I spent a lot of time growing up in what would become a ghost town. My Grandpa and Grandma Helmboldt were both born in Park Lake, and lived there until old age. It’s where this month’s “Nightmare” poem took place.
It’s interesting how we remember some dreams more vividly than waking moments. I must be nine or ten years old in the poem, and I wrote it 38 years later.
In my dreams I walk, talk, work and play with deceased relatives and friends as if it’s totally natural. People living can become younger in dreams, too.
In our awake hours, time moves along in a linear line. Life is like that. People just keep coming and leaving. But in dreams time is like an invisible breeze that keeps ebbing and flowing from the past and future.
I drive by this “Nightmare” location once or twice a year when I visit my hometown of Marion, Michigan. Headed south on M-66 as I reach McBain, I go straight instead of turning left and wind my way through the back roads.
After passing the man-made Marl Hole on Avondale Road, I turn left on 23 Mile Road, drive by Park Lake and pass through the ghost town of the same name. If not for the family stories I’ve saved in a few poems, you wouldn’t even know the little town once existed.
Grandma’s garden has disappeared. So has Grandpa’s small barn I used to play in. The roof and walls of their house have collapsed into ruins. I remember the narrow road to a baseball diamond ran just south of the garden and barn.
Mom grew up in a different home quite a way off the road near the baseball diamond. She said it wasn’t much of a house and that they were poor as snakes.
She remembered summer Sundays when most of the relatives would visit. Her mom would fix chicken and dumplings, and they’d play ball until dark. It’s a cornfield now.
When Mom was a little girl, she used to run down a hill and along the road around the lake to visit her Grandma Helmboldt. My great-grandma had a pantry with a big container where she kept flour. She’d turn a little crank and flour would come out. Mom’s grandma kept big cookies in her pantry and would always give her one.
My cousin Ron Helmboldt is five years older than me and remembers many more Park Lake stories. He told me Great-Grandma Mary Helmboldt's maiden name was Metzger. The Metzgers came over from Germany, the southern part of the Rhine River area at the same time as the Helmboldts.
Mary was a healer and had gifted hands. She could stop pain and bleeding. Whenever somebody got hurt in Park Lake, people would go get Mary. She would place her hands on the injured person or animal, say a little secret prayer-chant and the bleeding or pain would stop. She passed this gift on to my grandpa when he was a young man.
I’m not sure where this nightmare came from in my consciousness. Maybe it was a premonition of the environmental movement that would grow up out of the late 1960s. If so, dreams have prescience, too.
I walked across
the dew on the grass
behind the house
to Grandma’s garden.
The morning fog was soft and silver.
The sunlight was young as me.
Little birds were yawning,
and the trees were vibrating
in a gentle wind.
Around the corner of the barn
a swarm of tiny yellow bulldozers
was plowing around like a plague
of machines ruining Grandma’s
strawberries, string beans,
cucumbers and tomato plants.
I tried to stop them,
but there were too many.
They growled out of my hands and arms
like Stephen King toys
programmed to develop something.
Retreating through the wet grass
into Grandpa’s barn,
I grabbed a gunnysack
and charged out the door
into the sunrise
back to the garden.
The rest is a nightmare
of catching little yellow bulldozers
and dropping them
into a snarling burlap bag
until I woke up.
I’m still wrestling this dream.