pressure was more under control.

Toward the end, in early March, my blood pressure soared and the doctor wanted me to go to Mt. Sinai Hospital to get it under control. I was so upset and called Tessie to tell her what was happening. She insisted I come straight to her house at 30th and York Streets in Strawberry Mansion. She and my brother Bob had a small apartment there.

I went to Tessie's and she made tea (Irish cure for everything) and Roy came there after work and took me to Mt. Sinai. I stayed there for over a week and still they could not control my blood pressure and by now the doctor was afraid of preeclampsia which is a very serious condition. He sent me home on condition that I stay in bed until the baby was born.

We went to stay on Front Street with Mom and Pop Leitz and Ernie. I stayed in bed as much as I could, but it was hard because I was not used to having people wait on me and I wanted to do things for myself.

Very early in the morning on April 10, 1952, I felt the first pangs of labor. I told Roy and he said it would probably be a long time and that he had to go to work and would be home in time to go to the hospital. About noon, I was really in labor and told Mom that I thought I should go to the hospital which was Mount Sinai at 5th and Reed Streets in South Philadelphia.

I wanted to call a cab to take us but Mom refused and gave this proposition: We would take the No. 12 trolley from Main Street in Darby to the doctor's office in the city. The doctor would examine me and IF I really was in labor and was going to have the baby that day, THEN we could take a cab to the hospital.

Can you believe it? So, that's what we did.

We walked from 23 North Front Street to Main Street and waited on the corner for the trolley car. It finally rumbled along and we boarded for the city. The trolley had steel wheels and wooden slatted seats that were very uncomfortable even if you were not pregnant and in labor!

We chugged along stopping at every corner along the way, letting people on and off with their groceries and their kids and we even had to wait while a seeing eye dog figured out the best thing to do. This went on until we got to the street where the doctor had his office. Then we walked to his place and he examined me and said to get to the hospital right away.

I didn't tell him the trolley car story. His nurse called a cab for us and we went to Mount Sinai. We arrived there about 3PM. Chris arrived about 6PM. And Roy got there about 7PM. Nice timing.

When they brought me to my room, I couldn't wait to cry and tell Roy that Grandmom had made me go to the hospital to have a baby on the No. 12 trolley. He didn't believe me right away. He honestly thought that I was delirious or something. Finally I convinced him that it was true, but it was over now so we never mentioned it to Mom. She had always been very good to us and that was just her way of doing things.

I was very tired and went to sleep then and when I awakened in the morning about 6AM, there was my Dad just quietly sitting in a chair next to the bed. He had a maroon scarf around his neck over his usual white shirt and tie. The nurse told me he had been there for a couple of hours. He had already been to the nursery window and had seen Chris, who had a lot of dark hair and no two hairs went in the same direction. He had a very disheveled look and Dad said that he looked like he got a haircut from a third class barber. But we thought he was beautiful and he was!

In four days, all was well with both Chris and me so we returned home to 632 Pine Street to start our new life as a family of three.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I seldom comment on these stories, but this one had me going! I really liked the suspense build up. I thought something terrible was going to happen!
Very well written, and a great job!

Chester Baldwin

I seldom comment on these stories, but this one had me going! I really liked the suspense build up. I thought something terrible was going to happen!
Very well written, and a great job!

Chester Baldwin

I enjoyed your story, Nancy, and thinking back of the thrift and stoicism in my own family, could understand Grandmom's taking you on the trolley. What an experience!

And thinking back to the movies, I guess their "expecting" was more mysterious considering the distance between those single beds.

I really enjoyed your story. After reading it I thought for a while as to how I could express in some manner how much I did enjoy it. The best I can do…..it was like sitting down to a home cooked meal when mostly all that seems available these days is fast food. A ‘Hallmark Moment’ perhaps….

Of course I am a bit of a romantic when it comes to any recounting from the forties and fifties. Life was hard at times, but so very real and touchable.

A final thought, it does seem that our moms were always trying to be so "practical" in their advice in those days and times. I suppose a lot of that came from the hard times that they had come through. This looks a whole lot like the old "A penny saved is a penny earned"!

Another great story Nancy! We have something else in common - I worked a switchboard way back when I was young!

I didn't have a mother-in-law and very few buses came my way back then or indeed now!

Your story makes me realise why Jack kept lifting my feet and covering me with a rug!! I got a bit fed up with that idea,so I told him "I am only having a baby, I am not ill"!

Nancy - What a neat story! I was worried that you were going to deliver on the number 12.

I think I'm a bit like Roy. How times have changed. Both my sons insisted on being in the delivery room for each of my four grandchildren!

Thanks, Chester, for your nice remarks about my story.
I know you were a police officer once and wonder if you ever delivered a baby on a trolley car or bus? Did you?

Yes, Carol, it is a wonder June or Donna or Doris or any of the "girls" ever got "In a family way" as they so coyly called it in the 40s and 50s. They always slept in twin beds with one foot on the floor. Only a contortionist could conceive under those conditions....

Hello AlanG,

You have hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that Grandmom was practical because she had been through really hard times. Grandmom left Germany at age 16, all by herself, and landed in Ellis Island where she was hired to be a Nanny to a small boy.She scraped and scrimped until she had learned enough English and saved enough money to get a train ticket to Philadelphia where she had heard she could get a "Real" job. She met her husband at a German club and learned he was also alone,and from a small town near hers in the Old Country.He was an apprentice baker.They married in 1911.

They started a small bakery and had 4 children and saved every penny they could .Grandpop always said, "I have to make my duff now." We would say,"Pop, you should say "dough".He would say, R o u g h is RUFF and t o u g h is TUFF so D o u g h is DUFF."

So, you were dead on, Alan. Grandmom was very frugal all of her life but she was also very happy and good to her family.


I would have been very worried if my husband was always "Lifting my feet" and trying to cover me with a rug..
Maybe we should get Chester to look into that! Just kidding,GM, you were very fortunate to have a wonderful husband like Jack...


You know, I am always amazed when I hear the young "Mothers to be" trying to decide who to "Invite" into the delivery room with them.

I think the delivery room scene should be a private affair and I'm sure Roy would have fainted at the least suggestion that he be in attendance. He didn't even want to be in the same hospital with me, much less the delivery room...

Well, I smiled and laughed and almost cried as I read your story. What a time that was! No, I do not wish to get to the hospital by trolley! It all worked out OK though. And your husband was right - he could catch you and the newborn AFTER he worked. Amazing how times change. Thanks for sharing your experience.

I finally got to your story, Nancy, and it was as good as I knew it would be. Imagine riding a trolly while in labor - it makes my back ache to think about it. I am so glad that you did't have preclampsia.

P. S. I was a switchboard operator twice. Once at a hospital and once at an Insurance company. Those were the days.

You know, these days, some women are so impatient that they'd probably willingly go on a bumpy trolley ride in order to deliver! A friend of mine is upset that her doctor won't offer her a Caesarian so that she can conveniently schedule the birth. Sigh. How times change. Great story!

Oh Nancy, how did I miss this story. So many interesting tales in your life. Loved it as I love all your stories.

Hi Nance,

Well, how nice is this to find you here reading my story? I'm delighted.

You are such a wonderful writer,Nance,it's especially good to know you enjoyed my tale... Thanks!

Hello Annie,

Thanks for letting me know you had read and liked my story. I always try to visit your blog because I also admire your writing.

Great Story! I landed here rather accidentally but I'm glad I did.

I was google searching "Penn Packing" b/c my grandpop was a pig farmer and sold a lot of his pigs (back in the 1940s-60s) to this business. My mom has some vivid recollections of family field trips to the packing place! I'm glad in my search I found your story.

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