JEANERETTE, La. — Next-door neighbors built a pirate ship treehouse, complete with crow's-nest, cannons, anchor and enemies' skulls, for 5-year-old twins Charlie and Alex Viator of Jeanerette.
The boys had wanted a treehouse for years, neighbor George McJunkins said.
"About two years ago we promised the boys we would build a treehouse, and we got to the point where we could finally get started," said McJunkins, 74.
He built the 22-by-12-foot treehouse overlooking Bayou Teche in his own back yard, since the boys' parents, Tim and Virginia Viator, didn't have enough space.
"We started with a plain little old house design and we started to shape the deck," McJunkins recalled.
The shape started looking look like a ship, McJunkins said. The boys' mother asked if they'd like a pirate ship, and the project took on a life of its own.
"We have a good relationship with them, so we were happy to do it," McJunkins said.
He said his son Neil McJunkins "has great artistic ability and designed all these gadgets like a cannon and anchor and the mast. Everything that's on the ship he came up with."
The creation was no easy task, said Neil McJunkins, 40.
"I did a lot of research," he said. "I basically had the vision in my head and said 'OK this is what I'd like,' and it mostly worked out pretty well."
Neil McJunkins picked up some of his building savvy as a graphic design major at Brooks College in California. He said he has always been into working with his hands and building.
The project was a joy that reminded him of his own childhood, he said.
"Oh I loved it. Growing up I can remember my dad building the house I grew up in with his dad," Neil McJunkins said. "My dad and grandfather worked on building the house and I didn't think I'd ever have the chance to do that with my dad."
The project took about two months of afternoons to complete, Neil McJunkins said.
"I had a treehouse, but not anything like this. I told myself if I had a chance to build one I wanted it to be nice," Neil McJunkins said. "The budget got blown out of the water. It went way over budget, but we got to a certain point where we just wanted to do it right."
The young captains had very strict guidelines. Tim Viator found this out the when he spent more time watching a Saints' game than building. The twins "fired" him, said Neil McJunkins, laughing. "They hired him back a few days later," he said.
The Viators have been overwhelmed with the McJunkins' generosity. Virginia Viator said the McJunkins are an extended family.
"I wanted that family to get recognized. They totally did this for our kids. Since the kids were born they've gone above and beyond for my kids," she said.
Virginia Viator said her boys are thrilled by the treehouse and have added bean bags and sleeping bags.
"I still don't think they believe it's real," she said.
She said she tried to help but wasn't the best with tools.
"The one day I was out there helping with the tools Neil would say 'cut this an eighth of an inch on this piece of wood,' I said 'Really, are you serious?'" Virginia Viator said.
She said Neil McJunkins plans an extension for a platform and bench where adults can sit.
"My Wi-Fi reaches out there and we can open up the windows a bit, and sit down on the bench," she said. "It could be our adult treehouse during the day and the kids' treehouse at night."
Alex said the cannons are his favorite part of the treehouse.
"I like the whole thing," said Charlie.
Information from: The Daily Iberian, http://www.iberianet.com