When I first read the syllabus for Honors 251, I saw the description for Kentucky Kitchen Table and immediately started to stress out. I didn’t know when I would be able to come home to do the project, or if anybody I knew would even be willing to help me by agreeing to be interviewed. After the explanation given in class, though, I figured it would be better to get it over with. Since I was going home this past weekend, I asked my parents if it would be okay to host a Kentucky Kitchen Table when I came home. We were already hosting a potluck that Sunday, so they suggested that I sit down all the people I wanted to interview at one table and ask them my questions about citizenship. Before the event, I asked the ladies I wanted to interview if they would be okay doing it while they were at my house and they all agreed. My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place at my home in Mayfield, Kentucky on October 15, 2017. I hosted the event on a Sunday morning after church services in my family’s 4 car garage. We ate a potluck style meal, with lots of home-cooking that I hadn’t had in weeks. I was overjoyed to be able to eat food that wasn’t a greasy pizza or burger. This was the first chance I had since school has started to see anybody from church and say more than “Hello. Yes, school is going well.” I was excited to have the opportunity to have a real discussion with women who helped make me into the person I am today.
I invited several women who go to church with me back home to participate in this project. There were 7 women and 1 little boy present during the conversation. Mrs. Peggy is an independent woman who lives alone and is famous in Mayfield for her hostess skills. Ms. Marti is a widow who spends her days knitting blankets for expectant mothers in our congregation. Mrs. Pat is an Avon saleswoman who met her husband of 52 years while attending Western Kentucky University (her three children later went on to attend there). Mrs. Kay is a Chicago native who has three children, one of whom joined the military. She spends her days now watching her 2 youngest grandchildren for her other son. Mrs. Janice works at the local senior center in Mayfield and has a grandson that I babysit regularly during the summers. My mother also attended, and she is a high school Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at McCracken County High School. Also at the table was Brayden, the 5-year-old grandson of Mrs. Janice, but he was more concerned with eating the sugar cookies my mom had made instead of contributing to the conversation about citizenship. None of these women seem to have any particular qualities in common, beyond their belief in God, but all of these women are very close to each other. These are the type of women who care for others needs before their own and have taught me to try and do the same. I was curious to see what some of their answers would be to the questions I was supposed to ask.
I knew that I really had no reason to be, but I was a little nervous to discuss some of the questions with these women. Most of them are very conservative minded, so I had a general idea of what answers to expect, but I also didn’t know how they would react to being interviewed. Also, a few of these women were elder’s wives, which means they can hold sway over my dad’s job as a preacher, so if I said something that came off wrong, it could potentially negatively impact my dad’s position. They already knew that this project was for school, and were very willing to help. Some of the answers that came out during the meal actually didn’t seem 100% conservative, and that honestly shocked me. I was happy to have diversity, that I wasn’t yet aware of, present at our kitchen table.
I began our conversation by asking the basic question of what citizenship meant to each of the strong women at that kitchen table. Mrs. Peggy and Mrs. Marti responded that citizenship to them meant freedom, and I asked for an elaboration from the group on what that meant. Mrs. Kay responded that to her, citizenship meant putting your hand over your heart when you hear the national anthem, and that you stand when you hear the pledge of allegiance. To Mrs. Pat, citizenship means being able to worship freely, and to everyone else at the table, they all responded that citizenship meant having the right to freedom of speech. One of the most interesting answers I got was when I asked these women what kind of community they wanted to live in. Mrs. Kay answered that she wanted to live in a world where she didn’t have to lock her doors at night, which seemed a bit odd to me since I know she is from Chicago. After thinking about her response, I later figured that she has learned a lot from small-town life and craves that experience for the rest of the country, even in places that are more densely populated. Everyone at the table responded that a community with unlocked doors was something they crave as well. When thinking back to the video we watched in class of the little Japanese girl who was run over by a moving truck, I asked all the ladies if they felt that we had a moral responsibility to help people in our community and the world, and they all unanimously responded that we all have a responsibility to help our fellow neighbor. I can’t remember who said it, but one of the women responded that that is part of what being a Christian is all about. When asked what advice they would give to their neighbors, the advice that really stuck out to me was to always put others first. Mrs. Kay agreed with that statement and went a step farther to say that God comes first, then others, and then you. One of the last questions I asked was whether or not they had meals at a kitchen table with their neighbors and family growing up. They all smiled and started to reminisce about their childhood. One commented that she enjoyed these meals because it gave her family a chance to catch up after a long day of work. Another commented that she enjoyed these types of meals because it was time for families to nurture their relationships with each other.
As our conversation progressed throughout the meal, I found myself thinking back to the readings we did on empathy by Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams) . These women I interviewed have all had vastly different life experiences, and I know that I will never experience what it’s like to go through some of the hardships they have gone through, so the best I can do is imagine what they have been through and try to empathize once they start discussing their childhood experiences. When I did ask that question about social issues, all of those present chose issues that they had experience with, which also relates back to the idea that empathy can influence your decisions when you are close to a situation. Because of life experiences, women’s rights were an answer that came up almost immediately when asked about what social issues resonated closely with them. A few of these women were widowed fairly young, so this issue is important to them because they were left to provide for themselves, and even their children, in a world that only a few years ago, wouldn’t have given them the option to work. I have never been in a situation where I wasn’t allowed to work or do something because I’m a woman, so listening to their answers elicited empathy from me.
What really stood out to me during the meal was that even after I had finished asking questions pertaining to the assignment, the conversation still went back to topics about citizenship. At one point, towards the end of the meal, Mrs. Kay even looked at me and said, “Put this in your assignment.” as they were discussing citizenship later when they thought my interview was over. This helped me realize how important the topic of citizenship was to everyone, including people you normally don’t think about being extremely patriotic. It also taught me how drastically America has changed, even in the past few years. If you had asked any of these women to interview someone while they were in college about if they ate at a kitchen table growing up, they would have laughed because virtually everyone did that.
Overall, this experience was very rewarding to me. I was not sure how the project would work out at home, but it was really enlightening to see how these women’s life experiences have shaped their view of our society and country. I enjoyed getting to learn more about the way my role models think, and it helped me learn how many different interpretations of citizenship there really are. Overall, the women at my Kentucky Kitchen Table were proud to be citizens of the United States of America, and I am proud that I had the chance to interview all of them.