My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place at my parent’s house in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We had salad, pizza casserole, Texas toast, Snicker’s apple salad, and brownies for dinner. We had a conversation unlike any discussion that has occurred in in Honors 251.
When first posed with the question “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”, the table was silent. Citizenship is hard to define without those three things. Answering the question was very dependent on the person and their place in life. Scott, Shaune, Travis, Sam, Murphey, Lorelai, and I were sitting at the table thinking about an answer.
Scott and Shaune, who is my second cousin, have been married for sixteen years. Scott is currently unemployed but worked for PPG for about twenty years. Shaune is a nurse at the Medical Center in Bowling Green. They have an eleven-year-old daughter who is a sixth grader at Plano Elementary School. They go to a Baptist church here in town. Shaune is from Campbellsville, Kentucky. Scott is from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Both went to college at the University of Kentucky.
Travis and Sam are also a married couple. Travis works at Lawn Doctor of Bowling Green. Sam is currently back in college. Travis served in the military after high school. He did two semesters in college but never got a degree. Sam is the daughter of the chemical stockroom manager and the stepdaughter of one of the chemistry professors at Western Kentucky University. Travis and Sam have been together for about ten years, and they got married a year ago. They bought a house recently.
Murphey is an electrical engineering major here at WKU. He is the member of the Big Red Marching Band and jazz band. Murphey is from Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he went attended Greenwood High School. Murphey is a new friend of mine.
Lorelai is a junior at South Warren High School, where she plays the baritone in the concert band at her school. Lorelai is the daughter of one of the engineering professors at WKU. I became friends with Lorelai while in high school.
I am journalism major at WKU. I am from Bowling Green, Kentucky, where I attended South Warren High School. I am a member of the BRMB and attend Christian Student Fellowship events on campus. I go to a Baptist church with my family.
Now, this does not look like the most diverse group at first glance, but it is more diverse than it sounds. Everyone has lived different lives and approaches things differently. Each person’s interests and values make us drastically different from the person next to us. Each of us have learned how to go about life, and its many struggles, in a different way. Scott and Shaune were inclined to give more practical, traditional advice. Travis and Sam gave answers like people who are young and just trying to make a place for themselves in this world. Murphey and I spent most of the time wide-eyed and clueless, uncertain that we really knew anything. Lorelai stared at her plate, feeling that she knew nothing about citizenship because she is only sixteen. The diversity of our group was our differences. So, while it was not a traditionally diverse group, it was diverse.
Once the beginning question was asked, it became clear that no really knew how to answer without including taxes, laws, or voting. Everyone seemed to agree that those three things were a large part of being a citizen, so I decided to ask about what it meant to be a citizen in less of a legal way and in more of a community way. This meant thinking about what we were obligated to do as citizen for our community. Did this mean being involved? Did it mean helping those in need? Did this mean shopping local? What did it mean to be a community citizen?
Shaune said something about how it was about giving back to the community, economically and voluntarily. To be a good community citizen, one needs to be involved in the church they go to, the school their children attend, and the groups that they want to help. It meant staying in Bowling Green and working to make it better. There is a need for the older generation to share information with the younger generation. Everyone seemed to agree that this was a generally good summary of what it meant to be a good community citizen, which felt like a good start.
As previously mentioned, Travis served in the military after high school. I asked what citizenship meant to him, because he was involved one of the most patriotic parts of being an American. Travis knew that this question was coming.
For him, it was not about everyone needing to serve the country. As a matter of fact, he thinks that only the people that really, truly want to serve should and that people who feel like they should serve just because they are able and not because they want to should not serve at all. He did not want to play the “Angry Vet Card” about this. He knew he wanted to join the military, not go to college, when he was a high school sophomore.
This led me to ask about the draft, because, as I learned in elementary school, it is the responsibility of all young men to sign up for the draft when they turn eighteen. I really wanted to know how Murphey felt about this. He really did not want to serve the military; it was not that he was opposed to it, but he did not really feel it was for him. Travis was quick to say that he was very understanding of this and seemed appreciative of the fact.
This led to a quick lesson in the workings of the draft. Essentially, you can sign up for the draft and not even have a chance of being picked. Travis said that men with families and women go to the bottom. Men with kids go below men with wives, and the people with the highest chances are young, single men. I do not think any of us really knew that there is an order to the draft, or, at least, I did not know any of this.
After continuing in this topic for a bit, I decided to ask Lorelai for her opinion. She is the youngest, and she had not said anything at all. I asked her if she felt like she could be a good citizen, or be a citizen at all, since she is not an adult. Her answer was no, she does not really feel like she could right now because so much of being a citizen is wrapped up in life after you turn eighteen.
At this point, I did not really feel like a citizen or an adult even though I am eighteen. Yes, I do go vote, I follow the law, and I pay what taxes come into my life. However, I do not really feel like a citizen when I do these things. Murphey agreed, he did not feel like a citizen or an adult either. How could we really? What were we supposed to do to make ourselves more citizen-like? We did what we could, but did we really do anything special?
This turned to conversation away from traditional citizenship to what it means to be an adult. There were so many questions that seemed to float through the air. What does it mean to be an adult? When do you feel like an adult? Is age eighteen really all that magical? Are we doing everything we can to be an adult? Is the trick getting married? Is it buying a house? Is it having kids? Do you become an adult when you have a real career job?
According to Sam, there is no magical adult moment. She and Travis struggled to feel like adults in their twenties, and they had just bought a house. They knew people older than them that didn’t feel like adults sometimes. There is no one thing that makes “adulting” happen.
This turn the conversation to a myriad of things that most people would consider very adult: lines of credit, good debt, mortgages, jobs, and paperwork. It was an all-out advice session to Murphey, Lorelai, and me on how to be an adult. There were so many things we could do about money that I thought that numbers were going to fly off the beige walls of my parent’s kitchen. There was also some contradicting advice that reflected how each person was raised and how each person had started their adult life. There was a consensus that everyone needed established credit, but how to go about it was a different story. In this moment, I knew that we were not in the same train of thought as any class discussion.
Scott and Shaune thought that it was best to get a store card of some kind and use it a little when you shop there. Then, when the bill comes, just pay it all off. Travis and Sam had an entirely different approach based on the advice they had been given during their house search. Sam had absolutely no credit when she and Travis got married, so they were just trying to make a number appear next to her name when someone checked her credit score. They said charge something to a card that you could pay off, and then pay the minimum every time the bill came to keep that debt there for a while. One day, pay it off. I’ve since been turned away from their advice. However, I feel like it is important to point out that where Sam and Travis have been in life has led them to this point, so they are taking whatever advice they get that fits into their lives right now.
Another thing we discussed was careers, jobs, and staying in the community. We talked about trade school and the university track that Murphey, Lorelai, and I had been set on. I never felt like trade school was an option for me due to a variety of reasons. Murphey said that there had been a time when he thought maybe he could go to trade school and become an electrician. However, he also felt pushed, and pulled, toward college by the world around him, which included school counselors, cultural norms, societal perceptions, and personal decisions. Lorelai admitted to not really knowing what she wanted to, maybe engineering. She also agreed that schools did not really encourage people to go to trade schools unless they were considered not fit for college. Then we talked about job availability and staying in the community. It came back to what it meant to be a good citizen without all the legal stuff.
The idea here was to go where the job is and be a good citizen where you are. Do what you can where you end up and do your best. Maybe citizenship and adulthood are closely related, but that does not mean that you start of as being a citizen and an adult with some magical eighteenth birthday. Citizenship just happens.
Through this dinner, I learned that there is no one easy way to define being a citizen or an adult. However, this information does not pertain to any article, discussion, or theme from class. I do think that what was discussed is important and may come up sometime, but it has not come up in class yet.