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Posted at 04:17 PM ET, 10/26/2011

The treehouse my grandfather built

There are people, places, pets, things and times in our life that stand out. They enter our lives and never leave: connections. It’s our opportunity to hear from you. We want the humorous and poignant. Send us your submissions of no more than 500 words, along with photos (in a JPG format), to

Summer is hot in North Carolina. But not under the shade of the treehouse that my granddad built for my brother and me. Nestled in the leafy branches of an oak tree, the house that my grandfather, Duffie Porter Lewis, handcrafted stood about eight feet from the ground beneath a canopy of green foliage. It was a sanctuary from the concrete playgrounds, race riots and urban turmoil that shaped my hometown of Washington, DC, in the late ‘60s.
Rev. Duffie P. Lewis, Donna Lewis Johnson’s grandfather, baptizing a church member in the Tar River in Louisburg, NC in the 1950s. (Photo by Donna Lewis Johnson - Photo by Donna Lewis Johnson)

The perch was in harmony with the sylvan charm of my grandparents’ backyard. A vista of yellow squash, green tomatoes and virescent grapes colored the landscape and affirmed the abundant goodness of agrarian culture.

I can still smell the fruity notes of ripe grapes mingled with the woodsy perfume of my outdoor habitat. The scents were as much apart of the experience as climbing up the ladder to my getaway.

In the treehouse, my brother and I were transported to a place where mosquitoes stings didn’t matter nor the occasional whiff of slop that rose from the dog pen located beneath our exalted abode. We were as close to heaven as earthly beings could be. Up there, our sibling squabbles gave way to wandering chats and easy laughter.

Our brush with heaven happened every summer during our annual two-week visit with my dad’s parents in Henderson, North Carolina. Hurtling down Interstate 95 with the top down in my dad’s convertible Buick Electra 225, my brother and I would fidget in the back seat eager to get to Grandaddy and Grandma’s house.

From the time I was a little girl, I knew my granddaddy loved me dearly. But it wasn’t until I became an adult that I grew to appreciate the beauty of his love. With quiet, selfless resolve, Granddaddy created both a physical and a metaphysical space that gave birth to some of my sweetest childhood dreams and memories.

He built the treehouse in his retirement from a career as a high-school principal and Baptist minister. No longer bound to a workaday schedule, Grandaddy sat quietly for hours each day under the oak tree where he built the treehouse.

Underneath the straw hat that topped his balding head was a man approaching 70 who spoke and wrote Latin fluently, hunted, fished, raised farm animals, planted and harvested crops and built things.

Grandaddy died nearly 35 years ago. Yet when life’s realities hit hard, my mind journeys to that far ago refuge where I felt at peace.

Donna Lewis Johnson lives and writes in the District.

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