By: Terry Simpson
One might have thought they were entering a foreign country as they stepped into the Monroe County Cooperative Extension Office kitchen recently and were greeted by the smell of international delicacies lining three tables, wafting out into the rest of the building.
However, the familiar colors of red, white and blue, used by Charolette Arnett, Kim Hollinsworth and Jamille Hawkins to decorate the hall, and clothed those attending the event, quickly brought guests senses back home to Monroe County and the United States of America.
The Monroe County Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association (KHEA) International Night was held on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the Extension office, with local homemaker groups providing the meal and the Monroe County William B. Harlan Memorial Library displaying a decorative table of cookbooks from the spotlighted countries of the night.
Homemaker Sue Walsh, one of the organizers, noted that each of the county’s Homemaker Clubs were assigned a country to prepare dishes for the event.
“We tried to choose meals that we could find the ingredients here. We also needed something that would feed a lot of people cheaply. Lamb is used in a lot of these recipes, but it is expensive,” Walsh added.
The countries represented in main dishes, sides, salads and desserts, were Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Poland. They were chosen to coincide with a presentation by local police captain and Ky. National Guard 1SG Kerry Denton, husband of Homemaker Maria Denton, who was asked to speak at the event, due to his experiences of those countries, which he visited during his military deployment.
While some of the dishes were “unheard of” to those attending, they were very well received by the guests as platters were scraped clean, with attendees joking of their eagerness to at least try the culinary offerings.
They filled their plates and stepped out into the main hall anxious to hear Denton’s presentation and see his slideshow as they consumed their meal.
After prayer offered by Jim Walsh, Extension Agent Jamille Hawkins welcomed the group, with Maria Denton introducing her husband.
Denton, a Tompkinsville Police Officer, began his presentation noting a little about himself and what led him to a career in the military.
Born and raised in Monroe County, one of the last babies born at Monroe County Medical Center, he graduated from Monroe County High School in 1996 and went straight to work for Anderson Forest Products.
He pointed to homemaker Ina Graves (who also works at Anderson), saying, “I was just a young kid, but I knew I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. The military was ingrained in my family, always has been. I went to Ina and told her I wanted to see the world. She told me she supported me 100% and to go and chase my dreams.”
He continued explaining that he had always wanted to go to Alaska, but he was from a poor family and didn’t feel he had much chance of that unless he joined the military.
He said that while his family was poor, that he and his brother were always well taken care of and his mother and father had always worked very hard to make sure of that.
In 1997 he joined the army and “I ain’t never looked back.”
Denton, clicking through slides from his journeys over the years, noted first of his time in Jordan, “I didn’t know God then and I was in the heart of the biblical lands. I wish I could go back knowing what I know now. I would have gotten so much more out of it.”
He continued telling stories of his time in Iraq, where he was approximately 2,056 miles from home, but served with another Monroe Countian Jeremy Gearlds.
“When you are just a young kid and have never been anywhere but home and you go to a place where people hate you, that is hard. Jeremy got me through that. We would talk about going fishing when we got home.”
As a young boy from Tompkinsville, Denton said he was also fascinated with the prayer rituals performed.
“When they pray, everything stops. Businesses, the interstate… everything… it just shuts down. They throw out their prayer rugs and everything just stops.”
He told of the children, who push around old tires for entertainment, that line the roads when American soldiers come into town. “They beg for anything you will give them. Anything to eat,” he explained.
“I hope this doesn’t sound bad, but we always had an abundance of care packages from home. We would take those and put together water, food, coloring crayons and books… anything we could do. We were just trying to help,” he explained, “Unfortunately when the adults found out they would take it all and beat the kids.”
With this drawing a gasp from the crowd, Denton continued, “Not everyone there was bad. Just like everywhere, they have some really bad people and some really good people. They are just like us. Their skin color or religion does not make them bad people.”
The slideshow continued as Denton spoke of each picture, sharing stories of the holding cell where Saddam Hussein was held, the taste he acquired for lamb (bar-b-qued of course) and the 3×5 shelter he camped in affectionately called his “hillbilly hide-a-way.”
The hideaway, made for quickly relocating, held a bed and a lamp for reading and had a solid wood top for protection.
Denton spoke of Poland last, noting that it was the most beautiful country he had been to this far.
“Great people, good food and just a good place to go.”
He noted that the country has very little trash and gets 80% of their energy from windmills, as it is very windy there. He noted he had been there three weeks and only saw two water bottles along the road in that time, “no one throws out trash and if it falls off a truck in front of someone the person behind stops and picks it up.”
He also shared pictures of stork houses in Poland, explaining that after the birds would build nest in the power lines, shorting out the electric, that the country started building houses for them atop each light pole, “Everywhere you go, free stork houses,” he joked as the mood was lightened from earlier tales of the bad he had witnessed while out of the United States.
As he finished the slideshow he noted, “Members of the military make a lot of sacrifices, but it is worth it for the people in this room and their families.”