Ben’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Ben

I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table meal on November 6th. It was a Tuesday night. The city that the Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in was Greenville, Kentucky. Everyone around the table was my family, but the diversity was in the different generations I had included in my meal. My sister, Baker, and I were the youngest generation there, my mother and father, Jennifer and Brent respectively, were the middle generation, and my grandmother and step-grandfather, Ann and Barry respectively, were our eldest generation. Baker is a freshman in high school. She plays volleyball, tennis, and she swims. My mother is a librarian and a competitive runner in her free time and my father is a principal and a golfer as his hobby. My grandmother is a retired librarian who loves to knit, and my step-grandfather is a retired music teacher who loves comic books just like I do.

My sister didn’t bring anything because she doesn’t cook. My mother made mashed potatoes and bought some fried chicken along with some potato wedges. My grandmother made rolls and green beans. We sat down at my dining room table after having some small chit-chat for about thirty minutes in the kitchen. Well, part kitchen and part dining room because my kitchen and dining room are one big room. We played with my dog,Boomer, while I told them that it wasn’t anything different from a normal dinner with a slightly more focused discussion. I told them that I would just start different conversations with a certain question or two and we would all take it away from there. My mother and I were the only people at the house prior to the meal, so we had to wait for the other guests to arrive. My grandmother and step-grandfather were the next guests to arrive. The last guests to arrive were my sister and father. They were about 30 minutes later than everyone else because my sister had swim practice in a town about 15 minutes away. My mother and I set the table prior to the guests arriving. We set up plain paper plates and plastic silverware at the dining room table. We kept the foods in the oven to keep them warm while we were waiting for everyone to arrive. After everyone showed up, we brought all of the food to the kitchen table.

I didn’t have someone that I didn’t know at all, but I think that it is better that everyone present knew each other. In my opinion, it caused the deliberation to be more serious and allowed the guests to give answers that people who were strangers wouldn’t feel comfortable telling other strangers. All of the guests really opened up and got personal with our discussion. I know that if I was with a bunch of strangers for a Kentucky Kitchen Table that wasn’t at my kitchen table and I was out of my comfort zone, I would not be able to answer as candidly as I did during this Kentucky Kitchen Table.

Well, as with any meal, the first ten minutes or so were very silent with occasional small talk because everyone was eating. Then, everyone continued with a little small talk, but then the guests just started naturally talking about what they had done that day, how their weeks have gone, and how they were feeling. This went on for about fifteen minutes. After that, the conversation started slowing down, so I decided to start another conversation using the required question for our Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment which was “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” My mother and grandmother at first glance at that question both said, “Oh man, what else is there?” But that’s not what they thought once they really started thinking about it. My father was looking at me with a confused look on his face and said, “Beyond what?” and I had to tell him again, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws.” My mother and my father both answered that question with “To us, it means to have the freedom to do as we please.” My grandparents added, “To have the freedom to have the freedom of things like Speech and Religion.” After that, I made sure to add “Citizenship is also about helping those around you, whether they be your neighbors, family, or otherwise.” because, to me, that’s what citizenship means.

After this first question everyone looked at me expectantly, but I made sure to tell them that this wasn’t an interview or a questionnaire. This was just supposed to be a conversation with an occasional conversation starter whenever the conversation lulled. After that, it became a little more fluid. It seemed less like an interview and more organic. The conversation, even with the conversation starters, flowed naturally. I then asked everyone “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?” Ann answered that she loved being so close to her daughter so if she ever needed help, she could be there. Brent said he liked the community around Greenville and liked the school system. That was a little joke by him because he and Jennifer both work in education. There was a general answer after that that everyone agreed on. Everyone agreed that they all loved their communities because they felt like they were safe there.

After this, everyone had more or less finished up eating, so we took a minor break from the conversation starters and went back to some small-talk while my mother and I cleaned up the mess left from dinner off of the table. We cleared off the plates and trash from the table. We left everyone’s drinks for them though. We took the extra food and put it in the oven to keep the leftovers warm in case anyone wanted extras.

I also asked a few more questions like “Is there anything you can think to do that might make things better for you or your neighbors where you live?” and “Does your religious or spiritual identity relate to how you think we should treat other people? Does it relate to how you see yourself as a citizen?”. Both questions garnered answers that were a consensus among everyone at the table. For the first question, everyone agreed that yes, there are many things they can do like reach out and befriend neighbors more often. The overall answer to that question was basically, “Yes, being Christian does relate to how we treat our neighbors, because in the Bible it says to love your neighbors. It relates to us being citizens because it’s also our civic duty to love our neighbors and be kind to our fellow citizens.”

Finally, the last conversation I started was by asking the guests of the dinner “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?”. This one struck a chord with almost everyone at the table. My entire family, who are all former or current educators, of course talked about the issue of how the government has been tampering with educator’s retirement plans. They all agreed that that was a topic that was near and dear to their hearts. My grandparents, my sister, and I also mentioned the overpopulation and neglection of pets nowadays. My grandmother and step-grandfather have about 30 cats living outside of their house right now. That’s not me exaggerating, they just keep reproducing. She keeps trying to get them all fixed, but they keep evading her and she can’t bring herself to quit feeding them which is understandable, so of course she’d feel strongly about that. My sister and I frequently stay with our grandparents, so we’ve experienced the cats living there as well and that’s why we agreed as well.

What I learned from this whole experience is that everyone has different opinions, but also some of the same opinions. They also are very passionate about their opinions, but I also learned that from the class itself. My family all had different opinions on these conversation starters and would defend their opinion with their points of view. They would argue, but not harshly, just bicker mildly. At the end of almost every conversation something very interesting happened. At least I think it was interesting and it might not have happened at every Kentucky Kitchen Table. My family, no matter how much they disagreed or bickered, they would all try to find one common similarity in their opinions and try to agree with that one thing to kind of reunify them as a group, but still maintaining their individuality. It really made me feel warm that these people who have differences, unanimously decided to overlook those differences and focus on the similarities that they share to maintain the relationships they have. That’s one thing that bugs me about politics and other issues in the world today: Some people will literally destroy friendships just if someone doesn’t agree with them over that particular subject or another. I have had friends like that. It’s ridiculous to lose friends over your opinion, but of course I won’t change how I am not affiliated with a political party for example, because someone shouldn’t dictate that for me.

My experience at my Kentucky Kitchen Table relates to what we’ve learned in Honors 251 because one thing we’ve learned about is “How can people live better (or, at least, less badly) together?” I think my family has solved that question without even knowing that we’ve been learning about that question in the class. The way we can live better, or at least less badly, together is by forgetting about or ignoring the differences we all have because we are all different. That’s why we’re individuals. It’s about focusing on the similarities we ALL share and let those similarities bring us together. Just like mentioned in “How We Talk Matters” written by Keith Melville and others, if we talk and work together, then we can solve problems better.


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