I traveled home to Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, on Friday, November 9th. I held my Kentucky Kitchen Table the following Sunday, the 11thin my little hometown, Beechmont. Attending my Kentucky Kitchen Table included my mother (Dana), my father (Scott) aka the photographer, my little sister (Maddie), my great aunt (Dee), and my neighbor (Billy). In a small town, like mine, you don’t really have potlucks…everyone just comes over and helps you cook! At this dinner, or should I say feast, we had a massive amount of food cooked by great aunt, mother, and father. We had roast followed with mashed potatoes with my great aunt’s homemade gravy, my granddaddy’s garden green beans, the kind of rolls you could eat a hundred of, and of course fresh brewed sweet tea. I contributed by baking brownies for dessert. I envied my sister who ended up being our official taste tester. And you can bet every time we cook this much my dad will comment “We have enough food to feed an army!”
My great aunt, Dee, is from Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. She just so happened to be in Kentucky for a visit. She is a retired teacher from Paducah, Kentucky, who moved to Florida to escape the cold Kentucky winters. She also wanted to move closer to one of her two daughters and granddaughter. Her and her husband, whom we all call Big Daddy, loves living in a small subdivision in Santa Rosa Beach. Dee is an older lady with a younger spirit than my own. She is fun, quirky, and loves to joke. She is a devout Catholic and democrat. I consider her more of a grandparent than a great aunt who lives many hours from me. She even tried to get me to live with her and attend Florida State!
My neighbor has lived across the street for my house for around ten years. Even though I live in a small town I have never gotten to know this neighbor beyond occasional small talk. He is a retired, single (divorced) senior citizen who loves golf, Nascar racing, and hanging with his buddies at their hunting cabin.
My sister, Maddie, is a thirteen year old who attends Muhlenberg South Middle School. We butt heads like normal siblings would, but we do have a goofy relationship. Then again, our whole family is full of comedians. We joke with each other, laugh at the simplest things, and keep the best inside jokes. She is a spit-fire from the day she was born. She is very care-free but has a huge heart.
My father, Scott, grew up in Muhlenberg county. We now live only 3 minutes from his childhood home, where my grandparents still live. He was in the army during the time of Desert Storm and is now a veteran. After his time in the military, he attended a technical college in Bowling Green. He worked at Logan Aluminum, and then got a job closer to home at Tennessee Valley Authority (Paradise Plant). Due to TVA changing to gas plant instead of a coal plant, my father is now moving all around different plants in the southern states, such as Alabama and Tennessee. He is currently in Memphis, Tennessee which makes anytime together special.
My mother, Dana, also grew up in Muhlenberg County. After high school, she attended Western Kentucky University for elementary education. She was first a kindergarten teacher, then a first-grade teacher, and recently she is Muhlenberg South Middle School’s librarian. She loves her family, wiener dogs, and anywhere with a beach. She is the most empowering woman that I know. She would do anything for anyone in a heartbeat, and I aspire to be more like her every single day.
As everyone begins to fix their plates and settle at the dining room table, I didn’t want to bombard them with the questions right off the bat. I did tell them beforehand I would ask a few questions for a class but nothing too extensive. So, the typical conversations begin to strike up. Of course, they ask me about college. I explain my classes and how I am doing. I also talk about the fun I have with friends, such as taking midnight trips to GADs. Scott tells Dee and Billy (who don’t hear about his travels often) about the sketchy hotel he has to stay in for work. I wish I could tell it the way my dad does. He is the best of painting stories to their brightest color and has the ability to make anyone giggle. Dee tells about the recent weather that has been happening in Florida. She had to board up all of her windows and doors due to the hurricane! I ask Billy about his recent trips to the Sapp Farm hunting cabin. He tells me all about huge potluck that was throw by his friend, Tim. He said they had steak grilled to perfection and baked potatoes the size of my head. And of course, Maddie stays on her phone afraid she’ll miss a text from a friend, you know the middle school phase.
After casual small talk and updating everyone on each other’s daily lives, I began to ask the questions. So, I asked the required question first, “beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Everyone seemed a little stumped and sat to think for a minute. Maddie chimes in first being in that middle school phase she says she doesn’t even know what citizenship is (which is a lie). I can see my mom get frustrated and tells her that she does. Dee cuts in saying that citizenship is doing whatever you can to helps others. Anything from picking up trash to helping hurricane victims. Scott agrees by saying everyone needs to contribute for the greater good. He added that he thinks it means protecting our freedoms which Billy says that is what he was thinking. He thinks that citizenship is about us being free and being able to go wherever he wants to go when he wants. Dana adds that she thinks it means being a part of a big, good community.
Other than the required question I asked a few more that were included in the packet. I thought I would include the best conversations and answers. When I asked what they thought were the best things about our world today, Dana and Dee were quick to say the kind-hearted people. Which really reflects on the type of person they are because they are most kind-hearted people I know. I also asked what they loved the most about where they lived. I said that I loved being with my family. I am blessed to be able to go home to my mom, dad, and sister whenever I need to. Billy agreed with me. He said he is so glad to be close to his granddaughters. He loves to visit them frequently. Dee chimed in that she loved being in the sun and sand. I asked how they thought their job related to their role as a citizen and how it serves a greater purpose. My mom had the best answer saying she is glad she is able to help shape young minds and mold them into productive people. When I asked what kind of person they wanted to be, the answers got a little goofy as I said earlier my family is full of comedians. Scott is quick to say he wants to be a rock star. However, he did get a little more serious after the laughs died down. He said that he wants to better person to help his kids and to help his family. I also asked if anyone had a conversation with someone very different from their own background. Scott talked about when he was in the army and he had to travel especially during Desert Storm. He said he has talked to people from Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Israel. The best comment of night came from my sister. I asked what advice would you give your neighbors. She said something along the lines of that she didn’t know what kind of advice because our neighbors are older than her, and they should give her advice instead. Coming from my sister this received many, many laughs. As you can see, small town dinners can go on forever!
As I am writing this post, I am thinking how our conversations related to our class. I kept coming back to our empathy week. My mom, sister, and great-aunt mentioned that they wanted to be kind and have a caring soul. However, oblivious to their own selves they are the most kind and the most caring people I know. Growing up with them I have learned the importance of a big heart. During our empathy week, I didn’t really see myself as empathic, but I would think about my mother. She would give the clothes off her back to a stranger, and I am proud to be her daughter. She feels for everyone and cares too much. However, the reading “The Baby in the Well” says we must yield empathy in order to have a better future. I believe those with an empathetic heart, like my mother, make the world a little sweeter. On another note, my conversations also related to the class’s central question “How can we live life better (or less baldy) together?” Looking back upon the dinner I realized that with my family and neighbors behind me I have more support than I’ll ever need. I also saw the importance of kindness to everyone. This allows me to have hope and look forward to my future. I learned that staying close to the ones you love and getting to know those you don’t very well are the best ways to go through our world today. Connections are the way we can live our lives the best way possible.
And by this photo, you can tell none of us are very “photo-ready” individuals. However, sometimes the photographer can be quick to take the picture, but at least his photo is decent, right?
From left to right: Maddie (my little sister), Dee (my great aunt), Billy (my neighbor), Dana (my mother), & Sydney (me)
Second picture: Scott (my father & photographer)