My sorority sister, Anna Kate and I pull up to the house in a new subdivision in the city of Bowling Green, that we plan on doing the Kentucky kitchen table assignment at. My roommate Jenna is putting the finishing touches on her vegetable dish while her boyfriend Carter garnishes his mac and cheese. His friend Damien, whom I have never met has brought soda and is pouring some into glasses as Anna Kate settles in and I sear the chicken that Anna Kate and I had brought mostly cooked.
Anna Kate is a sweet blonde haired girl who I have met only a handful of times. She was in my new member class in the Fall of 2017 with my sorority Delta Zeta. Anna Kate is somewhat more southern than the rest of us, evident in her double first name. She’s sweet and a little meek around new people but loves to have a great time no matter what the event. Carter is a large man, a former football player. He’s a gentle giant. Wouldn’t hurt a fly but at 6’2” and over 200 lbs he doesn’t have to do anything for people not to challenge him. He’s boastful and loud at times but thoughtful and the jokester of the group. Jenna jokes he would have made a great jester in medieval times. Jenna, Carter’s counterpart is small in comparison. She’s barely 5’2” but she’s feisty and very opinionated. She’s my best friend and complements Carter and I with her swift comments. She stirs the pot every once in a while and keeps life interesting. Damien turned out to be more observant like me. He’s lanky and cool. He and I set idly listening to the conversation as dinner was being prepared. Throughout the dinner he laughs and smiles before throwing his head back and sighing before answering every question. In a way it’s comforting. The unspoken language of a wallflower when asked to speak.I, myself, am a wallflower type of person. I enjoy being in a social setting just not in the spotlight. My legal first name is Madeline but almost no one calls me by that. Usually I go by Madie, Anna or Smiles depending on who I’m around. I’m fine with Madeline but my friends and family seem to not be. I’m brutally honest at times with candid quips here and there but most of the time I’m fatally awkward, unsure of myself, clambering around in my lanky off-balanced body. My hamartia is my avoidance of conflict yet I’m loyal to my ideas and like to throw my opinion into the mix.
Everyone fills their plates and sits down at the table where a few pictures are snapped and we begin. I start by asking the required question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following the law, what does citizenship mean to you?” Carter answers first talking about being active in the community and everyone builds off of that with Anna Kate adding that we’re protected by the laws and get to take advantage of a multitude of amazing opportunities that come with our US citizenship. Jenna and Damien have a harder time and think on it for a while. Jenna adds that being a citizen means being a part of a bigger community and loving all those that are a part of it even if you aren’t friends with them. Damien talks about the duties citizenship imposes such as being informed about the political happenings within your country and being responsible with the opportunities you have. We all discuss with him the responsibilities we have to our country and if those born into citizenship have more or less responsibilities as citizens.
Between bites of food I ask if anyone had dinners around the table with their family growing up and the impact they think it had on them. Damien turns out to be the only one of us who had everyday dinners at the table with the whole household. Carter had a once a week dinner at the table and the rest of us almost never had family dinners. In my household I am the only person who has used our kitchen table for a meal for over a year. Anna Kate’s family didn’t eat together because the whole family was always so busy with dance lessons and recitals and acting classes. They simply just didn’t have enough time to eat a meal at a table. We all agree that eating at a table together is helpful during development and that we would have all like to have meals like Damien’s family did.
Throughout the evening we discuss career choices, environmentally sustainable food, homelessness, buying local, where we all came from, and fond memories with neighbors and friends. Growing up in Kentucky we all had those barefoot in the backyard amongst friends and lightening bugs stories. We also playfully argue with one another if its lightening bugs or fireflies. (it’s most definitely lightening bugs) It’s interesting to see how everyone grew up and the different perspectives it brings.
Carter and Anna Kate had everything they could possibly desire growing up as children of well off households, Jenna and Damien came from middle class households, and I came from a household that was under the poverty line most of the time. Damien talked about being black and how that has affected how he has seen situations. We discussed Rankine and he explained his encounters with racism and we all discussed solutions. It was interesting to hear about and with the rest of us being white we found it hard to empathize fully. It was a depressing topic but enlightening.
When asked what they think they would give out as advice to their neighbors a few jokes about neighborly issues arise but everyone generally agreed that they wished their neighbors were more open to being friends and they wished to be like in the movies where the neighbors all hang out and have bonfires and dinners. We talked about how American culture has made being close with neighbors a long lost dream. People used to sit outside on porches talking with one another and now people are always on the go or they’re inside watching television. Someone talked about how people just care about themselves now and after some discussion we realized that was quite true.
I learned a lot about how different opinions can come together to form a call to action among a group that better situations that we all see but haven’t done anything about. I also realize how much of an impact our childhood and upbringing has on us. We look at things from an epistemological viewpoint based on our experiences and have to link them together with similarities to relate to one another. From this dinner alone I realize that experiences are the biggest foundation to our opinions. We are either scorned or elated from them.
Jenna wants to be a FCTs education teacher (basically a home ec teacher) because she doesn’t feel like she was prepared for life outside of her parent’s home while going through the public education system, Carter wants to go into broadcasting because he wants to share news with everyone he can to keep them informed and joyful at times, Damien wants to become an actor to bring joy into the world, and I want to go into healthcare administration to make a difference in the lives of the sick. Each of our careers has its place in the world. Without all the different facets we wouldn’t help humanity live better together. You can make a sick person healed but that doesn’t bring joy to them, you can prepare children to avoid food poisoning but life doesn’t always go as planned.
It was interesting to get so philosophical with these people that I now all consider friends after our meal. Jenna and I are realists but Carter and Anna Kate have dreams of the world being perfectly harmonized someday. Damien just wants to provide laughs through the pain. Like we have discussed in class and gathered from our reading, life doesn’t go as planned all the time but we can’t numb the pain without numbing happiness. I think that concept rang true for everyone in the group. We all agreed that life has thrown us around but we wouldn’t give up the pain because the beauty of life is derived from the pain.
Overall, I walked away with a new sense of purpose in life and a reminder of my duties as a citizen. I realized pain and happiness are on scales and sometimes they tip back and forth but they will always even out in the end. We have to buckle ourselves in and be ready for anything to be thrown our way to become the type of person we want to be which as Damien and Jenna pointed out, is ever changing as we get further and further into our journey. According to Carter, you have to pick and sort through the rubble and decide what’s worth fixing. Anna Kate finished off by adding that to do great things and be great people we have to love one another and help those around us stranger or not. She really thinks we are obligated to donate our time to our community and country and I think that’s important. As we all started to clear our plates, we decided we were all going to find something nice to do in the coming weeks before we pack up our stuff and head home for the summer. So if you see two girls picking up trash on the side of the road this week just wave. Jenna and I will probably wave back.