On October 22, 2017, I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table in the rural town of Gamaliel, Kentucky. Gamaliel is a small town located in Monroe County and boasts a population of around 500 inhabitants. A total of 10 adults and three children attended my Kentucky Kitchen Table. These included my father Grady, my mother Cindi, sister Zena, grandmother Faye, grandfather Garon, uncle Geoff, aunt LaDonna, cousin Grayson, cousin Gibson, and Gibson’s wife Tessa. Grady is an emergency room doctor and Cindi homeschools my sister Zena, who is a senior in high school. Faye and Garon are retired, with Garon formerly working as a mechanic and then as the founder of Gamaliel Shooting Supply, the family business. Geoff manages the Shooting Supply, and LaDonna is an interior designer. Grayson is a sales representative at the Shooting Supply, Gibson is the communications director, and Tessa stays at home with their adopted son, Gideon. The family members present represented four generations of Pares and brought unique and diverse perspectives to the figurative and literal table.
My family began the dinner with a prayer led by my uncle, and then I provided a general description of the purpose of the dinner and of the class. To begin our discussion, I asked the only required question for the dinner: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” As different members of my family voiced their opinions, a common theme quickly became prevalent: each individual believed that citizenship meant having pride in your country and in how you treat your fellow citizens. I was specifically interested in how the different generations represented would view different social issues. However, the generation gap did not seem to play a large role in their responses. Rather, each individual member of my family stressed the importance of citizenship and its role in our society today. As the conversation shifted between topics, I noticed, not for the first time, but in a new way, how tight-knit, respectful, and appreciative my family is. Despite having differing opinions on some topics, no one spoke over another, no arguments developed, and the mood was consistently jovial. This made the conversation much easier and allowed for people to feel they could truly voice their opinion.
After first allowing the conversation to continue organically, I realized that people were getting off topic. Thus, I decided to proceed through the list of provided questions and have people answer the question directly. Once someone had answered the question, others would join in and agree or disagree or even provide a personal experience of their own. I found one of my favorite parts of the discussion occurred when someone would share a personal experience in relation to a question, and then an entire conversation would develop between that family member and another, resulting in multiple side conversations that were all related to the topic at hand.
One of the first questions I asked was for someone to share a time that they had a conversation or interaction with someone from a very different background. Gibson and Tessa immediately spoke up and detailed the interactions they had with native Taiwanese while they were adopting their son, Gideon. Several years ago, they attempted to adopt a child from an orphanage in the Republic of the Congo. When this fell through, they turned to Taiwan in order to find the next member of the Pare family. Throughout the adoption process, Gibson, Tessa, Geoff, and LaDonna visited Taiwan multiple times, and Tessa even spent several months straight there while going through the legal section of the adoption process. While she was there, she was reliant on the generosity and assistance native people of Taiwan for everything in her daily life. Because Tessa is an adopted child, she demonstrates one important facet of being a citizen- the willingness to care and provide for others in order to help improve their quality of life. Tessa’s history and familiarity with the adoption process caused Gibson and her to want to adopt their children.
When I asked for other examples, Grady began discussing his time spent as a doctor in the E.R. and how he often interacted and treated patients from all walks of life. He referred to having seen the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics, terminally ill, and even a member of the brutally violent gang MS-13. As a doctor, he was expected to view and care for each patient equally, regardless of race, gender, religion, or social status. Everyone in my family supported this statement, which led into a brief discussion on my group deliberation regarding the mental health of EMS providers, a category which Grady falls into.
I quickly affirmed my suspicion that one of the issues closest to my family’s heart was freedom. As the owners of a gun store, my family is often presented with arguments from those opposing freedoms provided by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. While we fully support the Second Amendment, we also believe that the many other freedoms provided by the Constitution are paramountly important to the meaning of citizenship. Gibson pointed out that the freedom of religion embodies part of what it means to be a citizen- coexisting in harmony with those who have any religion, or even no religion at all. However, as Christians, our religion comes with a caveat- one of the tenets of our faith is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This plays a large role in our citizenship; we become a better citizen by loving those around us and helping to provide a better way of life for those whom we have the opportunity to help. Geoff also brought up the point that, in the United States, we live with no immediate fear of war. The peaceful living situation provided to us as citizens of the United States opens the door to incredible opportunities to promote change, make the world a better place, or simply do nothing. Grayson agreed, saying that one of the best things about being a citizen in a free country is that we have no obligations. Our freedom was won in order to have the ability to participate and also the ability to not participate at all. While voting, paying taxes, and following laws are important aspects of being a citizen, the freedoms provided by the United States of America allows citizens to exercise all, some, or none of these fundamental rights.
Following this spirited discussion between Uncle Geoff and his sons, we took a break from debating citizenship to enjoy another aspect of citizenship: the ability to spend time with family and enjoy good food! The conversation shifted for several minutes to the delicious dishes provided by Cindi, LaDonna, Faye, and Tessa. After dining on pork loins, mashed potatoes, cauliflower salad, rolls, macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, and topping off dinner with Cindi’s delicious apple pie, the conversation turned back to citizenship. Before I even had the opportunity to present the question, Zena asked my grandfather Garon what social issue he was most interested in. While Garon thought about his answer, I asked other family members to chime in on the topic. Their responses were widespread and somewhat surprising to me. However, a common theme seemed to be earning what you make. Grady mentioned that he believed one of the greatest issues facing society was changing the mentality regarding people having a willingness to work versus having a willingness to receive unnecessary help from others. The rest of my family immediately agreed. Because my family has owned a small business since 1976, hard work has been one of the many values instilled in each generation of our family. During dinner there was a general appreciation of those who work for every dollar they earn. Nevertheless, this was not the only social issue brought to the table. Zena, who has earned a minor in American Sign Language through WKU despite only being a senior in high school, has a passion for educating the public of the fact that deafness is not a mental illness. She brought this up in response to her own question, and I was surprised to learn that many people view deafness as something that can prevent those who experience it from doing normal, everyday things. It was only after we had discussed all of these answers that I realized Garon never answered the question! However, I decided to pose another question to him. Upon asking him what kind of person he wants to be, he responded that he hopes to be someone who is peaceful, patient, and forgiving. This statement was echoed by Grayson and Gibson, who claimed that they are responsible for their own actions and ensuring that their actions are used to help others. As soon as they mentioned this, I immediately thought of If It Feels Right, an article by David Brooks. In this article, Brooks argues that many young adults in America believe moral choices are a matter of individual taste and that they only undergo actions that promote their own personal well being. As Grayson and Gibson spoke, I realized that these two young men were saying the complete opposite of what Brooks claims. They viewed the world through the the idea that it was their responsibility to be as good of a neighbor as possible and realized that their actions affected many more lives than just their own.
Before we ended our dinner and discussion, I decided to pose one final question to my family. Because my family’s political views are fairly consistent throughout, I was interested to hear what advice they would offer to an incoming political candidate. From my sister to my granddad, everyone agreed that politicians who wish to be successful and invoke real change should strive with all their might to keep the promises they make on the campaign trail. Zena made the insightful comment that the first lie is the one that hurts the most. Once a politician has been labeled as a promise-breaker, they will never be trusted again. I thought this was very interesting in regards to the most recent presidential candidates. Both of our candidates in the last presidential election repeatedly made promises they were either unwilling or unable to keep, and this lowered their favorability in the eyes of the voters.
When I first read about this assignment, I thought it sounded very interesting and I knew I would enjoy having a thoughtful and intentional discussion with my family. The fact that my mother, aunt, and grandmother are excellent cooks was just a happy coincidence! After completing my meal, I realized that the experience lived up to my original expectations. The type of open, reasonable discussion that occurred around the dinner table is an excellent way to discuss difficult topics while respecting the opinions and ideas of others. Hopefully, the knowledge I gained from hosting my Kentucky Kitchen Table will allow me to be more attentive to the ways I speak to and interact with others and help me to become a better family member and citizen.