A Trip to the Ancestral Homeland

I like to call the Steuben Valley in upstate New York the Ancestral Homeland. My parents still live in the 200-plus-year old farmhouse where I grew up. My dad is the son of Arthur and Christine McGhee, who owned a beautiful dairy farm in Millerton, New York. My dad knows his cattle. In the past few years, this same Steuben Valley, still home to many working farms, has welcomed the Amish, who find the vast expanse of land there very inviting.

Last weekend, I headed up there with my husband and three children to spend a few days in the homeland. We dined at Chesterfields (my favorite Utica restaurant), and we had breakfast at Cindy’s Diner. We went north one afternoon and saw a wind farm and watched some Amish putting a new roof on a house.

But the highlight was the visit to the Lowville Cheese Store, where I purchased many fine cheeses:  http://lowvillecheesestore.blogspot.com/.

It was in this cheese shop that I spotted a wide leather belt, just the kind I like to wear. It beckoned me. I took it off the hook and held it around my waist. I liked it. Checked the price. $20. “What do you think of this, Dad?” I said. He nodded, his way of telling me it was a good buy. So I purchased it, along with the cheese. We got back in the car and were heading south again to the Steuben Valley. I pulled out the belt to admire my find. I looked at the tag. It said “neck strap.” I wondered why my belt was called a neck strap. And then it dawned on me; that special metal loop, which I quite admired, was for tethering a cow. My belt was a cow’s neck strap.

“Dad, I just purchased a cow’s neck strap,” I said. “It’s irrefutable. The tag says Neck Strap.” My dad and I laughed and laughed and laughed. We are country folk, but we didn’t know a cow’s neck strap from a thick leather belt. They didn’t use these when he farmed.

“It’s a damn fine belt,” he said. And I agreed. I’ll wear this neck strap with pride, remembering that glorious trip to Lowville, New York,  remembering the wind farm and the Amish, but more than anything, remembering my dad, his smile, his laugh, and how much he means to me.

I love you, Dad.

steuben collage.jpg
Holly McGhee