By Susan Shinn
Throughout their 58 years of marriage, Asa and Miriam McNeely were surrounded by family.
Parents. Brothers and sisters. Numerous cousins.
They had four children of their own, and those children had children.
Their 200-acre farm in Mount Ulla was a gathering place for nearly every holiday.
When the responsibilities of the farm got to be too much, Asa and Miriam built a cottage at Trinity Oaks, and joined the neighborhood family there.
Now, Miriam is preparing to move to the McNeely homeplace in Mooresville.
She’s going home.
But she won’t be alone.
She’ll be with her family.
The McNeely homeplace in downtown Mooresville is a sprawling late Victorian home surrounded by huge magnolia trees.
It’s just a few blocks from First Presbyterian Church, where Miriam served as organist for almost 50 years.
At age 21, she took a job there as director of Christian education. That’s when she met Asa, who was known around town as an eligible bachelor.
“He was a very handsome young man,” Miriam says.
The two married and in 1955 moved to their farm in Mount Ulla.
Miriam passes the white, two-story columned house each time she drives N.C. 150 back and forth from Trinity Oaks to Mooresville.
Which is a lot.
Nearly 100 family members came to the last Thanksgiving at the farm in 2000.
This Thanksgiving, they’ve
already said they’re coming to Academy Street in Mooresville.
This house has always been in the McNeely family.
It was son Mark’s dream to live there.
He and his wife, Jen, have three children, sons Emory, 8, Connor, 6, and daughter Anna, 4.
They were ready for a new house. Last fall, the house became available.
“I thought it would really be neat if we could get it,” Mark says. “I asked Jen to consider it. I didn’t want to push, because I knew it was a big undertaking.”
An extensive renovation was in order, especially if Asa and Miriam were to join them.
“When the property became available, I asked Mom and Dad would they consider living with us. They thought it over and prayed about it and thought it was a great idea.”
But, Mark says, “We knew going into it that he may not make it.”
In November, the family celebrated the closing with a bottle of champagne.
“In the early part of the year, things began to deteriorate with Dad,” Mark says.
Asa and Miriam celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary Feb. 19. He died eight days later.
It can be difficult to write about someone you’ve never met. Yet Asa’s presence remains so strong in his family. It’s as if he’s just stepped out of the room for a few minutes.
Miriam’s cottage at Trinity Oaks is filled with photographs of her and Asa. There’s a handsome photo of him on her parlor grand piano, right next to a photo of the homeplace.
Over the years, Miriam has put together numerous photo albums. She has completed an album for each of their seven grandchildren, who range in age from 4 to 25.
When Asa died, Mark and a friend put together a DVD of Asa’s life. The grandchildren chose favorite photographs from their albums. Mark’s friend set it all to music.
It was shown after Asa’s memorial service, and Miriam has shown it several times to her Trinity Oaks family.
“Asa was a quiet man of few words,” she says, sitting in her sunroom. “They all loved him because he was so easy to love.
“It helped me to do that,” she continues, tearing up just a little. “For me, that has been part of the healing process.”
She adds, “Asa was easy to live with. We had a really good marriage.”
Miriam smiles as she provides a running narration of the DVD.
It begins with pictures of Asa in his early years.
“After the war, he was really thin,” Miriam says.
Asa and Miriam married in 1949. Her mother made her beautiful wedding dress. They honeymooned at Sea Island, Ga., at The Cloister.
“The Farm” section of the video is set to “Thank God I’m A Country Boy.”
There’s Asa in front of a gigantic fallen tree taken down by Hurricane Hugo.
There he is trimming shrubs, splitting wood, feeding the calves.
In the section devoted to Asa and Miriam, there’s a picture of their family taken on a 50th anniversary trip to Hawaii.
Asa’s great-grandparents were part of the first set of missionaries to Hawaii.
“He has a good heritage,” Miriam says.
It’s a heritage they’ve passed to their own family.
Mark and his family spent their first night in the homeplace last Saturday night. Daughter Connie May and her family live in Jacksonville, Fla. Son Asa Jr. lives in Marion. A third son, Milner, is deceased.
Her two surviving children were very much in favor of the plan for Asa and Miriam to move in with Mark and Jen.
Miriam turned 80 in March, and, as she wrote in a letter to friends and family that month, she’s starting a new chapter in her life.
When an extended family lives under one roof, everybody needs their own space.
That’s just what Mark and Jen have done as part of the renovation process.
Miriam’s entrance to her suite is at the back of the house, where the washroom used to be.
Now there’s a galley-style kitchen, and a pantry houses her washer and dryer.
A bathroom, bedroom and sitting room complete Miriam’s suite.
The family will share a den and living room. They’ve updated the main kitchen, painted, and refinished all of the wood floors.
Mark, Jen and the kids’ bedrooms are upstairs.
The wide front porch, which catches the cool breezes, will naturally be a gathering place.
“I love this front porch,” Jen says. “It’s 20 degrees cooler up on this porch.”
The kids’ playset has already been moved to the big backyard.
Gamma will likely be giving Anna many pushes in those swings.
Jen grew up with her grandparents, and is so pleased that her children will have a similar experience.
“It was a treasured experience for me and my sister,” she says. “Having that extra presence in the home, that adult experience and wisdom ó you can’t replace that.”
“I never knew my grandparents,” Miriam says. “When I became a grandmother, I was so blessed to know my grandchildren. It’s fulfilling lots of longings of my heart, too.
“I learn from them, too. It’s a two-way thing. I have experience, but they have insights.”
“It’s been really interesting how things have happened,” Mark says. “People can say it’s coincidence, but we know better.”
Miriam now plans to move to Mooresville in early September, to give Mark and Jen a chance to get settled ó and to give them time for a beach vacation.
“They have been working so hard,” Miriam says. “They need a break.”
Between now and then, Miriam will start packing up all those photo albums, and storing up those memories.
She and her family will surely be making more of them.
Asa will be there, too, of course, in all of their hearts.
Here’s what the Rev. Fred Coates said at Asa’s memorial service: “Asa had really looked forward to the move and was excited about ‘returning home.’ Now, however, he will not be moving into that earthly house, for he has been called to take up residence in that ‘house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,’ and Asa has returned at last to his real ‘home place’ with God.”
Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or email@example.com.
By Susan Shinn