God placed the image of a very familiar dead end street in my heart this morning. I haven’t thought about Mrs. Norton in a very long time, but God reminded me of the strange little woman who lived near my childhood home. Mrs. Norton captured my imagination as I watched her walk up and down our street each day, talking to herself and ignoring all of us. There were many rumors about her, and I was shocked to learn that she had once been a school teacher. Her husband was dead, and she lived in an old Victorian home that was in a little glen at the end of a dead end street near my home.
Mrs. Norton had long toenails that curled upward, and her cheeks were covered with rouge. Her hair was a mess and her clothing disheveled. Anytime I asked about Mrs. Norton, my mother would warn me not to talk to her. She also told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was never to go anywhere near her home. One day, my sister Edie and I threw caution to the wind and decided we were going to see the inside of her home. Curiosity got the best of us, so we ignored mama’s warnings and headed down that dead end street.
The house had been grand at one point in time, but that point was long gone. There were rumors that she had once been a very wealthy woman. Her house had the appearance of the classic haunted house, and my knees were knocking as we walked up the rickety steps to knock on the door. I’m sure Mrs. Norton was used to kids knocking on the door and running away. The windows of her home were broken, so I suppose some threw rocks to prove their courage. Our curiosity was stronger than our common sense, so we waited for her to come to the door.
She did come to the door and even asked us to come in. I thought of Hansel and Gretel and of mama’s warnings as we ventured in. She was kind and told us to stay near her because the floor was filled with holes and stacks of all sorts of things. I remember the books; they were everywhere! It was dark and musty inside, and there were cobwebs on everything. She brushed them aside as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do, but I didn’t like brushing against them! I don’t remember much about that visit, but I do remember that she gave us books. We ran home excited about our adventure and our treasure.
Mama was not happy when she saw those books and found out where we had gotten them. She never did spank me and rarely raised her voice, but she put Edie and me in the tub and scrubbed us until we were pink all over. She was especially attentive to our hair, and I suppose she was concerned about lice. The books went straight into the garbage can, and our clothes were put on the back porch. Edie and I never went back to Mrs. Norton’s, but we had a grand adventure that we shared with the kids in the neighborhood. We both decided it wasn’t worth another one of mama’s scrubbings to revisit her. Besides, she said she would tell daddy if we ever did it again!
Mrs. Norton lived on a dead end street in more ways than one, and I’ve been on too many of those dead end roads myself. God reminded me that a dead end is a wonderful place to hide my heart, and it can even be a happy trail; but it leads to nowhere. I’m learning that walking in God’s kingdom is much better than happy trails and dead ends. Joy comes from obeying and trusting Him, and I love enjoying what God so graciously gives. He asks that I give Him everything for a reason. If I don’t, I’ll never be able to get off those dead end streets. Mrs. Norton was stuck in the past and could not move forward. I may not have her appearance, but I have shared her desire to hold on to what I have lost. I see now that I miss all God has for me in His present and presence when I dwell on that dead end street.
There are many folks in this world like Mrs. Norton who have given up or shut themselves away from the world. It’s not easy to move on when love is lost, and separation from love is the definition of hell. I wish I had been able to learn more about her story because I’m sure it would explain her odd appearance and behavior, but I pray remembering her will make me more mindful of those in my path who are on a dead end street and need a little love.