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Brooks Harwell, left, Daniel Dougherty, Bowen Cochran, Josh Benner, Raymond Jones and Miller Cochran play at Carl and Marthelle Stover’s treehouse. The boys spent the night for Miller Cochran’s 10th birthday.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Brooks Harwell, left, Daniel Dougherty, Bowen Cochran, Josh Benner, Raymond Jones and Miller Cochran play at Carl and Marthelle Stover’s treehouse. The boys spent the night for Miller Cochran’s 10th birthday.

A grand treehouse
A lot of lumber, imagination help couple connect with grandchildren

By Paul Huggins · 340-2395

If only it were as easy to bottle time as to catch fireflies in a jar.

It almost is in Carl and Marthelle Stover’s backyard where the Meadowbrook Southeast couple cast a magical spell that puts them on even playtime with their five grandchildren.

All it took was a little imagination, a lot of lumber and a creative craftsman who can build anything that even a child can draw.

Put them together and you have the Stover treehouse: a four-level structure amidst a native maple tree where Grandfather’s pageless stories and late-night poker games make children shun computer games and DVDs.

“It depends on and solicits imagination,” Marthelle Stover said, just as playtime was when she was a girl.

Removing decades

During weekend sleepovers, the treehouse seems to remove the decades that separate the Stovers from their grandchildren: three in Huntsville, Calvin, 16, Bowen, 14, and Miller, 10, and two in Atlanta, Pearse, 16, and Weezie, 11.

Magical as it may be, time still marches on and the fantasy land beneath the leaves nears its end.

The Stovers are now in their 70s and feel the urge to downsize and move closer to their daughter’s family in Huntsville. Ten years from now, the treehouse will be just a memory in the family, but Stover said she already finds her greatest joy is knowing the grandchildren will never forget the time they spent there.

Visiting Papop and Marney, as their grandchildren call them, was fun even before the treehouse.

Their home covers 1.3 acres and rests near the tip of a residential peninsula, surrounded on three sides by farmland and the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

Pleading for a treehouse

But the grandchildren, especially Weezie, pleaded for a treehouse and five or six years ago finally persuaded their grandfather to give it a try.

“It was a dismal failure,” Stover recalled of her husband’s lack of carpentry skills.

But they didn’t give up. Weezie and Papop looked through treehouse books and magazines and together drew up their own ideal treehouse.

Enter Kenneth Burrow, a homebuilder and craftsman, whom the Stovers hired to construct stone walkways, stone walls and a garden house.

“He told us, ‘If I can see a picture of it, I can build it,’ ” Stover said.

Duplicating a drawing

With no treehouse experience other than what he built as a child, Burrow duplicated the drawing without hammering a single nail into the tree.

The main structure hovers about 15 above the ground, with its weight upon four 10-by-10-inch beams.

At the top is a 10-by-10-foot square house with screened-in glass windows that open to let the breeze flow through and a vaulted ceiling and ceiling fan to cool them when the night is still. It also has electricity to plug in a heater on cold nights.

It’s stained dark brown to blend with the tree, and the bottom level features two teak porch swings.

The inside has no furniture or cabinets. Sleepovers require sleeping bags and pads.

The first sleepover was a Christmas Eve five years ago. Though she worried Miller would be too scared to make it through the entire night, he was the first asleep, much to his dismay that morning.

“He said I missed all the fun, because Papop told stories without pages,” Stover said.

He made up for it by getting to have the first birthday party there 13 days ago. He invited four friends who got to see if the treehouse was as grand as he had bragged.

“I’ve been telling them for a long time,” Miller said proudly.

They played flashlight tag and war games, baseball and kickball. They kept a cell phone with them at night for security and to order popcorn from “Marney’s Restaurant.”

Life without the treehouse, he said, “would be too hard to imagine.”

His mother, Dr. Rebecca Cochran, hopes as her sons age and find other interests it will make parting with the treehouse easier.

Still a special place

Bowen, who starts high school in August, conceded the treehouse lost some of its magic as he grew up, but it remains a special place.

“I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow it completely,” he said.

Beside the treehouse, the grandchildren find safe seclusion under dense, low-hanging magnolia tree branches. Pearse dubbed it “the deep, dark woods” many years ago and the name stuck. Recently when discussing where the Stovers might move, their son-in-law, Tommy Cochran, said he’d help them find a place with its own deep, dark woods.

“Bowen said, ‘Noooo! I want these deep, dark woods,’ ” Stover recalled. “So our backyard is very special to our grandchildren.”

She noted that some neighborhood children drag their fathers to see it in hopes it will inspire them to build one, and that it instantly excited children from their church, Central United Methodist, the past two Easters when they were host to an egg hunt.

“It sort of has the allure of a hideaway,” Stover said. “You’re in a fantasy world. You can pretend anything you want out there. And I think it’s the height, too. You get to be taller than adults.”

Dr. Cochran said the treehouse is special simply because it’s an extension of her parents.

“They are really what make that place what it is,” she said. “Eventually, when they do leave, wherever they go, the kids may miss the treehouse, they may miss the deep dark woods, but being with my parents, playing poker wherever they may be, that will be OK.”

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