The word tourism, first used in the early 1800s, was derived from the Latin 'Tornare' or Greek 'Tornos," meaning to circle. And like its root, tourism suggests movement around an axis point or home. Lately, I have also been thinking about travel as a cultural pilgrimage; a way to trace my roots, to discover and come to know home. As a recent implant to New York City, home for me is not simply about my urban surroundings but also a landscape that includes the history of how I have come to be planted here. When part of me seeks salvation from feeling perennially uprooted, I yearn for something rural, a place where I know my neighbors.
The place I reach out to is a "hometown" in my memory, or more accurately in my imagination, perhaps not unlike the hometown where my mother was raised. By way of facts, Crane is a small town located in Southern Missouri with a population just over 1,000. If you weren't looking for it, you might just pass it by in search for something bigger or more interesting. But as with most small towns, the character and the identity is in the people, and in their traditions. Crane Missouri was home to my grandfather, a doctor and my grandmother, a home economics teacher. It is where my mother spent her formative years. Far from New York City, I cannot help but believe that there is some aspect of legacy that is held somewhere deep in this small U.S town. And, it is in the community gatherings and traditions, that I look to understand how we might be better at bringing communities together, not just as part of a distant past but in order to forge a new kind of future. A future where we draw from the traditions and our communities to rekindle a sense of home: belonging.
One such tradition, happens in Crane every August when 10,000-20,000 people descend on this small town for carnival rides, petting zoos, and two-days of feasting on chicken and potato salad for a festival known as the Crane Broiler Festival. The festival had it's start in 1952 sponsored by the southwest Missouri broiler growers association, an assorted lot of 60 "growers" in Stone County. During it's early years, as the website boasts, all of the chickens were raised locally. Also starting in 1952 was a beauty pageant. The winner each year is crowned with the title Miss Slick Chick. (A title my mom held in 1956).
It is true these days, that the chickens are no longer raised locally. True also, that many of the local businesses of Crane's Main Street that pulled together to start the Broiler Festival and the pageantry have long since vanished, along with my grandparents. Yet, it is much more than nostalgia that makes me want to cheer for the uninterrupted history that will lead us to the 59th annual Crane Broiler Festival in 2011. These days, I cannot help but think of Crane, Missouri as a powerful beacon of community. This is especially true as we face real threats to the rural character and identity of small towns. I look to celebrations and traditions like the Crane Broiler Festival to hold the threads of community that link us to our culture and our past. Travel has a deep history in going away and returning and a new ethic of travel makes me wonder if we might draw that circle a little closer, walk a little slower, and connect more deeply -- and more meaningfully -- to the communities we visit. It might just spark a renewal, a sense of home. If you're stopping through Crane late this summer, do take part in this bona fide Americana.