I was asked by one of my professors, as everyone in the class was, to do an assignment that involved having dinner with (for lack of a better word) strangers. To make matters worse, I actually had to talk to them about important issues. I really wasn’t looking forward to this, and so I put it off until the last minute. Because of the chronic procrastination, the only option was to have dinner with the neighbors, Brenda and Hank. To give some context, I have lived near this family with my parents for nearly ten years.
Throughout those ten years, I had seen them outside here and then, and talked to them a bit. However, the conversations we had were stereotypical small talk – “Hey how’s it going? Beautiful weather we’re having huh?” and nothing more. I’d never even seen the inside of their house. So when I knocked on their door asking if they wanted to have a potluck with my daughter, Ava (who’s five) and I, you can imagine that they were quite perplexed. I explained to them that it was for a class assignment, and that I had a couple of specific questions I needed to ask them throughout the meal. They agreed and we decided to have dinner later that weekend, since I was in town for the weekend.
It is now the evening of the potluck, and in a few short hours I would be eating dinner with my neighbors for the first time. It was decided that they were going to make lasagna and green beans and that I was going to bring a pumpkin pie cake. Thankfully my mom (and to a lesser extent, my daughter) helped make it. Thanks Mom! After the cake was finished, we “sampled” just a bit. You know, to ensure that it was of satisfactory quality. The cake passed the test with flying colors. Next we both got dressed for the occasion, and I explained to Ava that she needed to be on her best behavior.
Ava and I made the short walk next door and rang the bell. Brenda answered the door and invited us inside. As soon as we walked in, the delicious aroma of German Lasagna made its way to our noses. The table was set, and everything was ready to go. Hank was already sitting at the table, reading the newspaper. After exchanging pleasantries, Brenda, Ava, and I sat down to join him.
Right as we were about to start eating, Ava reminded us all that we hadn’t said a prayer yet. Queue awkward moment number one. Or so I thought. It actually wasn’t awkward at all, but since we didn’t know them that well, I wasn’t sure about their thoughts/opinions on religion. Thankfully they thought it was cute and gladly obliged. We then began to eat, talking here and there about various things.
In the beginning, the conversation was mostly about getting to know each other. They asked what I was majoring in at KSU (Software Engineering) and what year I was (Senior). I asked them about what they did for a living. Brenda works as a Pharmacy Tech at Dillons Stores and Hank works at the SRCA Drag Strip. Ava and I both found this interesting because I had taken her out there multiple times to see races, and she really enjoyed it. It also gave us something to talk about, and kept Ava involved in the conversation so she didn’t get too bored.
I was glad to talk about non-polarizing issues for the first half of the evening. It helped to break the ice before I had to ask a couple of questions that could turn potentially political. Typically I don’t mind political conversations, but a dinner with acquaintances isn’t really the ideal place for it. Especially because political conversations tend to go one of two ways with most people – Team A is bad/unintelligent and Team B is great and always has the right answers. Or vice versa. This trend deeply bothers me because nothing is that simple. It’s much more nuanced than that, which is why I tend to fall in the middle of political spectrum, and find myself disagreeing with both Republicans and Democrats (depending on the issue).
After a while the conversation naturally drifted to issues within the Great Bend City Council. We discussed it a bit, and I decided it was a good time to segue into my first required question – “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you”? We discussed this for quite a while, and the best way I can sum it up is that they think Citizenship means doing your part. Contributing to our shared community, and country. Brenda made a good point about how it’s easy to complain about taxes, without seeing the value in it. If we, as citizens, want infrastructure, defense, schools, etc., then we need taxes. They’re a necessary “evil”, if you will. Hank then made a good point about Social Security taxes specifically. He brought up the fact that I will have to pay S.S. taxes but likely get nothing out of it. We talked about that for a while and explained my feelings on the matter.
Almost two hours had now passed and it was about time to go. Brenda cleaned the dishes as we wrapped up the evening and it was then that I realized that I had forgotten to take a picture of us at the table. They were nice enough to re-set the table with food so we could “fake” a picture of our dinner. We took the pictures, which Hank was quite reluctant to be in, and then said our goodbyes.
I’m very pleased with how the evening turned out, and I think even Ava had a good time (largely thanks to their cat – Cinder). Going into this, I was very nervous and apprehensive. But afterwards, I’m glad that I did it. I got to know the neighbors fairly well, and it really made me think about trying to get out of my comfort zone more often. Sometimes, you just need a little boost – like the penalty of getting a zero on an assignment!