A Satin Gown on Tabor Road
by Sandra Diamond Choukroun
Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia is building an expanded archive of cultural memory that includes multiple histories, re-place-ing the established with new narratives and understandings. Notes consider place via the street, sound, food, trees, and other portals.
What is the Philadelphia you remember? Sandra Diamond Choukron submitted this note reflecting on the corner where she grew up.
As a child growing up in East Oak Lane in the 50’s and 60’s, my life was closely connected to Tabor Road at Broad Street and to Einstein Hospital. My late parents, Bernard and Mildred Diamond, operated Diamond Clinical Labs, a private laboratory, in the Tabor Medical Building across the street from the hospital. The doctors were their clients, sending patients for all kinds of tests: blood tests, pregnancy tests, etc. Bernie was in charge of the medical side of the lab while Mildred managed the office.
In those days, the tests were all done by hand with filter paper, test tubes, and lab animals. My two sisters and I often visited the lab. One of our tasks was to check the test tubes that filled large wooden drawers. We held them in one hand, put the other hand below, then blew into them; if we could feel our breath it meant that there were holes in the tubes and they should be discarded. Each time we valiantly pledged to finish the whole drawer, but we got quickly bored, reluctantly abandoning the job.
At home in the evenings we knew to leave the phone free; doctors might be calling to get the results of the tests done that day on their patients. Our parents carefully explained that only the doctors could get the results from the lab, never the patients, no matter how much they begged. The results might be frightening or require a medical explanation.
So when our dad was hospitalized for six weeks at Einstein the year I was nine, we knew that the doctor clients would look out for him. This comforting thought did little to assuage our grief at not being able to visit him; children under twelve were not allowed in the hospital.
Our mom ran the lab and the house during his absence, frequently taking us across Tabor Road to the lawn directly below his third floor room. He would wave to us, seemingly from a great height. As an adult, I went back to stand where I had been as a child, and was shocked that my memory of his being very high contrasted so strongly with the reality: the third floor wasn’t high at all!
Eventually he recovered and returned home, but the loss that I endured stayed with me for years.
As a high school student at Girls’ High across the street from the hospital and the lab, I volunteered one summer as a candy striper at Moss Rehab, which was then housed at Einstein. I had had no previous exposure to people with life-altering injuries or illnesses. My sudden realization that these patients had once been young and in good health made it possible for me to look past their infirmities to see their humanity.
At the end of high school my paternal grandmother was an inpatient at Einstein on the day of my senior prom. My mother had taken me to Nan Duskin, the sophisticated, elegant store on Walnut Street, to get a beautiful rose satin prom gown. I really wanted my grandmother to see it. My date and I, all dressed up, stopped by the hospital on our way to the prom. We created quite a stir! My grandmother and I were both very happy: I was a short-lived celebrity, along with my tuxedoed date.
Not long ago I went to Einstein for outpatient tests. The Tabor Medical Building was still there, albeit in a state of extreme disrepair. I saw the lawn where I had waved to my dad, and the elevator in which I had dreamily ascended wearing my Nan Duskin gown. This place is part of my life, I thought. It belongs to me.