The Setting + People:
My “Kentucky Kitchen Table” dinner took place on March 31, 2018, in my paternal grandmother’s home just outside of Lexington, KY. The meal was mostly graciously prepared by my grandmother, who insisted upon cooking as it is one of her most favorite hobbies and she has always loved having people over. She prepared chili, pimiento sandwiches, and provided many clementines. To help out, I roasted sweet potatoes and Brussel sprouts and baked cupcakes (which I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of). Including myself, our dinner party had eight attendees. To open the recap of the conversations that took place at the meal, I will first introduce each one of the attendees.
My name is Liz and I am currently a junior mathematical economics major at Western Kentucky University with minors in finance and business administration.
My grandmother, Sue, is 72 years old and is from Paris, KY. She ran farms for most of her life, both in Paris and in Syracuse, New York. She retired 15 years ago from a Butternut bakery in Winchester and now lives in a house right across the street with my wonderful step-grandfather.
My grandfather, Gary, is 81 years old and he is from Indiana where he was one of 12 siblings. He is retired now as well, but he managed bread delivery routes when he was still working and met my grandmother when he was briefly my father’s boss, and they hit it off. They’ve been married since about five years before I was born and have always been very involved in mine and my sister’s lives; we honestly couldn’t have asked for better grandparents. Also, before moving on, I must mention that both of my grandparents in attendance are very religious and involved in a local church and their faith is very important to them.
My little sister, Shannon, is 18 years old and will be graduating high school this year. She has played soccer her whole life as I did, but unlike me she will be playing college soccer for Campbellsville University starting in the fall. She is very sarcastic, but she is smart and has a very good heart.
My mother, Anita, is 49 years old and is from Bath County, Kentucky. She grew up in a low-income home for most of her life and was put out by her divorced parents once she graduated high school and has had to essentially fend for herself ever since. This adversity has made her strong, and she can be very fierce and set in her ways. She currently works very hard alongside my dad in the bread distribution business to meet and exceed our family’s needs and wants.
My father, Bill, just turned 52 and is a very kind-hearted man who has worked in the bread distribution industry his whole life. He went to college for a while when he was younger, as all of his siblings and step siblings did, but had to drop out during his second semester due to a tragic car accident that left in the hospital for over a month. He is often the calm voice of reason to my mother and is very thoughtful and caring.
My boyfriend, Andrew, is 27 years old and was born and raised in Winchester. His father is a preacher and his family is very religious. He always went to private Christian schools growing up, and played baseball for Asbury University in college, where he studied business. He now works full-time at a warehouse selling various electronic equipment as a desk sales representative in the office. He is a very warm and kindhearted guy, and always looks for the best in people and things around him.
Finally, my neighbor Mackenzie also attended the dinner. Although she has been my neighbor for as long as I can remember, I have never really gotten to know her very well due to the gap in our ages. She is sixteen years old and attends my old high school, where she is a competitive swimmer. She got into swimming about 8 years ago and it has consumed her life ever since. She loves the water and even got her first primary job as a lifeguard so she could be near the pool even when she wasn’t at practice. She had many interesting insights that I never would have seen coming from her throughout this dinner. I am grateful that this experience has helped me see more of who she really is.
I opened our dinner conversation by asking the required question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”. My father answered by saying that it meant he had the opportunity to be whatever he wants to be, and everyone agreed. I asked my grandfather what citizenship meant to him next, and he described it as “the hottest commodity America has to offer” due to the fact that so many people attempt to immigrate into our country on a daily basis. This struck a nerve within the group, and began a fierce discussion (or, better put, a rant) about immigration, the right and wrong ways to go about it, and moral and ethical issues with treating illegal immigrants leniently. My mother especially tried to dominate this topic. She had to deal with them a lot while managing a local greenhouse; with all of the frustrations that arose with background checks failing, false social security I.D.s, and troubles that occasionally arose with legal liabilities, my mom has become rather bitter towards immigrants who do not achieve legalization. My neighbor stayed quiet throughout this discussion; I had the idea that she was more sympathetic towards immigrants and was afraid to express her dissent to my older family members. My grandparents and parents then began talking about how they felt that Americans have become really and abnormally patriotic and protective over their citizenship since 9/11, and that they agreed with the movement and they were all proud to be an American.
The next question I asked once the previous discussion had lulled a bit was whether or not my fellow attendees believed we have obligations to other people in our country and/or in our community. I phrased this as “do we owe our neighbors anything?” at a point which got a laugh out of the group as we looked at Mackenzie and Shannon shot a joking “no” at her as Mackenzie blushed. Moving to a serious note, my parents quickly asserted that we do not owe anything to anyone, per se. Everyone agreed that it should be a “goodness of heart” thing, as my father put it, as opposed to something that is required of you. However, everyone at the table agreed that you should morally help as many people as you can, especially if they have helped you, but once again the decision to do so should be left entirely up to the individual. I then brought up the video we watched in class about the Chinese toddler getting hit by two large vehicles and people passing by her and not helping. This drew a strong reaction as everyone was horrified at the thought of the event. Shannon and Mackenzie did not even believe me that it had really occurred, at first. The attendees then, essentially as a group, backtracked a little and agreed that in certain extreme circumstances such as this one, you really should be obliged to help. My grandfather then interjected and concluded that America is by far one of the most charitable countries and that we should work to maintain that reputation as being a good and moral country, whether we are technically obliged to or not.
I then prompted the dinner’s attendees to reflect on a time when they’ve had a conversation with someone from a different background. Andrew was the first to pipe up, talking about how he took a chance and moved in with a guy from work that he didn’t know very well named Zach. Zach was a marine and has had vastly different life experiences than Andrew, but somehow, they have been able to make it work and have grown very close since moving in together. My grandpa then began talking about a time when he was still supervising bread routes and was tasked with training African American individuals in a ghetto area in Cincinnati. He said there were many difficulties at first because many of them couldn’t add very well and they had a very different vernacular language from what he was used to. By working with them for years, however, my grandpa learned to work with them much better and said they learned a lot from each other. My grandma brought up a story about when she moved to New Jersey and people would follow her and make appointments specifically with her so that they could hear her Southern accent. My mom finally concluded with a humorous story about her interactions with my step-aunt Debbie, who is a licensed and well-renowned psychologist who cried when she first met my mom due to being distressed about my mother’s “obvious emotional baggage”.
The response to the final prompt was intriguing. When I asked the group what they thought the best thing about the world today is, I was answered with a long pause. The pause was finally broken when my father said “oh, that’s a hard one.” As sad as it is, no one had anyone to say right off and this prompt really seemed to stump them. My father then answered “freedom”, and Mackenzie soon after added about how amazing it is that countries more easily work together to do amazing things, such as search for cures for cancer and provide humanitarian relief to those in need. My grandfather then acknowledged missionaries’ great work spreading love and the word of God to people around the world. My father believed the best thing to be that he has his own little world, gesturing to everyone at the table, and that was enough for him. My favorite answer, however, was my grandmother’s. She stated simply that the greatest thing about the world was that beautiful things are free. This started a warm conversation about the little things we experience every day that are so beautiful and don’t cost us anything, such as hearing the laugh of a friend or watching the sun set. Andrew then concluded that we all have so much living in the circumstances we do, but we take it all for granted and we should all focus on being thankful more.
This conversation undoubtedly relates to the themes we have discussed in HON 251 this semester, especially to our theme of “how do we live better (or, at the least, less badly) together?”. I think it very important to hear from a variety of perspectives when considering an issue, whether that variety is coming from differing experiences, age, socioeconomic statuses, etc. There are many things I learned from this conversation that I would not have been aware of previously, such as the notion that patriotism has increased and shaped American thought since 9/11 (which, being so young when it happened, I had no real way of comparing the way things were before to how they are now) without the insights of my older family members.
I also saw our class reading, “If It Feels Right,” come into play in this conversation. Although many of the people in attendance had differing views on some issues, they all ultimately agreed that what mattered the most to them was their “own little world” and they felt that the best thing they could do in life would be to take decisions day-by-day and to just do whatever feels right and makes them feel like they’re bettering the world a little bit whenever possible.