Christmas at The Neely House
I can only imagine Christmas in the times of Thomas S. Neely. It is so easy for us to romanticize the “old-days” as pristine and innocent and full of whimsical charm. The snow was whiter and the carols filling the air were sung in just the right pitch. The horse knew the way to carry the sleigh………really?
I would not want to besmirch the memories of this wonderful period that we highlight at The Neely House and their warmth. However, to look always behind us for those glittering moments that seem almost holy is to have less faith in ourselves and our ability to create a world better than the one we came from.
Recently, I even went so far as a trip to London with my spouse, my brother and his wife, looking for the wonder that would surely be found on the snowy streets of Dickens’s old England. It was a wonderful trip. As wonderful as it was, I still hadn’t found something I couldn’t put my finger on. Childhood memories of Christmas morning, my wonderful grandparents and the thrill of excessive gifting. Sadly, I realized sometimes our treasured memories present a subtle torturous longing that leaves us jaded as adults. I was that. Possibly my own restaurant dream was a form of backward longing.
Upon our return from London my Christmas miracles began to reveal themselves. My affection for the Neely house began long ago amidst the smell of mold and wet decaying plaster. That affection sustained me through a long restoration and a search for a chef/ business partner, all in pursuit of lost glories.
Ironically, I entered the Neely House to the strains of ‘Where are You Christmas’ by Faith Hill. The glittering Christmas decorations by designer Nancy White of Custom Cut Designs were literally everywhere. Completed in our absence, the mantels were draped in pine and glorious ornaments. Beads reminiscent of Victorian glass beads draped the mirror in the Dragonfly Lounge. Our beautiful staircase was done carefully in draping garlands of pine and colorful glass balls. A Santa Claus figure stands next to the grandfather clock in the parlor. It belonged to Rosemary Ball. All of the chandeliers were full of pine and ornamented.
As quaint and charming as cranberries and popcorn must have been, I believe that Nancy White’s Christmas decorations would have made Thomas Neely and his family stop in awe and wonder.
The house was full of the aroma of sautéed onion and garlic and the baking flourless chocolate cakes. We were greeted by the faces of employees whom I had sincerely missed. I found my Christmas magic. It wasn’t in the Neely family Christmases of the 1800’s. It was in the Neely Family Christmas of 2018. It was not in the love that Thomas shared with his wife and children. It isn’t even in the memories of my childhood. It is here, it is now and for me, it lives at The Neely House Restaurant today.
Today, there is a new Neely family and it is a family by choice. It is an honor to be a part of that family and a joy to share the affection of our friendships and shared goals to serve our guests. To everyone this holiday season, we invite you to our special place, to feel for yourselves, that something very special lives here. We are confident that it honors well, the memory of Thomas and his family. It tells us that the magic in our past is but foreshadowing the magic that we are yet to make.