Mrs. Lela Babb Burden
Lake Taylor – Norfolk
The year was 1903; Theodore Roosevelt was president; the price of a loaf of bread was 5¢; a night in a hotel cost $2; and the price of a stamp was 2¢. This was also the year that Mrs. Lela Babb Burden was born. It would be safe to say that she has experienced a history of events that most of us have only read about.
Mrs. Burden was born in Southampton County, Virginia. As an only child, she moved to Monticello Avenue in Norfolk in 1907 and was raised by her aunt and uncle. She has a memory of her uncle delivering meat by horse and wagon to local businesses; her aunt cleaned houses. Until a flu epidemic shut the schools down, Mrs. Burden attended fourth grade on Queen Street (which later became Brambleton Avenue). She never went back to school but, instead, assisted her aunt with cleaning houses and babysitting to help make ends meet. She fondly recalls taking rides to the Norfolk Water Plant in her friend’s “Tin Lizzy,” which was a Ford Model T. She remarked, “I’d really been somewhere; it was a treat.”
During her younger years, Mrs. Burden enjoyed socializing with friends and dancing. When she was 20, she met and married railroad worker French Burden. During the days of segregation, she wasn’t allowed to go to the beaches at Ocean View or Virginia Beach. She had a fondness for going to the theater but had to ride in the back of the streetcar to get to the historical Wells Theater. She and her friends had to sit in the balcony. (They called the balcony the “buzzard’s roof” because it was so far up near the ceiling.) Interestingly, she also recalls when food and alcohol were rationed during the 1930s. Items such as flour, lard, and sugar could only be purchased on designated days. Mrs. Burden still has a “ration book” filled with stamps that was used to purchase her family’s rations!
In her 90s, Mrs. Burden decided to relax and spend the money she’d worked hard for all her life. She enjoyed traveling with a senior citizens club to Philadelphia, cruising to Jamaica and the Bahamas, and visiting Niagara Falls and Canada. She likes “to have fun.” As she reflects back over her life, she is pensive. She feels “blessed” and describes herself as “somewhat of a loner.” Her friends offer to come and keep her company, but she tells them, “It’s okay. I don’t need anyone to keep me company because I have enough memories to keep me company.”
She adds, “I think about the past because we don’t know what the future holds for us.” Ms. Burden continues to enjoy life to its fullest. She enjoys shopping at the mall, trips to the zoo, bingo and current events.
Mrs. Lela Babb Burden is a resident of Lake Taylor Transitional Care Hospital in Norfolk where she has resided since May 2012.