We had our Kentucky Kitchen Table in my hometown of Belfry, in Pike County, a solid five hours away from WKU. I must say I was very nervous about doing my KKT, not only because discussing things like politics often get heated in my family, but also because the prospect of doing it for an assignment gave a whole new depth to that nervousness. In the end, it all went very smoothly, and we actually had a really great time talking deeper than we usually do with each other, not to mention the amazing dinner we had.
Seated around the dinner table were my dad, Kevin, who took a break from his mountain of work (he’s an accountant, and it’s right near the end of tax season) to make sure he could come to take part in the conversation. My dad was raised in a fairly traditional household, though he said that he didn’t really appreciate the values he was taught until he was already an adult and out of the house. Like most people in Pike County, he describes himself as a conservative democrat, and used the KKT to connect more with my little brother and I (both fairly staunch liberals) and understand how our view different from his, and why.
My mom, Shelia, a dedicated kindergarten teacher who always makes sure her sons do their assignments was also at the table. She also had a very traditional upbringing, but always understood why she appreciated them. She is the reason my dad began going to church, and is also the reason that my brother and I continue to go to church, despite our questioning of religion. She has influenced us all, in so many ways, regarding our faith.
My little brother, Ryan, who is just forming his own set of political opinions and used the KKT as an opportunity to round out his beliefs. He has had a sort of 180 happen to him over the past year. Where he used to hold the traditional values our parents taught us, he now has begun feeling his own way around the world, and trying to establish his own beliefs. He describes it as finding his independence, and I personally agree, as that’s how I described the same thing that happened to me. Of all of us sitting at the table, Ryan and I are the only two who weren’t Christians, both of us being agnostic.
My grandmother, Sheb, who insisted on cooking the entire meal, not because she believes she is a great cook, or that she must control everything, but because she couldn’t stand having people over to her house (where we did the KKT) and asking them to bring food with them. Sheb is probably the only person at that table who had not much to say. She’s never been a very talkative one, and even when we tried to engage her to step into the conversation, she hesitated. She describes herself as comfortable with her political beliefs, and not really one to stir up controversy.
My grandfather, Cecil, who has shared several different political persuasions over the past 75 years and also saw the KKT as an opportunity to reexplore and redefine his political stances. Cecil is very outspoken, and not always politically correct, which made for some interesting conversations, but would never wish harm on an insect, much less a person. He is the oldest of us all at the table, and is the only one who is retired. His experiences while working the twenty-odd jobs he’s had added a sense of experience to the conversation.
And finally, one of our neighbors from up the hollow, Tina, who I’d only talked to in passing and never had a full conversation with, came to dinner to establish a connection with us, and get to know her neighbors better. During the conversation I learned more about Tina faster than I believed possible. I learned that she has two children who are both grown and moved away from Kentucky, she describes herself as a conservative democrat, but asserts that she’d rather give up her right to vote than vote for either of the last two candidates, and that she has never really sat down to ponder what citizenship means to her. She was probably the most fun to talk with, just because there was so much to find out about her.
I started the conversation with the required question “ Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Surprisingly, Tina was the first to answer. She told a story about her great-grandparents coming to America from Ireland, and defined citizenship as “the right to do all things American.” It was sort of a strange phrase at first, but once I started thinking about it, I thought it was genius. That question didn’t gather many responses, and so we moved on. I don’t remember many of the questions we talked about, as I didn’t write them down, but I do remember the answers I got to the question “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?” Ryan said he loved the interconnectivity of the small town we live in, and how “everybody knows everybody”. Shelia said she loved the attitude that most people held, and how they were ready to help everyone in need. Cecil said he loved how safe he felt living in the area, and Tina loved just being able to have a yard behind her house and a garden. She struck me as a woman who enjoys the simple things. My father’s answer had the most impact on me. He said “The thing I love the most about living here, is that I’ve never felt like I don’t belong here. I’ve never felt out of place or out of touch.” He went on to describe how he couldn’t imagine himself living or raising his children anywhere else, despite the decline of the coal industry, and the poverty and drug abuse that has stricken our little town. That stuck with me, not only because it involved me, but because, for my entire life, I had felt the complete opposite way. I’ve always felt out of place in that town, and the career I’ve chosen is specifically designed to take me out of it. My dad, though he’s given me countless amounts of wisdom and advice over my eighteen years, opened my eyes with only a few sentences, and made me question basically my entire life.
This reminded me of the reading about the snare of preparation, and how by being prepared, you sort of end up falling into a trap of your own design. Everyone has a tendency to over-prepare and sometimes it comes back to bite you. I had been preparing my entire life to leave my little hometown, and in fact, that’s why I came to Bowling Green in the first place, but in doing so, I’d lost the little magic that my dad relished about this place. I briefly described the main point of the reading, and everyone around the table gave their own stories of a time they over-prepared for something and found out they screwed themselves over. Most of them were funny, but a few of them were sobering, and one, given by my sweet grandfather, Cecil, was almost tear-inducing.
All in all, this assignment made me open my eyes to the differences in my family, and the similarities I shared with a stranger. I have to admit, I was loathing this assignment in the weeks leading up to it, but now I can’t believe I had not done something like this sooner. I believe that experience relates to the class more than anything. Everything we do in Citizen and Self might not make sense at first, but once you complete the task in its entirety, then you grasp the full meaning of it.
Note: I took the picture of the dinner table, and therefore am not in it. I’m if that violates any rules of the assignment.