Kentucky Kitchen Table in Small-Town Kentucky

By: Sophia
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This dinner took place in the small, but developed town of Owensboro, Kentucky at in my parents’ home where I grew up. My mother and father, Jennifer and Philip, hosted this dinner for Frankie, Jeanne, and myself. We gathered around to discuss citizenship and enjoy my mother’s homemade burgoo, Frankie’s cornbread, and a delicious rum cake provided by Jeanne. I prepared by helping my mother with the burgoo, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. In the picture we are seated (from left to right): myself, Philip, Jennifer, Frankie, and Jeanne. Jennifer is a Registered Nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and currently pursuing a doctorate in nursing. She has a passion for helping others and is a talented learner. Philip is a supervisor at the Toyota Motor and Manufacturing factory in Princeton, Indiana. He commutes an hour and a half to and from work each day. Philip is a war veteran who is proud of his service in Operation Desert Storm but reluctant to talk much about his days of combat. Frankie is a retired state employer who loves spending time with her grandchildren and tending to her garden. She recently moved onto our street so we thought inviting her would make her feel welcome to our neighborhood. Jeanne was a former Human Resources consultant for the Health Park in Owensboro, Kentucky and currently owns and runs a children’s boutique called Kid’s Stop. I was worked at Kid’s Stop before Jeanne bought it and had to quit before she took over to move to Bowling Green. I went to see how the store had changed with her ownership and ended up inviting her to my Kentucky Kitchen Table. Following my mother’s footsteps, I am studying nursing at Western Kentucky University and share the same passion as my mother of helping others. I wish to further my education after obtaining a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing by pursing a nurse anesthetist degree.
To begin our discussions, I first started with asking each guest what citizenship means to them beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws. Philip, who feels underappreciated by the American government for his eight years of service, believes citizenship entails certain rights in which he respects and actively exercises. He believes he has earned these rights, as a citizen and a soldier, through his service in war. Other than my father’s opinion, a common theme amongst the other guests was that citizenship is being actively involved in your community and engaging in bettering the lives of those living in your community. Jeanne mentioned something unique that stuck well with me: “Citizenship is also having a voice in your community and your nation’s society.” After all agreeing to this, we discussed citizenship being in the context of a verb: in order to be a citizen, one must be engaged in their community and in making it a better place. Jennifer talked about her years of community service as an active member of the Owensboro Junior League and how she feels she made a difference in the people’s lives for which her services were helping. “Our main focus was concentrating on issues and services in the community that were actually going to help people for longer than a day or two” By this she meant, for example, working with those in homeless shelters on reading skills. Jennifer feels as if, by doing services like this, she was giving people opportunities to better themselves and their lives by sharing and teaching helpful skills. The other guests shared times they felt they had done their duty as a citizen and helped their communities in various ways. Frankie enjoys taking her 20-month old granddaughter to the animal shelter and feels she is brightening the lives of the animals of the community and, in turn, helping the community. Jeanne tries to do various community service but finds she does not prioritize it and it, therefore, gets put on the backburner. She also tries her best to help the parents of Owensboro by offering higher-end children’s clothing and doctor-recommended children’s footwear for more-than-fair prices at her boutique, Kid’s Stop. She often has sales where she will make no profit off of her merchandise because she believes it is her way to help her community. I am required to serve a minimum of fifteen hours of service a semester for my sorority at Western Kentucky University.
After overall agreeing that an important aspect of citizenship is serving and bettering the community, we got a little side-tracked. Jeanne shared the struggles and excitements of moving Kid’s Stop to a different location. After many congratulating and encouraging words from the other guests, I directed our conversation towards politics in America by asking, “What is the most impactful decision the Trump Administration has made since being in office?” My father was the first to respond by saying he believed the recent bombings on Syria have been the most important and impactful decision made thus far. My mother and Jeanne quickly added nods and words of approval while Frankie shook her head expressing her disapproval. My father elaborated on his first statement by arguing that president Trump was decisive and has reminded the world of America’s military power. Jeanne agreed and mentioned that this decision was a “nice alternative to the Obama Administration who always said they would do something about gas bombs and never did.” Jennifer chimed in by saying that the people, especially the children, living in Syria need someone as strong as America fighting to stop the torture and killings, and Trump has shown that America will fight for them. Frankie disagrees; however, she understands why the decision was made. She fears another Cold War, or worse, more terrorist attack on American soil as a result of these bombings. Although afraid of the possible outcomes, she agrees that something needed to be done to help save the people Syria.
After feeling like we had discussed enough about the dreaded topic of politics, I decided to brighten up our conversation a bit by asking, “what kind of person do you want to be?” I was reluctant to ask this question because my parents and our guests are not young adults. But after some thought, I realized this question is not, “what kind of person do you want to be when you grow up,” but “what kind of person do you want to be each and every day?” I felt like Frankie had read my mind and knew my initial concern with my question because she quickly answered by saying, “I am 77 years old and I work each day to be the person who God wants and who I want to be. It is a life-learning process.” She went on to explain that she wants to be someone who her grandchildren look up to every single day. Someone who helps others and is empathetic of others’ situations. “With every encounter I have with someone, I try to keep in mind that this person has different experiences than me; therefore, has different feelings and opinions that I must appreciate even if I don’t agree.”
This made me think of one of the central questions of our course: “How do we live well together?” I think Frankie’s response to what kind of person she wants to be is one of many ways to answer this question. I brought this question up to my guests, telling them that it is one of the centralizing questions of this course, and my father’s response was interesting. He said that he had never thought of solutions to that question before and mentioned that the way Frankie tries to encounter people is a good start to people living together well.
I thought this was a good closing point for what I wanted to know for my Kentucky Kitchen Table project so I did not ask any more questions and allowed our new friends to genuinely mingle with my parent’s and me. Learning what we did about Jeanne and Frankie created the foundation for a strong friendship in which we all plan to keep.

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Citizenship and What It Means to Both the Old and the Young

By AbigailIMG_1742

My Kentucky Kitchen Table project, held in Owensboro, KY, provided a chance for me to learn from several different people about their role in society. It was interesting to hear all of the different perspectives and how the perspectives changed based on the age of the dinner guests. The dinner consisted of Kassandra, Jeff, Allison, Avery, Nijha, Rose, Isabella, Donny, and me. Kassandra is my hardworking mother. She provided the entire meal for the dinner because she wanted to try out a new recipe that she had seen. She made spinach lasagna and garlic bread. She also provided a beautiful strawberry cake for dessert. Interestingly enough, each of the guests helped in setting up for the dinner by laying place mats out, filling cups with ice and water, and putting silverware out. It was nice to see an element of “citizenship” playing out even before the dinner started. Jeff is my dad. He is 46 years old and works as a maintenance manager for Alcoa. Both Allison and Avery are my sisters. Allison is a college student at a local university and Avery is in high school. Avery brought a friend named Isabella. They do not go to the same high school, but met in middle school where they have remained friends since. Isabella brought her friend from her high school, Nijha. Nijha comes from a single parent household and she is biratial. My grandmother, Rose, lives in a government funded housing complex in the center of our city. She brought one of her friends from her housing complex named Donny. Donny is an U.S. army veteran. While I went into the dinner wanting to get my questions answered, I felt that our conversations sparked a more meaningful purpose for the dinner.

As we all sat down with our plates of lasagna and garlic bread, I started to ask some questions. Each member of the dinner came to the dinner with the understanding that they would be answering questions for a project of mine and so they were all prepared to give thoughtful responses to the questions I had. I asked each person the required question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Interestingly enough, there was a stark contrast between the answers of the high-school aged members and the older members. Isabella said, “[Citizenship means] you’re apart of the country and happy to follow to rules.” Nijha, who seemed shy at first, said “[citizenship is] doing good for others even when no one is watching.” Where as Donny said, “You’ve given everything you could and now you get to receive.” He was directly referring to social security in his response. Rose agreed with Donny and said that she feels that she has less of an impact on society as an older person than “you young people have.”

However the topic that dominated our discussion was that of social issues and the root of all social issues. I asked both Allison and Kassandra which social issue is closest to their heart and why and while their answers were different, they both fell under a similar theme. Kassandra responded, “Abortion because it’s a direct assault against God’s character.” And Allison noted, “Divorce is the social issue closest to my heart because it results in the division of families.” Kassandra later went on to talk about how she believed that many social issues were rooted in a citizen’s home life. I brought up the issue of drug use and how it seems that no matter what we do, drug use will always be a problem. Kassandra felt that drug use begins because of a lack of stability at a young age. Each person began to try and create “mini solutions” for current social problems. And as each person talked about social issues that weighed heavy on their hearts, it almost because discouraging. Similar to our discussions in class about wicked problems, each member of the dinner began to understand the complexity of most of the issues and how the issues seem almost impossible to correct. I explained that in my class, we discussed that their are some issues that are so complex that they can almost never be solved. As Jeff reflected on what we can do to solve some of these problems he said, “[It is our] responsibility to attribute to the common good.” This seemed to resonate with most of the members of the dinner.

The most interesting take away for me were the differences in perspective (and in turn, answers) based on the members’ age. While almost everyone at the table seemed to bring something a little unique simply because we’re human, the older members were more conservative and viewed their citizenship as something that is not as prevalent anymore. It is almost as if they’ve given all they need to, and now it is time for them to sit back and reap the benefits of their hard work. However the younger members all responded in ways that seemed to define their citizenship as an active duty.

I also learned that situations are only awkward if you make up your mind that they will be. I was so afraid leading up to the dinner that I would put my foot in my mouth, or that someone would feel uncomfortable, but everyone seemed to be at ease and there was no awkward silence. Because I knew that Isabella would be bringing a friend that I did not know, I was afraid that the friend would feel uncomfortable or awkward. It turned out that Nijha was incredibly friendly and brought unique and interesting ideas to the discussion. Similarly, Donny, whom I had seldom met but once, was very vocal when it came to our discussion. He was eager to explain his own opinions, but also ready to hear what others had to say. It demonstrated to me the importance of putting myself out there in situations that I may deem as uncomfortable. Ultimately, how are we going to learn anything if we’re not willing to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions?

I felt that the dinner was putting everything we’ve covered in class into reality. We’ve talked about listening to others’ opinions and we’ve discussed how to learn from other people even when you don’t agree. There were times during the dinner where I felt frustrated with a guest’s answer or response, but then I realized that it was my job to listen and hear their point of view. As soon as I could free myself up to do just that, I felt myself understanding that person so much more. Even my own dad and I had differing opinions on current social issues, but we were able to listen to one another and acknowledge where the other one was coming from. That, in essence, is what citizenship is – Being able to work together and understand where someone else may be coming from.

Kentucky Kitchen Table in Owensboro

By Hannah

My Kitchen Table Project took place in the good old Owensboro, or as many of us like to call it “the dirty”. I went to my grandparent’s house, Virgil and Jane (not pictured). We had a few other family members there and some family ‘outsiders’ that I had not met before or do not know as well. My grandpa Virgil, or as I call him, Papaw, grew up on the farm and often tells many of his old tales from living with the farm animals and walking miles to attend school in a small one room building. My grandma, Jane aka Mammy, grew up in a nice christian family with a little more money and opportunities than my Papaw. Also joining us was my brother, a 20 year old stay at home community college student. Also attending was My aunt Debbie, her two kids Michaela (her new finance, Bill, who recently moved here from North Caroline) and Patrick. Last not but not least Were two of my other cousins Wes and Audra. Wes graduated from UofL and is now in the National Guard. Audra finished her education with high school and now helps with her family’s horses and works in a factory. With the variety of ages, education, and city/country life we had much diversity. It was also interesting to get to know Bill since I had never met him before. (We all contributed to part of the meal).

When asking everyone what citizenship meant to them, I received a wide variety of answers. Wes, who is in the National Guard, felt very obligated to serve his country and be up to date with everything happening to be a well rounded citizen. He believed you should be actively involved and helping in any way that you can. My brother, Caleb, felt his citizenship was more defined just by your political actions. To him being a citizen entails being very up to speed with anything politics and actively voicing your opinions and voting when at all possible. Everyone else joined at the table didn’t have much of an opinion on their citizenship except that they lived in the country and felt they should vote. Michaela mentioned something with having good morals and stepping in to help other citizens when needed.

The rest of the conversation seemed to then find itself among the lines of education obligations. Bill found that everyone had an obligation to become educated and get a well paying job to support yourself and any future family. My cousin Audra, who did not attend college, found that there are ways to work and find yourself and have a successful life without higher education. My brother Caleb found himself in the middle. As a night time community college student who is a manger of a Chick-fil-a during the days, he found that you can always find a balance between the two. He doesn’t necessarily need to go to college but he is to further his education and become a better business manger in what he does. It was very interesting to view the different stand points on higher education and whether or not it is necessary. This reminded me of Jane Adams and her failures at medical school for some reason. Not everyone goes to college and if they do are always successful. But in the end you find your path along  the way and get to where you are supposed to be. For some that might include higher education and for others it might not.

IMG_2059(My grandparents have a very small kitchen table so we pulled out collapsable tables in the garage!)