My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place at my home in Murray, KY on November 4, 2018. This project highly intimidated me at first because I did not know whom I would invite. I live in a single parent home with my mom and my 15-year-old sister Annabel. Originally, I planned on asking my sister to invite a friend over and calling that good enough, but as the day of the meal began approaching, I realized that doing so would bypass the entire goal of this experience. Sitting around a table with two teenage girls and my mom would be nothing new to me—it is basically what I have done my entire life.
After I told my mom more about the purpose of the Kentucky Kitchen Table—to engage in meaningful conversation, embrace diversity, and foster new relationships—she was thrilled that she could be a part of it. Immediately she began reaching out to individuals in our community who she thought would add something to the table, and before I knew it, there were seven of us gathered around my dining room!
After church on Sunday, my mom and I began the massive task of preparing our house for visitors. We had dishes to clean, floors to sweep, and food to cook. We decided to provide the main course for our guests and asked them to bring desserts. To eat we had a tortellini dish with garlic bread, and for dessert our guests brought peppermint bark, cupcakes, and Oreo balls. The guests at my kitchen table were my mom, Molly, Annabel (15), Ainsley (15), Peggy, Rachel, and my Grandma Ann.
My mom, Molly, is from Paris, TN. She moved to Murray after high school to attend Murray State University. After graduating from MSU with a degree in Occupational Safety and Health, she got married to my dad. My sister and I were born shortly after. My parents divorced when I was two years old, but they still have a healthy relationship; my dad actually lives one street over from my mom. When I was around five, my mom decided to go back to school full time, while also working full time, in order to get her degree in Elementary Education. Today my mom is a third-grade teacher at an elementary school, and she teaches English online to children in China through a program called VIPKid. My mom has instilled in me the value of education and she has demonstrated to me the importance of finding a career I love.
My sister, Annabel, is 15 years old, and she is the exact opposite of me. Annabel is extremely feisty, athletic, outspoken, and dramatic. In school she is a sophomore, and she is involved in several sports: volleyball, softball, and basketball. Annabel is also very talented. She has acted in several musicals and has competed at various levels in speaking contests for different clubs and organizations. As of right now, Annabel wants to be an FBI agent when she grows up, which fits her personality perfectly.
Ainsley is one of Annabel’s close friends. She is also a sophomore in high school and 15 years old. Ainsley and Annabel have been friends for a while, but their friendship solidified when they became improv duo partners on the speech team in middle school. Together, Ainsley and Annabel are dynamic. In school, Ainsley is a leader. She is an officer in several clubs and is also a class officer. She runs track and cross country, and at the time of this meal, she had recently returned from the state cross country meet.
It is only appropriate to introduce Peggy and Rachel together. These ladies are both older and attend the same Baptist church as my family does. Upon first meeting these two, they can easily be mistaken as sisters—they even call each other sister and will tell you that they share a mother. In fact, Peggy and Rachel are just extremely close friends. When their husbands were alive, both couples traveled the world together and made incredible memories. Today, both ladies are widows and have since moved into a duplex together. Rachel lives on one side of the duplex with her 94-year-old mother, and Peggy lives right next door. Rachel is a retired elementary school teacher, and Peggy is still working at JCPenney in Murray, and she has been for almost 20 years. I have only met Rachel and Peggy probably once in my life before this day. My mom met them through a bible study at church, where the ladies decided to adopt her as their little sister.
Finally, my Grandma Ann, who lives in Paris, TN, was also present at my kitchen table. My Grandma is the daughter of immigrants from Czechoslovakia and grew up in Pittsburg, PA. My grandma was raised Catholic and is still a practicing Catholic today. After she married my grandpa, he started his own company called Universal Coatings, which is focused on lining the insides of trailers with protective coatings to prepare them for shipping. My Grandparents had five kids—4 sons and my mom, who is the youngest by several years. My mom often jokes that she was an only child because the house was basically empty by the time she came along. Today, my grandpa has since passed away, but my grandma has kept the family business alive with the help of my uncle Tom. My Grandma goes to work at the shop every weekday, and she says she will continue to do so until it is impossible for her to do so.
Our conversation started off by discussing the value of hard work. Peggy obviously believed working was an important part of living a meaningful life, as she goes to work every single day at JCPenney. Side note: she said she is dreading Black Friday, but it is also her favorite work day of the year. While Rachel does not work anymore, she actively volunteers with meals on wheels twice a week and finds evidence in the importance of work through her 94-year-old mother, who still cleans the church every week. Everyone at the table agreed that working hard throughout life is what keeps people young. This was an interesting conversation to have from the perspective of older people who are working by choice and not to make a living.
A little later, I introduced the required question, “beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” I purposely warned Annabel of this question days in advance—hoping she would come up with something meaningful to add to the conversation. I was disappointed, but not surprised, when she only responded with “I think pretty much the same thing everyone else said.” Despite that failure, this question did spark interesting conversation about building communities, lending a helping hand, and the controversial issue of government “hand-outs.” Rachel had the most insightful answer to this question: she said that being a good citizen was about stepping up when you are needed and working to make your community a better place. This part of the conversation reminded me of “The Energy Diet” because we discussed how small actions can end up making a big difference in the long run. Smiling at people, introducing yourself to your neighbors, and being a servant to those are around you are all small steps that can be taken to build a community. Ainsley brought up the point that part of being a good citizen was working hard to go beyond what is required of you. The older women around the table had very strong opinions about people who do not work to earn their living, which did not surprise me. They believed part of being a good citizen was doing your part in society and that being unemployed is the exact opposite of that.
The rest of our conversation was typical of what you would find around a dinner table. Peggy and Rachel talked about their recent trip to Iceland. Ainsley talked about the sports she was involved in and discovered that Rachel is the grandmother of two of her teammates! My sister mentioned that she wanted to be in the FBI, and everyone roared with excitement—urging her to continue following that dream.
Another reading that I feel my Kentucky Kitchen Table experience connects with would be “How We Talk Matters” by Keith Melville. At one point in the article, the author discusses the importance of informal conversation, and how that can help us explore who we are and what we are concerned about. At my kitchen table I had the opportunity to engage in conversation that allowed me to see into the lives of others whom I might have never talked to before. I would not have had the opportunity to gain their unique perspectives by any other means.
Going into this project I thought it was just going to be another pointless, time-consuming task, but it ended up being very enjoyable for all of us involved. My mom rarely has people over anymore, so she was excited to have the opportunity to open our home. My grandma, Peggy, and Rachel talked like old friends and have started making plans to get together again. Through this experience I was reminded of the value of human connection. As cliché as it sounds, it had been so long since I gathered around a table with anyone other than family or close friends. When I was younger, it was not uncommon for us to have meals with neighbors, co-workers, or church family, but now we hardly ever do so. It is so neat how people who have no reason to relate to each other can find so much in common just by having a conversation. That thought reminds me of one of our central questions: “how can we live better together?” Maybe if we all took the time to slow down and engage in conversation, we could gain a better understanding of where people are coming from. Just simply talking to someone you would not normally talk with can open your eyes to a completely different perspective.