I conducted my Kentucky Kitchen Table project in Annville, Kentucky. We had dinner around the dining room table in my parents’ home. My mother and father spent most of the day and the day before preparing the meal, but guests also brought items to contribute to a traditional southeastern Kentucky family meal. The menu consisted of fried chicken, soup beans, dumplings, cornbread, and potatoes in various forms. For dessert, there were fried apple hand-pies and spice cake. In addition to dinner, we also prepared some special decorations for the table and had a pumpkin carving session for the children afterwards.
By the time all the guests arrived, we had nine hungry people at our table. Those who arrived to eat and take part in the conversation were of varying ages, genders, geographical identities, and political identities. Shirley, a 71-year-old retired social worker, and her husband Wayne, a 79-year-old retired coal miner, are both staunch Republicans from Hyden, Kentucky. James is a 69-year-old retired high school math and special education teacher from Booneville, Kentucky. Betsy, 60 years old, is a retired preschool teacher from Beattyville, Kentucky; she and James both share political ideals aligning with the Democratic party. Shawn currently works as a water plant and sewage technician for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, he’s 35 years old and is from Lexington, Kentucky. His wife Becky, also present at the table, is a 30-year-old stay-at-home mom from Lexington, Kentucky. Both Becky and Shaun identify as Republicans. Owen, a 19-year-old Computer Science major at Eastern Kentucky University, is from Richmond, Kentucky and is a registered Democrat. Lauren is a high school student at North Laurel High School, she’s 15 years old and a sophomore there. She’s from Annville, Kentucky, and though she can’t vote yet has predominantly Democratic ideals. Karley is a 12-year-old attending North Laurel Middle School as a 7th grader, she is also from Annville, Kentucky. This mix represents both urban and rural perspectives, as well as both sides of the current political spectrum. The people at this table represent multiple generations of Kentuckians.
We began the dinner by having everyone go around the table and introduce themselves, talking a little about their previous life experiences, what they’re doing now, and who they were. When asked the primary question of “What does citizenship mean to you?” many of the older people at the table thought citizenship was about being a good neighbor, having a job, and finding your role in the community. Shirley and Wayne spoke about their participation in the local volunteer fire department. The younger members of the table primarily discussed community service to demonstrate their role as future citizens. Lauren spoke about projects she’d formally been involved in, as well as kind acts done by her neighbors in times of need. When discussing the “best” things about our world today, the item most commonly discussed was our ability to communicate instantaneously with others. This was brought up by Karley, the youngest person at the table, and seconded by Betsy who provided personal anecdotes about how hard it was to communicate when she was Karley’s age. James and Wayne mentioned how much they loved the freedoms they experience in the United States; they discussed taking road trips and being able to exercise their freedom of speech. They thought the autonomy they experience every day is what truly makes life worth living, being able to do what you want when you want. For the most part, everyone mentioned being pleased with their current community, but Becky and Shaun were in the process of picking somewhere new to move to. They mentioned wanting to live somewhere more private, with good neighbors; everyone at the table also seconded this notion. Wayne mentioned wanting to live in Flagstaff, Arizona, which seemed off-the-wall when he first stated it, but then as we continued to discuss it, it became clear that this also aligned with their current living scenario now and their ideals, just in a different state. Most everyone at their table responded that they did know their neighbors quite well, except Lauren and Karley who reported that they only saw their neighbors when there were issues going on either in the neighborhood or between homes. With two veterans, a civil servant, and a few public educators at the table it was very easy for them to make connections between their jobs and serving the country. They also easily saw their jobs as serving a greater purpose to help people, educate children, protect the country, and provide amenities like electricity and clean water. While a few of them did believe their religion served as a moral compass in that following their God made them want to help others, Shaun thought that religious people got “a little out of hand” with that notion. His experiences led him to believe that they did more to try and get him to join them than they did serving and helping other people. Most of them felt that there was no legal obligation to help people in the community and country, but there definitely was a large moral obligation. Owen expressed that the moral obligation also extended past the limits of community and country. He, Lauren, and Karley showed a more global view in that we should all watch out for each other as citizens of the world and as human beings rather than belonging to an area or group. All the people at the table responded positively to having meals with their family around a table, Becky even mentioned that her family insisted upon eating around the kitchen table even when there were just two or three people in the house to sit down and eat with. A lot of the older people at the table felt that they were the person that they wanted to be and were content with their current state of being. Younger participants noted that they’d like to be a nicer or more forgiving person as they got older. When the topic drifted to a more politically focused conversation, the older members of the table got a little riled up, especially since Kentucky teachers’ and state employees’ pension system is currently the political hot button issue in Kentucky. In addition, quite a few of them were teachers and state employees. When asked for advice for politicians, they responded immediately and with fervor. They wanted their politicians to not make promises they couldn’t keep as well as to run for office not to benefit themselves, but to work for the country. Shaun suggested politicians take extreme wage decreases, and Owen even joked about politicians’ salaries coming from a GoFundMe page that citizens can donate to if they do an adequate job.
From this discussion I learned a lot about the problems we’re facing here in Kentucky as opposed to the broader issues we always hear about on Twitter, national news, etc. Shaun and Becky talked a lot about the mounting homelessness problem in Lexington. The city and county government there are apparently handling the panhandling in Lexington very poorly. To decrease the number of panhandlers on the streets, city officials are now taking the homeless people and having them pick up garbage. A local radio show staged themselves as a panhandler and told on air that they had raised more than $300 in one hour.
In class we’ve discussed specialization through the John McKnight “Professionalized Services” reading, after dinner during casual conversation many of the participants began discussing their gardens. They talked about who grew what where and how much the deer had eaten; I watched as they discussed giving each other all kinds of vegetables and fruits from their gardens and was immediately mentally sent back to this reading. I inquired about why they gardened, and they said it was about independence for them and the fact that they had always grown up doing it. In addition to that, once the topic of “global communication” was brought up, the “when I was your age” anecdotes also emerged. In the Jennifer Roberts “The Power of Patience: Teaching Students the Value of Deceleration and Immersive Attention” reading, she mentions honing patience as if it were a skill, but the members of my table spoke of it as a life necessity. They constantly had to wait to communicate with each other, and thus treasured the real-life conversations they had even more so. Many of the older people at the table stated they were happy with their lives; most young people want to rush through high school, speed through college, find a good job, and immediately find a significant other to settle down with, but the lesson we can take away from them is that it takes a lot of time, work, and patience to achieve all these things we want to happen instantaneously. As we are so used to seeing everything else in our lives coming together very quickly, it’s hard at times to think that what we’re doing in the moment is enough.