When I was just seven years old, my mother got pregnant. I do not remember much about that period save for the memory of making this chair for my coming sibling with the “help” of my grandfather Travis. He and Bubba had been able to scratch together sufficient funds to buy a house in Acipco; they had been living in the small apartment carved out of the big house Big Momma owned on Princeton Avenue. The correct name of the neighborhood was ACIPCO-Finley, one of the many mill-towns that developed in and around Birmingham, Alabama, under the direction of the iron and steel mill magnates of the early 20th century. ACIPCO was the acronym for American Cast Iron Pipe Company. Like most of the steel towns, Acipco was located in the western portion of Birmingham and on the north side. In the 1950s, it was not a bad area to live in if you did not mind the occasional foul air when the wind blew the wrong direction. None of the interstates that now dissect Birmingham had yet to be constructed so the isolation and resulting degradation of areas on the “wrong” side of the tracks was not evident.
Travis had been born in a rural area of Alabama and longed to get back to the land. The house he and Bubba purchased was small and built in the 1930s but it had five acres of land with it. And this was well before zoning laws were enacted that prohibited farm animals in the city, so Travis and Bubba soon had cows, goats, chickens and ducks on their little farm. Dean and I loved to stay over with Travis and Bubba as we were city boys and found the animals to be much fun. I can remember Dean challenging me to ride a heifer; I did not know what that was, only that some of the cows were called “heifers.” So Travis hoisted me on back of one, intended to walk beside me making sure I did not fall off and get hurt. But the heifer did not appreciate my being on his back and made a dash for the pasture down the hill. I hung on long enough to make it down to the crick where I was promptly bucked off into the water. If I had not found the water, I probably would have been hurt a little. But I laughed it off and asked to ride again. Which I did almost every time we visited the farm.
Travis loved to work with his hands; he always had made his way in life using his hands. So when he got the farm, he built a small out-building in which he made a workshop. It was basic as he could not afford many tools, but Bubba bought him a small electric jig saw for their first Christmas there and he was overjoyed. He began to make various things out of the wood he scrounged around town. And he was a big fan of the magazine Popular Mechanics.
Dean was a reader and did not follow Travis around the way I did. One day, Travis asked me if I wanted to make something for the new baby. We did not yet know, of course, if the baby would be a boy or a girl. So Travis had found plans in Popular Mechanics for a baby chair that could be suitable for either a boy or a girl and ordered a set. Making the chair from scratch was a lot of fun for me and I too learned to love making things with wood using my hands. I remember that one step in making the chair was to transfer the outlines for the parts onto wood. We did not have access to carbon-paper, so Travis used a carpenter’s pencil to rub graphite on the back of the outline so that when he traced it, it would be transferred to the wood. And that worked well enough. I was far too small to use the jig-saw by myself, but Travis held me up and let me guide the wood back and forth to cut our the curved ears and bow of the back of the chair. We used glue and nails to assemble the parts and then he let me paint the big areas of color on the chair. I was very proud of the chair when we finished and was anxious for my brother/sister to be borne so I could give it to him/her.
Dan was born the following spring and eventually grew large enough to actually use the chair. But like all things a baby gets, it was soon outgrown. My mother kept the chair somewhere when Dan was through with it.
When Cyndy became pregnant with Stephanie, my mother asked Travis to spruce up the little bunny chair for the new baby. We did not know if we would have a boy or a girl, but my mother was certain it would be a girl. So Travis repainted the chair a pale pink – it had been white originally. When we brought Stephanie to visit Bubba and Travis for the first time, Travis gave it to her. We took the bunny chair home to Mobile and waited for Steph to get big enough to use. And she eventually did a little bit. The chair, of course, did not meet current safety standards for small children, and it was soon relegated to a closet. But we kept the chair and I ended up with it when C and I split up. It now is a thing among many cluttering up my home. But I find it difficult to get rid of the bunny chair. Who knows, someone just might sit in it someday again.