People are rediscovering their families, and family reunions are enjoying a comeback.
Folks these days are making the effort, setting aside the time, traveling the distances, and proving the point that although family members may be out of sight, they are most certainly not out of mind.Reunions pin down good intentions about visiting far-flung relatives, and help to meet the challenge of maintaining or refreshing long-distance relationships.
Clan gatherings have been encouraged by Better Homes and Gardens for three years now as a means of encouraging family unity and keeping the reunion tradition alive.
In 1986 the magazine even persuaded President Reagan to sign a proclamation, declaring the first weekend in August (Aug. 5 to 7 this year) as "National Family Reunion Weekend."
The President's sentiments included these words: "Family reunions bridge generations and remind us of our roots. I encourage all families to use the family reunion to tap these roots again and to renew their pledge of love and concern for each other."
In a Better Homes and Gardens Family Network survey, more than 70 percent of respondents said they had attended at least one reunion, and, on average, reported having gone to nearly four. The survey also revealed that one-third of respondents do hold, or plan to hold, reunions on a regular basis.
Seventy percent said that family members had become increasingly important to them over the last five years and that they wished they could spend more time with them. Most said they took to the idea of a family reunion because they just wanted to be together and to "rekindle ties and meet new relatives." Many indicated they wanted to learn more about their family heritage, and see photographs and hear stories of their ancestors.
An average of 39 family members attended the last reunion attended by those surveyed. One-third of the events were held outdoors in a park or garden, and more than a quarter were held in residences. About a tenth were in halls, restaurants, country clubs, or hotels.
Although nearly three-quarters of those responding said they enjoyed themselves very much at reunions, about 3 percent said they didn't enjoy themselves much.
Brooks Rogers, a New York career woman, along with a brother and sister, went down South last year to attend their first family reunion. They had all read the family history that had been put together in a booklet by a self-appointed family historian, and were curious to meet the people, many of whom were strangers to them.
"We were welcomed with open arms and in 103-degree heat began a protracted experience of responding to relatives who spun us tales of family history and insisted we visit the family cemetery. At the home of an aunt we looked at quilts and were taken through old hope chests, portrait albums, and letters. We left heavy with food, heat, and history - but glad we had gone."
The ties that bind are not always sanguine, nor do all reunions drip with sentiment and nostalgia.
Some months ago, Jane E. Brody warned in her New York Times column that some family reunions are more to be endured and survived than enjoyed.