Saying I am from Louisville is technically accurate, but it is not that simple. I am from Valley Station, a neighborhood in the South End. We are part of Louisville Metro because of the city-county merger, but our little neighborhood has nothing on the vibrancy of downtown Louisville.
Our Kentucky Kitchen Table was held in Valley Station, at my family home. Donna – my mother – hosted the dinner. She is very particular about hosting, so she insisted the two of us preparing all the food. She is in her 50s, and she was raised Southern Baptist. When she married my dad, she converted to Catholicism, and now she works at their church. My dad, Michael, was at the dinner as well. He is a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. Susan is a childhood friend of my mom, but since she has a very busy schedule and lives on the other side of the city, I have only met her a couple of times. She is a single woman, quite affluent, and she is a Church of Christ member. Dianne and Joe are members of my parents’ Catholic Church. Dianne described herself as, “30, blonde, and skinny,” then laughed and added, “I have one kid, and I’m an accountant.” To round out the table, I am a 19-year-old Biology student at WKU.
First we talked about what citizenship meant. The consensus seemed to be that it was a sense of belonging. Being a citizen is something that brings Americans together, even if we were born in different places or have different cultures. Citizenship is an intention. We intend to make America better, but we all have different ideas on what “better” is. This is why the more instrumental parts of citizenship like voting are so important. They are the methods by which we bring our ideas of “better” together and work to get there.
Everyone at the table was from a different part of Louisville: my family is from Valley Station, Susan is from Middletown, and Dianne and Joe are from Pleasure Ridge Park. So everyone had a unique perspective on the good things about living in Louisville. Dad – who wants to live in the country someday – huffed and said he liked that the crazy weather means there is plenty of job security for meteorologists. Mom mentioned that Louisville is central: “You can get to other places around the country in a reasonable amount of time.” There was some dissonance in the group here, because the other people around the table thought more positively about Louisville. Dianne works downtown, so she appreciates that they get “big city benefits” while closer to home there is more of a “small town feel.” That is, people generally seem friendlier than those in other large cities. I tied this dissonance a little to one of the class’s main questions: “How can we have more of a say over our own lives?” The people who liked the city felt more of a control over their own lives. They lived where they wanted to. However, those who were more “settling” for Louisville and would rather live elsewhere felt less of a control over their lives. Where we live changes how we feel about life as a whole.
When we discussed the things we like about the world today, the generation gap showed itself. They talked for a long time about how much more accessible information is these days. It was observed that because kids have access to the Internet, they know so much more about the world and current events than kids of earlier generations ever did. This was an uncomfortable thought for them because the Internet is so new. There are no tried and true guidelines for how to expose kids to the Internet, so you must make the rules up as you go along and hope for the best. As a member of the generation of kids they were talking about, this was eye-opening. That was a challenge of parenting I had never thought about before. Dianne came back to the question for a final thought: “To me, the best thing about living now is love. When my parents were young, you couldn’t love someone who’s another race. But now you can, and I’m proud of the present for that.”
We talked a lot about neighbors: what it meant to be a neighbor, who could be considered a neighbor, how we feel about our neighbors. Dianne had a lot to say about this. “I’ve met my neighbors and I see them around sometimes. But I wouldn’t get a cup of sugar from them. And I’m ashamed of that. I would like to have more of a relationship with them, but I never have.” Joe, on the other hand, said that instead of only being friends with people living close by, now people separate more according to interests. Susan suggested that people you consider your neighbors may not be “next-door neighbors,” and the people you are closest with may not be the people who are nearest to you. She referenced how she and my mom have remained friends for decades despite my family living in Missouri and Florida for a while before coming back to Kentucky. No one at the table was close to their neighbors because they had friends from work or from church who they felt they had more in common with. However, my dad mentioned how during the ice storm in 2009, people walked around the neighborhood more, and interacted more with each other. Then, when the house across the street caught fire a few years ago, people in the area came running to help. Even if we are not as close to our neighbors as we were before, we will still help out if we can.
The conversation about neighbors reminded me of our deliberation on police, specifically the option that involved community policing and neighborhood watch groups. One of the difficulties of putting such a program in action would be the problem highlighted by the people at the dinner: people do not interact with their next-door neighbors. If a crime were to happen, would someone in my neighborhood be outside to witness it? Would they do anything about it? In my neighborhood, I think a watch would be beneficial and not too different from life as it is now. When the weather is nice, there is usually somebody out on a walk. Just like when the woman’s house caught on fire, I think people still have the compassion to help during bad times. But what about better times? I feel the important question now is how we can bring neighborhoods together. I think there are many options that would serve dual purposes. Take community gardens. They are ways of promoting healthier eating, and they are also good for the environment. But they also require cooperation, so neighbors learn how to interact better. Growing something together creates pride in the community and respect for those around you.
The last thing we talked about was the social issues most important to us. Everyone’s answers were vastly different, and this speaks to the fact that our experiences shape our opinions and values. Dianne was most concerned about LGBT rights because of her daughter, who is an actor with many LGBT friends. There was conflict between the Catholic Church’s teachings and her daughter’s more accepting attitude. Her struggle reminded me a bit of the empathy readings, particularly “Devil’s Bait.” I think, to her, being LGBT is an experience so alien that it is almost like it is not even real (sort of like Morgellons to a non-sufferer). She struggled with whether or not she should accept LGBT people, because what if it is a choice? But her conclusion seemed to be that she will never know what the best thing to do is, and so she tries to be supportive. Listening to her talk about this was difficult, as I never had to struggle to accept LGBT people. Because of the Internet, I knew that people could be LGBT much earlier than Dianne’s generation did, and I listened to people’s stories about coming out and whether they were accepted or rejected by those they told. My culture in that way is so much different from Dianne’s and I can respect where she is coming from.
In doing this project, I learned a lot about how people’s experiences shape the way they think and what they do. My parents have not had very good experiences with living in cities, and so their view of Louisville is more negative than others’. For everyone else at the table besides me, the Internet was still relatively new, so they were much more skeptical of it. My mom’s and Susan’s experiences as long-distance friends made them believe that distance is not what decides who is your neighbor. And Dianne’s Catholic background caused her to struggle over LGBT people. These are all experiences I have not had, but listening to them talk helped me be on the same level as them. We do not have to agree with everything, but if we listen to others’ stories, we can live better together.