Kentucky Kitchen Table: A Dinner Fit For Kings

By Hayley

I decided to travel to my hometown, Lebanon, TN, for this assignment, strongly because a home cooked meal from my grandmother was calling my name. She insisted on cookin’ up all of the fixings; if it was a southern staple food, she had it!

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Along with my parents Julie and Johnny, my grandparents, Haywood and Norma Jean, invited their new neighbors to come over. Ken, Celeste, Elan, Matthew, and Ian Barry recently moved from Asheville, North Carolina to my home town, Lebanon, Tennessee. Ken is a civil engineer and his wife, Celeste, is a geologist. Matthew and Ian attend the local high school and Elan is a student at The University of Tennessee-Knoxville. As you can tell, it was game day. Go Vols!

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Having never met them before and knowing how knowledgeable my grandfather is, I knew that I was in for a treat. My grandfather is extremely involved in the community. If you looked up “active citizen” in the dictionary, a picture of him would be on the page. After being a successful lawyer for decades, he became a judge while serving on the town’s city council. At the age of 80, he is currently serving his fourth term as city circuit judge. To say the least, he is my hero, so I knew that he would have some admirable insight.

I started with the question, “What does citizenship mean to you?” After some shared chuckles over how open-ended and broad the question was, everyone simultaneously chimed in on their thoughts. Being all-inclusive was a reoccurring answer, being a good neighbor, standing for the National Anthem, and most importantly be civically engaged. My grandpa went on to say “it’s not all government that runs the world,” which is a unique thought to process. Another unique point that I wouldn’t normally think of was being involved with others in your profession to help make advancements. This came from the father of the new neighbors, the civil engineer, who helps maintain safe waterways.

The next question that I asked was “What kind of community do you want to live in?” The first thing that came out of about half of their mouths was a peaceful community. My grandpa then went on to explain that good law enforcement is crucial. It’s equally crucial that the law enforcement polices in a community balance. The next topic of discussion was being eco-friendly. Things as simple as keeping up with your own trash and making sure you don’t litter will not only help the environment, but also saves clean up money for tax payers. Also, my mom added in to not waste water or electricity, in other words be a “peaceful conserving community.” Another huge topic was having opportunities available. Coming from a pretty diverse community, I have witnessed first hand some races having more opportunities than others which goes back to being all-inclusive. A big facet of opportunities is opportunities in education and careers, which is definitely something that my community is lacking. I also asked “What advice would you give to people running for office in our country?” Of course my mom initially said “run,” which really sparked some laughter. After a lull my soft-spoken grandmother spoke up and said to make sure you have a clean past, which is sadly the driving factor. Some more responses were to assume the attitude that you don’t know it all, but you are willing to learn. This really struck a chord with me. I think that that one phrase applies to anything that you will ever do, especially when it pertains to being a citizen. I might make that my mantra. My grandfather also mentioned that it is important that you can work with/get along with both democrats and republicans-something that he has definitely ran into with his past political career.

The last question that I asked was “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” The one that stuck out to me and that I was not fully aware of was drug abuse. My grandfather said that he sees more people in court driving under the influence of drugs-not alcohol. The answer for all of these cases is not incarceration. That opens up a whole new can of worms that I won’t dive into now, but it’s a pertinent issue. Communities need more treatment facilities because jail is the last place to cure people of their drug habits. I guess that I didn’t realize this issue was to relevant at such a local level. Some more social issue that were discussed briefly was climate change and employment. Regarding climate change, it was said that “we are the cause of the problem,” and we need to take initiatives to help preserve the earth. Employment was definitely stressed as an important issue. We need to bring jobs to people in suffering areas such as Eastern Kentucky, for example. Ever since the coal mining industry left, so many civilians have suffered financially because they don’t have the means/the drive to go find a different job. It seems like we could provide incentives to people moving to cities like Louisville or Lexington to get jobs. Shortly after this conversation, everyone finished up dinner. I definitely learned a lot about my family’s (and strangers) opinions on being a citizen, living in a healthy community, and social issues.

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