In my family, eating together at a table in the comfort of our home with homemade food is a norm. Almost all our larger family gatherings (birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) are potluck style and every household is responsible for bringing some sort of dish. This assignment felt just like any other large family gathering, just with a few extra guests and a required question. Everybody met at my dining room table at my house on October 12th, 2018 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
I must confess that due to the celebration at hand there were more than 10 people in the house of this table but less than 10 sat at the table that were actively participating in my project. The participating members are pictured below. The older man closest to the front is my grandfather, Rich. He’s 82 years old but has a young heart. My grandfather is one of the smartest and most hardworking people I know even in his old age. Then on his left is my grandmother, Frankie. She’s big on traditions and she loves her family fiercely. This dinner also doubled as a celebration of her 81st birthday, making her the longest person to live on either side of her family. Both my grandparents were born into poor families and were very poor for most of my mom and aunts’ childhoods. My grandfather worked as a mining engineer and worked diligently to earn the respect of his coworkers. My mom has told me many times how hard of a worker and how well respected my grandfather was when he was working at the mine in Carthage, Tennessee. Through frugal living and hard work, my grandparents made a fortune for themselves and they have been able to live beyond comfortably, travel the world, and spoil their daughters in their adulthood and grandchildren from their birth.
My aunt, Darise, is the oldest daughter on my mom’s side of the family. She’s a teacher at a local middle school and probably the most liberal individual in my family. Then there is my dad, Joel, who knows more about sports than ESPN. He played football at Vanderbilt University and has instilled a love for football in his children. He works as a salesman selling some sort of medical test. He was born and raised in a speck of a small town in rural Ohio but moved to Nashville for college where he met my mom who is the next woman in the picture. My mom, Amy, will, by the time I have posted this, have run her fifth half marathon. Both of my parents love the Lord and raised me to do the same. They are passionate about having their children know the history of this country as well as current events.
My aunt, Michelle, has two kids of her own who I am very close too. Her son and my cousin, Ben, is currently working as an English teacher to children in China. He Facetimed us during the meal and we all got to hear about a few funny stories he had so far. Ben confessed that although he doesn’t regret coming to China, he doesn’t enjoy it as much as he thought he would. According to him, the food isn’t that great and the people are very rude. He said that he has more of an appreciation for America and for his family. He doesn’t come home until August 2019 so he still has lots of time left in China. This will be our families first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter without our Benjamin.
The last two people at the table, and dare I say the most important for the sake of this assignment, are friends of my grandparents that they made when they lived in a retirement community called Fairfield Glade in Crossville, Tennessee. My grandparents lived out there with them for 11 years. I have very fond childhood memories of “the Glade” as a lot of our family gathering used to take place around my grandparent’s dining room table instead of my own. The woman’s name is Pat and her husband’s name is Jerry. What I learned about Jerry was that he not only graduated from West Point but did so without any help from his parents. His mom had in her mind that he was going be a minister and had no idea that he had even applied but Jerry defied her by going to West Point.I didn’t get to learn much about his wife, Pat, other than she lived in Detroit for a while and loves the NFL team, the Detroit Lions.
I kicked off the conversation with the key question about citizenship. Michelle was the first to answer. For her, citizenship means being proud to be an American. She looks at living in America as a privilege but also a responsibility. My other aunt, Darise, expanded on that idea and said that she felt that as Americans we don’t just owe citizenship to one another but to other countries. She stressed that we need to prove that although sometimes flawed, America is still one of the best countries in the world to live in. My grandma continued saying America is meant to be a beacon of light to other countries and talked about how she’s been proud to be an American her whole life. My dad, who just came back from a trip to Washington D.C. with my little brother, said that he felt citizenship is the right to assemble and protest peacefully without fear of the consequences. Citizenship to my grandfather meant leaving the world better than you found it. Lastly, Jerry added that Americans have been given the gift of freedom through citizenship and that living here is a privilege. This privilege comes with a price as we need to give back to our country as it has given to us.
During the conversation, my cousin Josh passed through the room and although he was not technically a Kentucky Kitchen Table participant because he did not eat at the table my other participants absolutely insisted on knowing his definition of citizenship. He responded with a quick and simple definition of just where you were born and live. That’s all he thought of because he explained that I hadn’t mentioned America at all but I had just said simply “citizenship”. Before I continue, I think I should point out the diversity in age at my table. Josh is only just now in his 30s. Besides me, my international guest, Ben, is the youngest at 23. My dad, my mom, and both of my aunts are in their 50s and 60s. My grandparents are in their early 80s and their friends are in their mid 70s. Because of the stout age difference between most of the table and Josh, one might jump to the conclusion that Josh’s age was revealed in his response. I don’t know if that’s a fair assumption as I had an answer similar to the more complex and patriotic ones that everyone else was discussing. However, Josh did serve as a reminder of the importance of understanding that everybody may not feel as passionately about citizenship or process that it is more than paying taxes, voting and following the law. Josh stresses the importance of making Americans aware of how blessed they are and informing them what being a citizen encompasses.
After the citizenship question, I decided just to let the conversation flow naturally. We started talking about David Price, the current pitcher of the major league baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. Darise taught David when he was in middle school and Josh played on the same baseball team as him when they were 10. Darise talked about not only what a stellar student David was but how he was very kind. David has not forgotten about Murfreesboro and has done a lot of good things for the community. His most recent and biggest project, a special baseball field and playground for children with physical disabilities. We started talking about how there are people in this world like David, who remain good people despite the temptation to be corrupted by money and fame. They remain their kind selves and the money and popularity only helps them be able to expand their kindness and generosity further. But, there are also people in this world who are corrupted by money and fame. Although these people have the capability to help make the world a better place, they don’t seize their opportunity as they should.
At some point later in the evening, I learned that Pat and Jerry spent time living in Venezuela. This got the group talking about the cultures and differences from other countries to the United States. My whole family has done quite a bit of travel for vacations, work and as I mentioned early I have a cousin currently living in China and another living with her husband on a U.S. naval base in Spain. These are just a few of many international excursions my family and our guests have been on. We talked briefly about the tragedy of natural disasters in places such as Venezuela and Haiti. Though natural disasters have had devastating effects in America ( Hurricane Michael, wildfires in California, Hurricane Harvey etc.) countries like Haiti don’t have the economic or political stability to help people that need it. Haiti must depend almost entirely on individuals or other countries, like the U.S. to step in and help.
Overall, what I think I learned is that even though America has its flaws, it is a gift to live in the United States. This group is well-traveled and thus I feel safe concluding that the United States offers its citizens an opportunity for a wonderful, blessed life. In class, we toyed with the idea of whether Americans should use this opportunity to give back in the form of mission trips when we discussed “To Hell with Good Intentions”. The author argued that Americans should stick to tourism because when we try to help we do more harm than good. However, I think my table and I have concluded that in the terms of one of the key questions we deal with in Honors 251 that Americans can help others only have more say over their lives by representing America well. U.S. citizens can also improve the quality of other lives by donating their time, talent and treasure in helping their neighbors outside the United States. Just as people hope that athletes use their money and fame to make a difference, Americans, who have the resources and power to help people both domestically like David Price and abroad should do so.
I also learned is how lucky I am that I have a family that has sit-down, homemade meals often. I think the fast-paced, workaholic trend in America today pushes people away from both home-cooked meals and taking the time to fellowship with one another during meals. It occurred to me that this project may be one of a few times that some of my classmates have had dinner in this style. The community that one experiences from sharing a meal with other people is irreplaceable. And if nothing else, this project reminded me to be thankful for the country I live in and the family I’ve been given. Time is precious and these family dinners are going to end up being some of my most cherished family memories.
P.S. Here’s a picture of my grandma with her birthday cake and candles.