My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in my home in the small town of Leitchfield, Kentucky. Leitchfield is in Grayson County and is about an hour drive away from Bowling Green. My dinner took place on April 15, 2018 after church. There were six people at my kitchen table not including myself. The names of the people around my table are (from left to right of me in the green dress): Henry Thomas (first and middle name), Steve, Mac, Bob, and Claire and my mother, Lisa, who chose not to be in the picture. I asked these individuals to my table because I had grown up being friends with Claire and had always gone to church with her family, but thought that this would be a great opportunity to get to know them better. First and foremost, my name is Ashley. I am pre-medicine and majoring in chemistry and minoring in biology. While I currently have enough college credit hours to be almost a junior status, it is my first year attending Western Kentucky University. Henry Thomas, known as “H.T.” to everyone, is a 93-year-old veteran who served in World War II and received a purple heart for getting shot in the arm while serving in Germany. Steve is a retired farmer who has three beautiful grandchildren that he loves with all of his heart. Mac is also a farmer who although had a stroke a while back, still does everything that he can to ensure that his farm stays functioning. Bob is the father of Claire; he is currently working at a law office, but also worked part time at the fire department in the past. Claire is a second-year medical school student at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and is currently thinking of specializing in a field rather than becoming a family physician. Lastly, my mother, Lisa, is a high school social studies teacher at the only high school in the county, Grayson County High School.
For our meal, my mother helped me make chicken, vegetables, and bread. Claire’s family brought a chocolate cake for us to have for dessert. Overall, while everyone at the table grew up either on a farm or around a farm and shared similar beliefs, they all shared unique perspectives on each topic brought up during the dinner. When asked what citizenship meant to them, the reply of Henry Thomas stood out the most to me mostly because of his respectable military past. Henry Thomas said, “To me citizenship is more than just abiding by the law and voting in yearly elections; it is showing that you are devoted enough to the privilege of freedom that you are willing to take time to do something for someone else. Whether it be a huge commitment like serving your country, or simply helping someone through community service, practicing citizenship is the concept of serving others before yourself.” Claire also agreed to the statement made by her grandfather adding that the concept of helping others is what drove her towards wanting to become a physician. It was never the thought that she may be financially well off, she wanted to spend her life making a difference in other people’s lives. My mother added that ever since she was a little girl she knew that she wanted to choose a career in which she could help others, so when she told her family that she was choosing to be a teacher, it was no surprise to them. Moreover, like his father Henry Thomas, Bob also had experience risking his life to ensure the safety of others by fighting fires, but he made the point to add that more individuals should contribute to local organizations that help the county run like the fire department.
Furthermore, when I asked the table what social issue is closest to their heart and why, each individual provided me with unique sides to each issue. My mother, Lisa, said that children going hungry and without love were two of the biggest things that bothered her each year as a teacher. My mother is unique in the fact that at the start of each week she asks students about their weekends each Monday through their bellwork and she always takes the time to read through each response and write at least a paragraph back. She said that we could not even begin to imagine the things that students had admitted to enduring over the two short days that they weren’t in school. She said the really sad thing is that students readily told her what their situations were, but no one else gave them that opportunity so often times those stories stayed bottled up. Over the course of her years she has been able to help many children, but she knows that there are always far more that she never gets to reach. Whenever Henry Thomas answered the question he related it to veterans and how they are treated when they come back from war. Living it first hand, whenever Henry Thomas came back from World War II, he struggled to be himself again for a long time and did not even think about seeking mental help. He believes now that there is factual evidence that post dramatic stress disorder is something that veterans suffer from, that each individual who served no matter how old, should have free access to services because even at 93 years old he still has flashbacks. When Claire answered the question about which social issue was close to her heart she answered that parents vaccinating their children was one that constantly bothered her. Since entering the medical field, Claire has seen first-hand the effects of what has happened since parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children. Diseases that were once thought eradicated have been coming back and it all due to the fact that some parents are choosing against getting vaccinations that would protect their children and others. Claire believes that the choice should be taken out of the parents’ hands and that all children should be vaccinated in order to not only protect the health of the individual child, but everyone else’s child as well.
Overall what I learned from the dinner was that even if individuals grow up with the same background such as Claire’s family, they can all hold different opinions and values on issues. I had known that Henry Thomas had served in World War II, but after hearing some of the things that he endured and seeing that he still turned out to be the person that he is today, I respected him immensely. I also strive to have a husband that loves me as much as he loves his late wife, Betty Jo. They were married for 65 years, and although she has been gone for over two years now due to Alzheimer’s Disease, he still talks about her like she is the best thing that ever happened to him. I also was not aware that Bob served as a volunteer fire fighter. Hearing some of the stories about how he barely made it out of burning homes also gave me a new-found respect for him. Moreover, although I have grown up hearing my mother’s stories all of my life I felt so proud to call her my mother hearing her talk about how passionate she was about helping the youth of our community.
My dinner relates to what we learned in our class because we often talked about whether or not we have a duty to help others, and each of the individuals at my table believed that yes; we do have a duty to help others when we have the means. Whenever talking to both my mother and Claire and her family, I was reminded of Jane Addams writings. In her writings, Jane expressed how she, like the individuals at my table, believed that people should stop coming up with excuses and start serving others. Furthermore, my dinner also related to one of the central themes of the class: how can we live better together (or at least less worse together)? This was seen as every single one of the individuals at my table was/is able to make a difference in the world by working to not just benefit themselves, but others. Whether it be through serving their community or country, providing food for their family and others, teaching the next generation, or helping to improve the health of others, everyone makes the world a little more colorful by adding their splash of uniqueness.
In conclusion, I thought that this was a very interesting assignment in the sense that not only did I get to enjoy a delicious meal and dessert, but I also got to get to know a wonderful family who have each made it their mission in life to help serve others. I hope in the future I can do this again, not for the purpose of an assignment, but to get to know the stories of more and more individuals that I otherwise would not have the opportunity to do so.