My Kentucky’s Kitchen Table took place on April 6, 2019, in a small town called Adairville, Kentucky. I was planning on hosting at my house in Louisville, Kentucky, but due to last-minute changes, my mom and I decided to host at her cousin’s house. There was a total of 6 people at dinner, including myself. Starting on the left is my mom, Jennifer, who was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. She is very involved in our local parish, and she owns our family’s bakery with three of her other cousins. Third from the right is William, who married my cousin, Natalie, and so kindly let us use his kitchen for dinner. He apologized for not being as good of a host as his wife is (she and her daughter were in Louisville that night), but my mom and I both thought he didn’t give himself as much credit has he deserved. He graduated from Western Kentucky University, lived and worked in Louisville for a few years, and now that his parents are getting older, he and his family moved back to Adairville to assist his aging parents in running the family farm. To the left of William is his father, Jim. Jim grew up outside of Bowling Green and graduated from the University of Kentucky. Martha, his wife, is sitting to the right of William, and she too graduated from the University of Kentucky. After graduating college, they settled down in rural Kentucky to start a family and farm their land. I had never met either of William’s parents before this trip, and my mom met them once at Natalie and William’s wedding. At the far right of the table is Natalie and William’s son, Mason, who is 9 years old. I used to babysit Mason and his sister, Hadley, quite often when they lived on my street, but I haven’t seen them much since I started college, and he was very excited to tell me about the piglet he would be raising this spring.
After everyone had made their plate of pork, salad, beans, and mac and cheese, I asked the question, “beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” After a couple seconds of silence, Martha said that she thought it was giving back to the community in any way you can. Jim agreed with her, adding that helping the people in your community makes a good citizen. William said by living your life in a way that brings something good to the people around you and the town or city you live in will bring about good citizenship. He emphasized how working a job is something that would make someone a good citizen, simply because they are giving their time and energy to accomplish something that our society has deemed important. My mom said that volunteering your time to the organizations you choose to get involved in will enrich the places you live in and help a person feel more connected to the place where they live and the people they live with – thus bringing about a sense of belonging and citizenship. As she said this I thought about how involved she is at my parish and grade school – she was the athletic director for multiple years while I was attending school there, and although it was unpaid and took up a lot of her time, she kept returning because she cared about the program and wanted to use her talents in ways that could benefit that specific community. She also mentioned that by getting involved, you can help turn your community into the kind of place you want to live. I thought this related back to one of our key questions in class: how do we have more of a say over our lives, and help others have more of a say over their lives? Simply put, the more involved you are in your community, the more likely you are to make changes that will impact your life in the ways you want it to.
After asking the initial question, I wanted to know more about life in rural Kentucky versus life in Louisville, and how that may affect someone’s perspective on citizenship. I began by asking how well everyone knew their neighbors. Jim and Martha have lived in their house for about 50 years, so they know all of their neighbors very well, and even though William moved away for a few years, he too knew everyone who lived near them. They all knew everyone who lived on their street, who they were related to, how long they lived there, what kind of crops they grow, where their children moved away to, and many more details that I don’t know about my neighbors at home, even though I live much closer in proximity to my neighbors. William said that for him, the strangest thing about coming back home after living away for so long was that there were many people who he grew up with who did the same thing – left for a while and came back home. He said it felt good to come back and be building a life and a family in the place where he already has roots. One of the things Jim said that stood out to me about neighbors was how he felt comfortable asking any of his neighbors for help with the farm or to borrow a piece of equipment he may need; however, with the increase in big farmers and the decrease in small family farms, he said the good farmers are a lot harder to come by now than they used to be. Many people are selling their land to large farming corporations because their children do not want to come back to take over the farm. Even so, Martha said that there are about 10 houses on their street belonging to only 4 different families – meaning that although times are changing, many people still do value family land and want to come back to continue on their traditions.
I learned a lot from this experience. It was interesting to see how similar we all are even though we live very different lives. All of us cared about and felt deeply connected to the places we live and work, and everyone recognizes the value in giving time and talent to our communities. It relates to Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Mass, because he too found similarities in the most different of people – from America to Bosnia, from people at peace to people at war. He showed that being human involves wanting to belong and feel needed, and when we are active citizens, we accomplish these basic needs.