In the little town of Somerset, Kentucky, it seems as if everyone has the same opinions. You seem to hear the same political and social ideas throughout the city; however, at my Kentucky Kitchen Table, it was refreshing to hear different ideas. At my table, I had my mom, dad, my aunt Pam, my aunt Paula, (they’re twins), Pam’s husband Keenan, and Paula’s new boyfriend, Steve. My mom and aunts’ jobs all involve education, while my dad and Keenan are retired. Steve works at a rental car place in my city. I was excited to hear that Steve was coming to the dinner because he seemed to be different than my other family. Most of my family are seen as Republicans, while Steve is a Democrat—I felt like this would add a lot of character to my answers and not get the same, repetitive statements every time. We ate a hearty meal of vegetable soup, cornbread, and mac n cheese, one of my favorite meals. After filling our stomachs with too much food, I explained the basis of my topic and began to ask questions.
First of all, I asked the question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Paula immediately answered with the statement, “Helping everyone in your community out even when you don’t think you can.” Keenan agreed but wanted to add to the statement, “Not just the community, the country. I think being involved and understanding what is going on in politics is a huge part of being a citizen.” Everyone around the table seemed to nod their heads in agreement. I asked if there were any other thoughts, but no one really seemed to have any extra statements to add besides my mom. She chimed in saying that people shouldn’t really focus on the basic parts of being a citizen, like voting and paying taxes, but focus on the larger parts of citizenship, such as political and social knowledge and being there for others in a time of need. There seemed to be a large common ground in helping out others if it were possible to do. This reminded me of the empathy discussion we had in class where we discussed how far you would go to help someone. It also reminded me of parts of our empathy reading, “The Baby in the Well” by Paul Bloom. It seems like people help in theory, but only the commercialized versions of it. Hearing my family discuss this, it seemed like they would go as far as possible to help—and that makes us a good citizen. When I brought up this statement, it really brought up some disagreement. Pam said it wasn’t the citizens’ faults because they don’t know anything without having the media involved. Steve bounced back with the statement, “That’s why we should stay as involved in issues as we are with social media. We should focus on finding the misfortunes so we can help.” I thought that seemed a little excessive and negative. When I thought about the question, I suppose I agree with these statements as well. Being involved in the country’s social issues is a huge part of citizenship but I had never really thought of it being that important until it was said at the dinner table. I think that there is a fine line between being involved and becoming obsessed with these issues, however. Even though my family had very similar answers to this question, I know there are so many possibilities to answer the question.
I continued to ask questions and create conversation. The next question I asked was, “What do you like about where you live?” My mom answered, “The peacefulness of living in the country.” My dad agreed with it being peaceful, but also said he loved being able to have a large amount of land he can do whatever he wants with. Paula answered the question, “Even though I know I’m not, I feel rich.” She lives in a subdivision in a larger-scale house she recently bought and renovated after her divorce. She wanted her house to have a wealthier feel, she said. This answer really intrigued me because it made me think about how materialistic we are as a culture. Most people in our society feel the need to look and seem wealthy to have this status. When I brought this up to Paula, she said “That’s true. It also may be because I grew up poor and it may just be a change to me.” I really liked that answer and it gave much more clarity. I asked Pam the same question, and she answered, “It’s such a tight-knit community. I just love it.” She lives in a subdivision in the city. “Everyone can go on a walk around the block with anyone and you really get to know your neighbors. There’s no negativity anywhere throughout my little neighborhood.” Steve said his favorite thing about where he lives is that it’s close to Paula. This really showcased the importance of relationships in our lives and how it is implemented into our daily lives. Even though I live in the middle of nowhere, I have very close relationships with my very few neighbors and they are important to me—especially when I go home in the summer. These relationships make all of us happy and are important to what we like about our location of residence.
Another question I asked was, “Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” My mother immediately chimed in with the answer yes. She just recently retired from being a high school English teacher and is now a substitute. She said, “I know my job serves a greater purpose. I am educating the youth about how to talk and speak and communicate throughout life. I don’t think that any other job can do this better.” My aunts work at the local college and agreed. Steve said, “All I do is give rental cars to people and drive them to and from there houses. In the eyes of rental car company owners, I suppose I do.” and we laughed. Then he added, “It almost makes you feel bad about yourself if you don’t, but I don’t mind. I like my job.” We all agreed that it’s most important to like your job.
I also asked, “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Paula said that child hunger, especially in Appalachia, was important to her because it’s heartbreaking to see these children who can’t help it starve. She also said she tries to donate food to God’s Food Pantry and local schools to help with this issue. “I just think that no child should have to go home from school hungry because their parents can’t feed them. Children shouldn’t have to starve.” was her final statement. Pam answered next. She said, “The poverty issue that I see every day while at work really hurts me and I wish I could help.” In our county and surrounding counties, there is a high poverty rate. My mom also agreed with this statement. Since my mom worked in a high school, she saw children that ranged from very wealthy to homeless. She said, “It was so awful to see some of the brightest kids come to school and fall asleep because they had to watch their younger siblings all night while the mom was at work, or they didn’t even have a bed to sleep in.” This made me think about how we could help them—but it also seems like a problem that cannot be solved and has no true solution. Child poverty also can be the fault of the parents they are with. Poverty seems to be a wicked problem in our county. At the table, there seemed to be a common theme of helping children, who are seen as ultimately helpless.
From my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I learned a lot. I asked every question on the list but included the question’s that had the most interesting answers to me. I really thought that since there were differing political views, there would be many different ideas at my table. There seemed to be a lot of common themes throughout the answers. I really loved how well everyone got along at my dinner table and I got to know my family a little better. I am generally the cousin that seems to stay away from political or social conversations and stay out of lengthy conversations with extended family. Being forced to do it was good for me, I believe. It almost made me realize how much I don’t know about my family; these were only two of my mom’s siblings and she is one of seven. I really would like to do this project again with my whole family, all six of my mom’s siblings and four of my dad’s, along with their partners and children. I was constantly engaged in the conversation and even shared some of my viewpoints, which I tend to keep to myself. At the end of the conversation, Paula asked if we could do something like this once a month. Everyone at the table happily agreed.