Philadelphia Metropolis


The Jewel of Jewelers' Row

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By Z.P. Heller

Jewelers rOW.jpg

It's my wife's first ultrasound appointment.  Our first child, my earliest brush with fatherhood.  I get off the 21 bus and hurry toward Pennsylvania Hospital's Maternity Building in the rain, with more thoughts hurtling through my mind than there are people on Eighth Street.  Will we get a due date?  How much will we be able to see?  Will we hear a heartbeat?  What if there are multiple heartbeats?  Not looking where I'm going, I slip along the slick brick of Jewelers' Row, Philly's one-block movie set of a diamond district.  I'm bombarded by fiercely welcoming storefront signs: "Where Philly Gets Engaged!" and "Where Elegance and Affordability Merge" and "I hate Steven Singer!"  They trigger a memory of the last time I was here with Dad, nearly 15 years ago.

I was just starting my sophomore year at Central High.  Dad picked me up one afternoon in our LeBaron, a car I would inherit less than two years later, after Dad died from Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.  That afternoon though, we drove down to Jewelers' Row to pick up a present for Mom -- a 25th wedding anniversary ring.  Dad had ordered it from Mr. Tatarka, a Holocaust survivor who became friends with my grandparents when they emigrated from Poland after the war.  Mr. Tatarka was Dad's jeweler at a time when I didn't even know you could have your own jeweler.  Nor did I know anything about jewelry itself, which I warned Dad about as we parked the car just off Jewelers' Row. 

Dad beamed beneath his bushy beard, which I would watch turn from brown to salt and pepper in the next couple of years, though it would never vanish from his face, despite the chemo.  "Just think of it like art at a museum," he said, pumping a parking meter full of quarters, "and focus on how it makes you feel."

Following Dad along Jewelers' Row, I was appalled by the dazzling displays of gleaming garishness.  Yet as Mr. Tatarka reached into a purple felt sachet and carefully pulled out the ring -- yellow gold with five princess-cut diamonds in a row, stunning but subtle -- I felt a flood of wonder.

"Exquisite, don't you think?" Mr. Tatarka asked.

Dad turned to me and raised his eyebrows above his thick glasses. 

"She's gonna love it," I said without hesitation. 

I remember The Curtis Center bathed in late-afternoon sun as we left the store, and feeling an overwhelming sense of pride.  I'd seen Dad buy Mom flowers, birthday presents, and Mother's Day gifts over the years, but nothing this precious.  And the best part was he'd included me for final approval.  Not my two brothers, just me.  Who knows what would have happened if I'd rolled my eyes or shrugged indifferently?  Would Dad have returned the ring?  Would Mr. Tatarka have told his colleagues at the House of Watches and Diamonds about the pisher who passed up the jewel of Jewelers' Row? 

That's when Dad realized our car had been towed.  He exploded in expletives, kicking the meter so hard I expected the head to pop off in a coin blast.  We spent the next half hour in a cab stuck in traffic, Dad seething, me silent for fear of angering him further.  But to my surprise, as we approached Parking Authority purgatory on Delaware Avenue, Dad turned to me and said, "You know, whatever this is, it was worth it."

Now in a Maternity Building examining room, a sonographer spreads blue gel over my wife's stomach.  The search for our baby begins.  Heart-shaped earrings dangle from the sonographer's ears; I can't help wondering if she got them on Jewelers' Row, or if Mr. Tatarka is still around, even though Dad is long gone.  The sonographer works quickly, moving the transducer back and forth and rotating images on screen, but she's kind enough to freeze each thrilling picture for us to grasp what we're seeing.  There, in blurry black and white, a head and a body appear.  Then tiny legs and tinier arms, two hands clenched in miniature fists of fury.  And right in the middle, a heart fluttering away.  Tears roll down my wife's cheeks as I grip her hand, flooded with wonder all over again.

"We like those kinds of tears," the sonographer says, handing her a tissue.  "Want to hear the heartbeat?"

It's louder and faster than I could have imagined: Boomp-a! Boomp-a! Boomp-a!

Exquisite, I expect the sonographer to say, don't you think?

The sonographer leaves and an OB/GYN enters.  "Everything looks great," he says.  "Looks like you're going to be due June 10th." 

"I don't have anything planned that day," my wife laughs.

June 10th.  Two days before the anniversary of Dad's death, five days before my own birthday, and a week before Father's Day.  Looks like I'll have my own precious present in store. 

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