Robert will give away a print copy of The Poet as Prophet, Wanderer, and Pilgrim in Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” To enter to win leave a comment and an e-mail address below.
The prefabricated, one-story apartment buildings were laid out like Quonset huts. Evidently, they were built quickly and cheaply for employees of the Bell Bomber plant in Marietta, Georgia, which assembled airplanes for World War II. We lived on Wings Avenue. The militaristic names of the streets wouldn’t register with me for many years to come: Patton Circle, Victory Drive, Aviation Road, Wings Avenue—a leader, the goal, the means, and an individual component. But the war was fourteen years past, and the Bell Bomber plant had been renamed Lockheed. The apartments, well, they became part of America’s public housing effort. Many still housed the employees of the plant, usually young blue-collar workers. By nature, this led to the inevitable: a neighborhood chockfull of kids. My parents contributed, too: there were four of us boys. I was the second.
When the third child came along in 1957, we packed up, kissed 615 Wings Avenue goodbye and moved directly across the alley to 609 Wings Avenue, a three-bedroom apartment on the end of the building. Not many diapers later, Mama was pregnant again, and in 1958, our family of six was complete.
Mama raised us boys while Daddy worked at Lockheed, when he wasn’t laid off, that is. Daddy was a good worker, but he was a better drinker. There were a number of pubs, taverns, bars, and, as my mama called them—beer joints—all within a mile or two of our house, and they were all on Daddy’s radar screen. Come Friday night and all day Saturday, the siren call of the closest beer joint was more than Daddy, a former sailor, could stand. Sundays were a bit tamer, with blue laws and all, though bootleggers could be found. I was in the car on more than one occasion when Daddy paid a discreet visit to a house near Blackjack Mountain. He’d always get back in the car with an additional lump in his pocket.
Our house, being the five-room apartment it was, wasn’t good for keeping secrets or hiding feelings. One windy, fall Saturday there was a charge in the air and fire in Mama’s eyes. It wasn’t a day for throwing rocks at your older brother, who might end up in the house complaining to Mama. It was a day to get lost, to blend into the walls if you had to come inside, to hang your head and cower like a whipped dog if you had to pass through a room full of hackle-raising electricity. Daddy was nowhere around. That was the problem. He was, as Mama was apt to say, “down at some beer joint drinking up the rent and the groceries.” She would have to go looking for him to get what was left of his paycheck, so she could feed us the next week. She had an idea that he was at the Dixie Inn, a restaurant and bar on Fairground Street, not far from Lockheed and within walking distance of our house. Mama got my older brother and me in the house and told us to stay in and watch our younger brothers until she got back.
“Sure, Mama. Yes ma’am.” Electricity demanded compliance.
She got into our 1940 faded blue Dodge. It had replaced the brand new 1955 Chevrolet that Daddy had let go back to the bank. It wasn’t more than thirty minutes when we heard the Dodge crunching gravel in a parking area beside the house. Mama was back. She got out and walked hurriedly into the house. The fire in her eyes had subsided. She had found Daddy and he had given her a twenty-dollar bill. I’m sure she gave him a lot more. But things were going to be okay. There would be food on the table next week.
In the absence of fire and electricity, I was beginning to breathe normally when Mama rushed into the living room then the kitchen then back into her bedroom. She scurried from room to room a second time. The fire in her eyes was replaced with despair. She dumped the contents of her purse on her bed and raked her hands through it. The twenty-dollar bill was gone. In her fury, as she left the Dixie Inn, she had put the bill in her lap. By the time she got home, she had forgotten that she had put it there instead of in her purse. When she realized what she had done, she ran out to the car and searched inside and around it. The wind was whipping leaves under the car and down the street. I knew if she had dropped that bill outside, it was long gone by now.
Mama walked slowly back toward the house, her gaze darting left and right, clinging to a quickly fading hope. In the house, she sat on the sofa, her hands cupped over her face in desperate prayer, calling on the Spirit our Pentecostal preacher so often talked about. She batted her eyes, fighting back useless tears. Reaching down, she picked up the newspaper and began tearing it. She walked back outside, got in the car, and closed the door. From the porch, I watched her as she opened the car door. Beneath the high-sitting body of the Dodge, I saw one foot touch the ground then the other. Then I saw a small piece of newspaper fall to the ground at her feet. The wind quickly caught the piece of paper and drove it out of the parking lot and into Wings Avenue. It danced on its corners across the street and into a neighbor’s yard, my mother right behind it. It tumbled through the grass of one, two, three, four neighbors and came to rest against the apartment wall. Not two feet away, pasted by the wind against the base of the wall, was the twenty-dollar bill. My mother danced across the street and back home. There would, after all, be food on the table next week.
A decade or so later, I learned that the Greek word (the language of the New Testament) for “wind” could also be translated “Spirit.” How appropriate, I thought.
About The Poet as Prophet, Wanderer, and Pilgrim in Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
This brief book, which includes the text of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," analyzes the narrative progression of the poem and its relationship to the Christian symbols and allusions that Coleridge uses and suggests a connection between them and a statement about the prophetic role of the poet in society.
Robert W. Graves is the author of The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books/1998) and Praying in the Spirit (Chosen Books/1987). His writings have appeared in Moody Monthly, Christian Parenting Today, Ministries Today, Pentecostal Evangel, Church of God Evangel and numerous other publications. He has a master’s degree in English from Georgia State University and has taught writing at Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, and Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas. In 2001, he began honing his skills in fiction. His short stories “The Professor’s Midnight Dream” and “Worn Carpet” were the first-place winners of the 2006 and 2010 Christian Authors Guild fiction contest. His short story “The Altar” was published by Gospel Publishing House and won first place in the 2006–2007 Fiction Writing contest of the Southern Christian Writers Conference. His latest publications are non-fiction: Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture (2014), a 600-page anthology on the gifts of the Holy Spirit and their continuation in the church today, which he edited and contributed two chapters to (available on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/p9o4cfd) and The Poet as Prophet, Wanderer, and Pilgrim in Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (2015), a slightly revised version of his master’s thesis (available on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/nzdbs54), which exhibits why students should be taught the Bible if they are to understand great English literature.