For my Kentucky Kitchen Table Project, I decided to make a trip back home to Muhlenberg County, Kentucky last weekend to have my dinner on the night of November 11th. In Muhlenberg County, the 2 “big” cities are known as Central City and Greenville. I was born and raised in Greenville, Kentucky, which happens to be where majority of my family is from. For the dinner, I decided to invite my mom, Candra, my sister, Catey, my grandmother, Jean, whom we call “Gigi”, and our neighbor, Grant. On the very left is Catey (holding Jhett), with Grant in the center, myself next to him, my mom, and then Gigi on the very right. My niece, Jameson, stood on a chair to take the photo.
Mom is a third-grade teacher in Muhlenberg County. She was born and raised in this county, and has decided to spend her life here. She attended Western Kentucky University, where she met my late dad, and they returned to Muhlenberg county after graduating. They later started their family. Mom is conservative and many of her beliefs come directly from the bible, which sometimes causes us to butt heads. However, she doesn’t quite lean entirely left, and she often has insightful opinions on very controversial issues. Mom is very simple in that it does not take much for her to be happy and content. She carries a uniqueness that I think has always distinguished her from other adults that I’ve encountered throughout my life. She is very wise, having been through loss multiple times and dealing with many things that some people never experience. She’s very loving, genuinely herself, kind, supportive, and passionate about her faith and being a friend to others.
Catey is my 24-year old sister, who is a teacher aide in one of the local schools in Greenville, Kentucky. Much like my mom, she decided to pursue education and spend her life working in the school system. Catey attended Madisonville Community College and never left Muhlenberg County. Shortly after finishing her education, she got married to her high school sweetheart and started her family relatively early. She is a mother to 2 kids, named Jameson and Jhett. Jhett is present in the picture but Jameson was our lovely photographer. Catey is very liberal, differing from my mom in many aspects, especially regarding their stances on tattoos, which Catey loves. Catey is extremely passionate about people. She has a huge heart and has been through much in her short 24 years. I deeply admire her willingness to forgive and love others, and I have always thought of her as one of my very best friends.
Gigi is mother to my mom. Surprise, surprise, she was also born and raised in Muhlenberg County. Gigi married young to my late grandfather whom everyone called “Pig.” He passed when mom went to college, well before I was even thought of. Gigi owns a store on Main Street in Greenville, known as Merle Norman Cosmetics. She’s been a business owner for longer than I’ve been alive. She works 7 days a week, constantly working hard to make her business flourish, and it shows. Gigi is around 70, but you could never tell by the way that she works and handles herself. Gigi comes from a very different generation, one in which hard work is valued above most things, marriage was typical at a young age, and much of today’s technology would never have been imagined in her youth. She is very set in her ways, yet I’ve always loved her willingness to be open-minded. She’s very passionate about her family, her business, her faith, and being a good person. Gigi and I are very similar and I genuinely believe that we have the same “old soul”, so I’ve always valued her company and the conversations that we have when it’s just the two of us.
Grant is one of our neighbors whom we’ve always known, but never known very well, so I decided that he would be the perfect addition to our dinner table. From what I’ve gathered, Grant is very much a family man, and he values most of the same things that our family does. Like the rest of us, he was born and raised in Muhlenberg County, but in the more rural parts. He owns a trucking business that he inherited from his late father, and he runs it with his mother, sister, and brother. He’s a very hard worker, often putting in long hours to keep his business running optimally. Grant also owns a lot of property in other parts of Muhlenberg County, so he spends a lot of time tending to his land and cattle. He is a proud conservative, and he is passionate about working hard and being a good person.
To kick off the discussion, I asked the big question: beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? At first, I didn’t really receive the kind of input I expected. Everyone at the table was a little confused, so I had to rephrase. Gradually, I received some answers. Grant bravely answered first, saying that citizenship was about not taking our freedom for granted, and being involved in the happenings of your community. Mom described what citizenship means to her as the way she explains citizenship to her third graders, that citizenship is following the rules so that our society can function most efficiently. She also agreed with Grant in that citizenship means being actively involved in the community. Catey said that citizenship to her means that we should help our fellow neighbor and our community, and that we should be involved and be a decent person. Gigi also agreed with Catey, but simply said that citizenship means helping our fellow man.
In order to keep the conversation flowing, I decided to ask them what kind of advice they would give to people running for office. The answers I received for this question were much more passionate and I was impressed at what each person had to say. Catey was the first to speak up, speaking very quickly and with conviction. She said that leaders should go to church and listen to the “little people”, meaning that politicians should have some sort of faith and make efforts to genuinely listen to those that they representing. Mom agreed and added that future leaders should be aware of the different cultures and groups of people that they are representing, making an effort to understand that while we are all Americans, we have different values that should be recognized and addressed. Grant answered differently. He brought up a valid point, saying that politicians should do what they say they’re going to do and avoid making empty promises. He also said that they should do things that benefit everyone, not just themselves or specific groups of people. Gigi more or less reiterated what everyone else said, yet she did so with enthusiasm.
After I felt that we had exhausted conversation about advice that we would give to people running for office, I asked everyone if they thought that they had an obligation to people in our community/country. There was a consensus in that everyone at the dinner table thought that yes, they do have an obligation to others. Mom and Catey agreed as per part of their jobs. They’re legally obligated to keep an eye on the kids in their classroom and ascertain the well-being of each child. Gigi and Grant agreed regarding taking care of their fellow neighbor when they are in need. Grant also mentioned that we are obligated to be functioning members of society and in doing so everyone benefits. I thought that this question was somewhat related to the question “Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” so I asked when the timing was right. This question was received very well because each person at the dinner table had a direct relation to serving others in their careers. Mom and Catey strive to educate and provide care for the children that they serve every day, thus shaping them into better people year after year. Gigi and Grant, both being business owners, provide jobs for their employees and provide beneficial services to their customers, thus serving other people in various ways. In these ways, each member of the dinner table felt that their job was much bigger than themselves.
Wrapping up our dinner, I asked what kind of person everyone wanted to be. Their answers were very similar, each one being someone who is kind, loving, wise and respected, humble, and encouraging. Through our dinner conversations, I learned that Mom, Gigi, Catey and Grant all value mostly the same things, yet they are each very unique individuals. I learned that they care deeply for those around them, and each of them has some sort of ingrained duty to serve those who are in need. I learned that they’re all passionate about their careers for the common reason of serving and building others up. Through the question about advice to those running for office, I learned that they respected the needs of everyone, not just themselves.
In class, the question that has really stuck with me throughout the semester is “How do we live better together?” I felt that this question really came to mind over and over throughout my conversations at the dinner table. Upon explaining to them the nature of what this assignment and what it was for, I mentioned the 3 central questions that our course has been founded upon. From their various opinions and answers to the questions that were asked, it seemed to me that everyone at the dinner table believed that we live better together by being active in our communities, tending to our fellow neighbor, and working as hard as possible in our careers, especially those that are tied directly to serving others. Their answers reminded me of the “Professionalized Service” reading, in which we learned about how the abundance of professionalized services can dampen our sense of self-efficacy and the power that we hold as individuals. Their input showed me that through caring for our neighbors and our community, we effectively provide the love and personal care that professionals cannot accomplish, and we promote a stronger sense of self-efficacy. As a result, we can help one another live better together.