Starting left and going around the table: Larry, Brian, Melissa, Mikaela, Ann, then Mackenzie (me-front center)
My Kentucky Kitchen Table meal took place on Sunday, November 4, 2018. I hosted the dinner at my grandmother’s house in Powderly, Kentucky – a small city in Muhlenberg County. I had five guests at my meal. My first guest was my father, Brian, who is a lifelong citizen of Muhlenberg County. He works at a manufacturing plant called Logan Aluminum as a general technician. He is the sole financial provider for my family. He is also the world’s biggest fan of the Kentucky Wildcats, and I must add that I have never seen something broken he could not fix. My second guest was my mother, Melissa, who has lived both in Pontiac, Michigan during her early childhood years, and in Muhlenberg County for the rest of the time. She used to work for a supply company at a local sporting goods store called Uncle Lee’s when I was younger, but she decided to become a stay-at-home mom because she was missing out on so many valuable memories as my sister and I grew up. This decision is one of the best things that I think could have happened for my family because it has allowed us to create such a close bond and truly appreciate all that she does for us. She is truly the glue that holds us together. Neither Brian or Melissa attended college, but Brian has taken a few courses here and there to move up positions at work. Also, neither Brian or Melissa came from very wealthy families. They both came from families on the lower side of middle class. Melissa’s father, a coal miner, passed away when she was only sixteen years old. This sudden loss took a great toll on her, my grandmother, and my uncle both emotionally and financially, but they still made it work and never went without. To continue, my next guest was my sister, Mikaela, who is in her first year of teaching second grade in Logan County, Kentucky. She graduated from Murray State University this spring with a degree in elementary education. She is a lover of all things from Target, and she is quite easily my best friend. My grandmother, Ann, was also there and allowed me to host the meal in her home. She cooked a majority of the dishes we served for dinner, and Melissa cooked the rest. The recipes Ann and Melissa used have been ones that we have followed and served for numerous occasions my whole life. Ann is a retired elementary school janitor and lunch lady, who now cleans at a local appliance store because she cannot sit still, even in her retirement. She has a heart of pure gold, and she never ceases to make you smile. My fifth guest was my uncle, Larry, who is a former butcher at a local grocery store and a current employee at Carhartt. He is a total jokester, and he keeps us on our toes. Of course, both Ann and Larry have also lived in Pontiac, Michigan since they are my extended family members on Melissa’s side. Finally, there was me, Mackenzie. I am a freshman at Western Kentucky University majoring in Elementary Education.
Before starting the conversation, I had some expectations for how the conversation would go. I was worried I would have to pry a lot to get my guests to engage in the conversation, but I also was pretty certain I knew what to expect based purely off of the majority of my family’s political and religious standpoints. Brian, specifically, has very strong Republican values, so I anticipated he would have a lot to say for my questions. I expected my other guests to follow his lead once he said his thoughts, but I was definitely surprised when the conversation began. As planned, I started the conversation by asking the mandatory question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Ann was actually the first to respond by simply saying, “Freedom.” I asked my other guests to elaborate more and expand on the idea of citizenship, and Melissa began naming more qualities of a good citizen by saying, “Trustworthiness and honesty.” Mikaela and Larry agreed with Melissa. At this point, I realized that Brian was being quiet, which was definitely out of character for him. I asked what he thought about the question and he said he agreed with freedom, but he also pointed out the importance of serving in a community role. Whether that be through volunteering, starting a community organization, serving in local offices, or so on, he expressed that it is necessary that good citizens work toward the greater good of the community. That being said, he believes a large part of being a good citizen is looking out for and taking care of others. This conjecture led me into my next question perfectly: “Do you think we have any obligations to other people in our country or our community?” All of my guests astoundingly agreed that we have a role to help others in our country and our community as much as we can. Brian, although he brought the idea up prior to my question, admitted that he does not always take the time or make an effort to do all he possibly could to help others. I pressed on by asking whether they believed their religious views led them to feeling that it was their duty to help others, and they all agreed that it definitely did. Brian, Melissa, Mikaela, Ann, Larry, and I all identify as Christians, so service to others means a lot to us spiritually. In addition to this, I believe that religious views even contributed to the kinds of persons my guests wanted to be when asked. I received answers such as kind, caring, thoughtful, faithful, dependable, honest, and so on. These answers line up a lot with the ideas of what my guests believed embodies a good citizen.
From this point, I decided to see what my guests thought about how their jobs measured up as far as serving a special purpose. Brian and Larry were quick to say no because they both work factory jobs. In my opinion, they do not know how it serves a special purpose because they do not always really see the ways their products are used worldwide. However, Melissa was quick to remind Brian that his job was what has financially supported my family for years. Mikaela had a much different answer to this question. Because she is an elementary school teacher, she serves a huge role in society as an educator, a role model, and a motivator for children of all different backgrounds. She literally is teaching and shaping the future of America every day, and it is a job that she is very passionate about. Because Ann is retired, she did not have much to say about jobs except that she completely believes in the importance of each role of the public-school system in Kentucky from teachers, to administrators, to janitorial and cafeteria staff, and so on.
A final point worth noting from our discussion at my meal was my guest’s answers for the question: “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Mikaela was the first to answer by saying that poverty and hunger were very close to her heart. As a teacher, these issues were so evident to her and brought her to exhibit such empathy because schools consist of students from all different socioeconomic statuses. The rest of my guests strongly agreed with Mikaela in that poverty and hunger were social issues that they cared deeply about. The conversation sparked Melissa and Ann to tell stories of their involvement in Thanksgiving food drives and other donations they had made to those in need. The answers to this question helped my guests reevaluate just how much they have looked out for those in their community, and hopefully even encouraged them to look for ways to be more involved in the future.
One of the overall themes I noticed at my Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner was definitely one that I had anticipated and touched on a little earlier. My guests based a lot of their answers on their religious outlooks and moral beliefs. For example, through the conversation I learned that my family really appreciates living where we do because of the simple, laid-back lifestyle it has. They enjoy that people in our community hold similar values and morals to us. This example was one of many instances throughout the meal that reiterated that religion and morals truly are a sort of handbook for how many citizens live their lives, especially in the Bible Belt where we live. I was not at all surprised that my guests placed so much importance on morals because for a majority of people, moral aspects rule the mind since they are what lie in our hearts. As the reading, “The Irrational Dog and Its Intuitive Tail” by Jonathan Haidt noted, many people make moral decisions based on the emotions in their hearts. Haidt elaborated by saying that we reason about what is wrong and what is right because of what we feel emotionally – that reason serves to support our emotions.
When I was first given the Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment for my Honors Citizen and Self class, I expected it to be a bit of a hassle to get my family involved. On the contrary, it turned out to be really interesting to see how the people I have literally grown up with think and to learn things about them I never knew before. While my guests and I frequently have dinners around the table, never before have we had such a thought-provoking conversation and discussion as this. It allowed me to see more of why I think and feel the way I do. I have definitely developed plenty of my own views, but I cannot deny the relationship between my family’s views and my own. This dinner has allowed me to realize even more how truly blessed I am to be surrounded by such a loving, supportive family that encourages me to think freely and serve others.
Overall, this assignment really relates to what we have been learning in Honors 251 because a lot of the questions asked of my guests provoked answers that could be applied to our three central questions. I believe that if we truly began to look out for each other more and realize that we do have an obligation to help those around us, we could solve so many issues our country faces on the daily basis. Many of the themes that we have discussed in class such as morality, empathy, and education were topics that quickly arose during my dinner, even with little provocation on my part. This really taught me that generally, we can agree on what is important of citizens and what we can do to live better together and help others.