Buffalo Kentucky Kitchen Table


By Virginia

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in the town of Buffalo, KY. A small town outside of a small town, Hodgenville. My attendees included:

  • Kim- A mother of 5 boys, she is currently going back to school. She insisted that she cook all the food, but allowed us to set the table.
  • Rob- A disabled veteran, he is also currently going back to school.
  • Cameron- A freshman in the nursing program at Western Kentucky University. He is Virginia’s boyfriend, he’s really cool.
  • Virginia- That’s me, I’m a Spanish major at Western Kentucky University.
  • Jacob- A senior at LaRue County High School, he is a wrestler. Virginia and Jacob were in marching band together for 2 years.
  • Tristan- A 6-year-old, he’s in second grade
  • Alex- An 8-year-old, he’s in 4th grade at
  • Khyce- He is 15 years old, and a sophomore at LaRue County High School. He recently moved to Kentucky from Florida.

We went through the question list, and I’m going to retrace the steps of the conversation through these questions. They helped to structure the dinner, and to keep conversation moving. This first question was, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Kim responded with, “It means you belong somewhere, you have a group of people you are connected with. It comes with the freedom to be you.”

This question was the only question to get an answer out of the kids, “What do you think are the best things about our world today? Tristan replied, “Bacon pizza… God and Jesus… and my family!” Alex boldly stated, “Life itself.” Which is pretty deep, coming from an 8-year-old.

A question that I already knew the answer to was then put on the table, “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?” Rob chuckled and let out a single word, “Privacy.” This family does live in what most people would consider, “the middle of nowhere.” They have a miniature farm and decent sized garden, with a house full of exotic pets. They’re earthy people, people who appreciate life and what they can create.

Cameron asked the next question for me, “Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” Kim said, “Yes, I believe that everything is connected. My work may seem small but it is meaningful.” Which caused me to think of the big puzzle of a country we live in. It’s a puzzle in the fact that it’s made up of pieces. Constantly moving around to find their right spot, but trying to create the bigger picture. Rob responded with, “I believe that my service meant something to this country, so yes.”

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? Kim smiled and responded with, “Yes, of course. I model myself to be like Jesus. I strive to be like him in every way of my life, regarding helping those around us.” Cameron then went into a rant on how religion isn’t real and how it’s all just a play on the cycles of the sun. However, he was not scolded for his beliefs, his family allowed his views to be heard. I saw in this family what had always been lacking in mine, an ear to the abstract thought.

Cameron threw out, “Do you think we have any obligations to other people in our country? In our community?” Jacob quipped, “I don’t owe any of these people anything.” Kim rolled her eyes to that response and broadcast, “Yes, we do. If we want others to help us we have to help them.” The golden rule is very much alive in this family. Kim understands more than anyone that hard times can come quick and unexpectedly, she helps people in hopes that if she was ever in their shoes, they would help her. I believe that does put a lot of faith in people who may not be trustworthy, but it reminds me of the video that was watched in class where the little girl was hit by the car. Individualism has dulled human compassion, the want to help others just to help. Being a shoulder to lean on does not make you weak, it makes you a citizen. A part of something greater, the power to help those who are connected to you.

The question, “What advice would you give to people running for office in our country?” was asked. Kim and Jacob handled this question, both saying something upon the lines of, “Tell the truth, do not just say what people want to hear.” This connected me to Ivan Illich’s reading, “To Hell with Good Intentions.” He told the volunteers that they were making things worse. This is not what a bunch of sweaty, comparably rich, white people want to hear. They want to be patted on the back and told their doing great. To be spoon fed positive notes and “everything’s going to be alright.” However, the truth is needed to get things done, quite frankly. Upon the recent presidential election, the entire country is in a state of political turmoil. People are biased, and unwillingly to educate themselves. It’s easy to “bait” voters by telling them things they want to hear, and once in a position of power, the baiters change their mind.

We then moved on to the question, “what social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Kim’s take on this question caused me to go into a downward spiral of self-reflection, “I live in a bubble. I don’t want to know what’s going on in the outside world, because it makes me sad. I can’t help everyone, and I can’t change anything.” Is self-aware ignorance bliss? Or is it foolish ignorance? I would be happy not knowing the perils of the outside world. But, it’s necessary to feel the pain of the world to truly be a part of it. Siddhartha Gautama spent the beginning of his life inside the walls of a palace, held from the darkness of the world. Upon finally adventuring out to see what had been outside his world’s edge, he found the disappointments of the world. They saddened him, but motivated him to find himself upon the mess. Life being more confusing, but also never as clear. He became Buddha and without the outside, he would’ve never truly connected inside. To shield oneself from the perils of the world is one’s own choice, but to break into uncomfortable thought and be ready for disaster, the outside world is needed. Rob’s issue, however, took a different route. “Disrespecting the flag. When they burn it at rallies, or do whatever else besides treat it properly.” I pondered this for a second, it did not send me searching deep into my soul, but rather searching in Rob’s. We all have images of peace, you can wear your favorite sweater or lucky perfume. I suppose an image of peace for Rob is the American flag. During service he saw it as a piece of home, all his loved ones, the reason he was there, and the reason to hope. Burning such an image that is held personally is understandably upsetting. I wouldn’t be any different if people ran through the streets burning stuffed plush bunnies like the one I’ve slept with since I was a kid. I started to think of the conflict that Americans go through with the flag today, scattering it on bikinis and embroidering it on polos. To commercialize such an image is to open it to disrespect, and to appear as a mock to Rob’s way of life.

I learned that people are much more than they seem. Most people would write these people off as country do-nothings. But, they have their own life, thoughts, and needs. They desire to function in peace within their household and community. But, they have moral expectations, which they would hope are also held by those they interact with. They made citizenship feel like a community. Broadcasting that every human has common ground, which, if was more accepted, might cause the need to help others become stronger. This brings us to the question, “How can we live well together?” Coming from this dinner, I saw several solutions to this question. The main theme coming out as the golden rule, “Treat others the way you would want to be treated.” To reinstall humanity into our nation would build a better world. Honest politicians, nice community members, and respectful strangers. Not a polarized, angry, and easily fooled mass of consumers. The reading that I would like to connect to this dinner would be chapter in The Empathy Exams, “The Devils’ Bait,” about all the people who had the illness Morgellons. They were all citizens of an illness, they may not have really known each other, but they were connected. They were allowed to be them with their loyalty to their disorder. They found their area to be true citizens, and to perhaps use the power that they felt there to connect to the world outside of the illness they had, Morgellons. This project was just like a regular dinner with them, but with more questions and more attention required. It’s opened the floor to new opinions and perspectives, and I hope to learn more.


Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Austin

Let me start by saying I am a pretty awkward person as it is, and typing on my computer or scribbling notes while people were talking at dinner would have made me very uncomfortable and my awkwardness worse, so I did not record what everyone said verbatim. But while none of these answers are exactly what the guests said, I questioned them until I understood their answers enough that I could write about them without changing their intended meaning.

So let us begin.

INTRODUCING FIRST! From LaRue County, Kentucky, standing at 5’ tall, Mrs. Katy Cecil! Mrs. Cecil is a high school English teacher and Larue County High School’s Speech and Debate head coach. She has been a mentor to me since my freshman year of high school. In fact, she is the one that convinced me to apply to college in the first place, and she still helps me when I have no idea how to do something… like organizing a dinner with people I don’t know. Also, she is the reason that our dinner wasn’t a potluck. She wanted tikka masala, which only Mr. Cecil knew how to cook, and nobody else knew how to complement.

Introducing second, from somewhere in Colorado, standing at 6’3” (ish), Mr. Cecil! He is also a teacher, but he teaches Honors and AP Chemistry. I never had Mr. Cecil because as a sophomore in high school I was somewhat of a slacker and took the easy class. He cooked dinner and it was absolutely amazing.

Next, we have the Cecil’s daughters, Elena and Elise. Elena is 15 and attends the high school that her parents teach at, and Elise is 10 and goes to an elementary school in the same town.

The man taking the picture is Ellis Fraser. He grew up in Louisville, but moved to LaRue County his senior year of high school and competed on the speech team that Mrs. Cecil coaches. He went to WKU for a degree in Film, but now he is the assistant coach of the Speech team.

Also there, but not pictured, is my friend Damon Helton. I told you I’m awkward, so I wanted someone goofy there to counteract my awkwardness. He answered some of the questions, but his answers won’t be featured in this post.

I think it’s safe to say that while this group of people has much in common, there is a fair amount diversity. All different age groups are represented, from Generation X, all the way to the new generation born after 2000 that there isn’t even a name for yet. Ellis and I are both Millenials, but even though we are technically the same generation, there is quite a bit of difference in what we remember from the ‘90s. Also, perhaps most obvious, Ellis is black. I think that gives him a rather unique perception of the world. Less obviously, I am Mexican. I may not look Mexican, and I may not have a Mexican name, but I can assure you I group with plenty of Latino culture in my house. Also, we were all born in different places and we’re all from different financial backgrounds. Ellis was born in Germany, I was born and grew up in LA, Mrs. Cecil is from Kentucky, and Mr. Cecil is from Colorado. Even the Cecils’ daughters were born in Michigan. All of this contributed to our collective uniqueness, which I hope will be enough to make this post what it needs to be.

Now for the fun part, dinner.

I started out with questions from the packet, like “Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?”  but it eventually just turned into a conversation about community. It was quite interesting hearing the benefits of small town from someone that grew up in a small town, left their small town, and eventually came back to find that they loved it even more. Mrs. Cecil said that nothing can beat being able to text the pharmacist a question, and knowing they will reply almost immediately. It’s actually quite funny seeing things like that in action. Mr. Cecil agreed that it is nice knowing everyone and knowing that if he was running late, he could call and the pharmacy, or the bank, or the grocery store would stay open for him. He did say, however, that he would prefer to live in a big city. Ellis, too, said he likes the city more than small town life. But they both acknowledge the benefits of being close with the people of your community. It’s all relevant to our class because a big part of what we talk about is community based; community communication, community betterment, etc. Even the wicked problems that we’ve discussed, all of the papers that we’ve read agree that the changes necessary to “solve” them have to start at the community level.