Monday, December 1, 2014

The Last of Mrs. Burling

A short story by Barbara Pallos

Today's post was written by my mom in 2007. She was a fantastic copywriter — witty, observant, and detail-loving. I inherited her droll sense of humor! Thanks, Mom.

Enjoy. :)

The Last of Mrs. Burling
by Barbara Pallos

Our neighbor Mildred Burling, 91, took a fall a few weeks ago. She was on her way to the hair salon, just a block from her Glendale home. She went there every Wednesday.

When she fell, we’re told, two kindly men picked her up, brought her home and called paramedics, who arrived swiftly.

They spent a few minutes inside her house, located across the street from ours, and then to our relief she walked out the front door and climbed unassisted onto their gurney.

Next came a ride in the red Fire Department ambulance — just for precaution, we thought. We didn’t hear sirens. Mrs. Burling’s friend followed in her new Saturn.

She didn’t return home for several days. A couple of other neighbors checked with the hospital and discovered she was undergoing tests and would be confined a few days.

We weren’t too concerned. After all, Mrs. Burling was spry, even at 91. She had a keen sense of humor along with a distinctive Boston accent and had no health problems that neighbors knew of.

True, she had given up her old yellow Chevy a few months before, concerned that her driving had slipped a bit. She didn’t like the speeders along Glenoaks Boulevard, either.

Then we began noticing her walking to the grocery store, getting her hair done, being picked up by a friend every Thursday morning for bowling.

She was exceptionally active for a woman her age. 

On Saturday night, just three days after her departure by ambulance, we noticed a big pickup truck pulling up to Mrs. Burling’s house. Two men hopped out and began bringing boxes inside.

“What’s going on?” we wondered. And then: “Uh-oh, Mrs. Burling’s not coming back.”

Sure enough, the following morning, in light rain, the same men returned and began loading furniture into the truck. The Saturn was back, parked in the driveway.

Two weeks later, the last of her belongings (we thought), including clothes, were tossed into a large curbside bin delivered by a city Public Works Department truck. We felt sad, almost as if her life were being thoughtlessly discarded.

The next time we saw the Saturn parked across the street we made it a point to walk across the street, introduce ourselves, and express our concern for our elderly neighbor.

We then learned we were talking with Mrs. Burling’s daughter-in-law.

She told us Mrs. Burling now resides in an assisted living facility, a nice one  and a new one, in nearby Burbank.

She is being well taken care of, we were assured. Then the daughter-in-law dismissed us to speak with a real estate agent who had just arrived.

We sure hoped Mrs. Burling already has her TV and radio in the new one-bedroom apartment. On summer nights we could always hear the Angel or Dodger games blaring away. (She is a little deaf.)

And we couldn’t help wondering if she has her Hammond organ, too. She used to play “Lara’s Theme” from “Dr. Zhivago” all the time.

And does she have any other relatives? We just don’t know. She seems to have outlived almost everyone.

Her house was soon sold to our next-door neighbor. It needs lots of work as the Burlings had lived there since at least the 1950s, maybe even longer. Mr. Burling has been dead for 15 or 20 years; we’re  not sure.

The last of Mrs. Burling — the last  of her furnishings, anyway — subsequently appeared twice at her curbside. Chairs, couches, mattresses, desk, bookcases, paintings, rugs, rusty patio furniture.

Some items disappeared during the night, spotted and trucked away by roaming scavengers. The remaining goods were collected, courtesy of the city’s “large-item bulky pickup” service.

This time we probably have really seen the last of Mrs. Burling. We won’t forget her, though.

We’ll remember “Lara’s Theme” and Vin Scully drifting across the street and into our house, and we’ll smile, “Mrs. Burling’s home.” 

(Barbara Pallos is a freelance writer in Glendale.)

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