REKINDLING KINSHIPS; Americans Get Attached to Their Family Reunions
Byline: Alexandra Rockey Fleming, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
One summer it was illness, another time it was a business commitment.
Other than those two circumstances, nothing - but nothing - has kept D.C. resident James C. Hood from attending his annual family reunions.
His clan, the Smith family, has met every year for the past 30 at locations up and down the East Coast from Florida to New York. Last summer's event, held in North Carolina, drew 118 participants from newborn to the elderly - a number that "runs about average," Mr. Hood says.
Mr. Hood, 71, and wife Julya, 47, are among the nearly 72 million adults who attend reunions as frequently as every year. They embrace these weekend-or-longer events as ways to strengthen family ties and to provide an anchor in an unrelentingly stormy world.
Reunions allow family members to mingle with each other - and to learn to love each other, says Mr. Hood, a retired audiovisual specialist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
"I enjoy them because I enjoy my people, my family," he says. "I come from a large family - a family of 11 siblings. We're very, very close. I just enjoy all of them. That's why I've never missed but two [reunions]. It's all about family ties and unconditional love."
The basic connection
Sociologists refer to families as a "primary group," says Laurence Basirico, who specializes in the sociology of the family and social interaction as a professor at North Carolina's Elon University.
"You get your real fundamental sense of who are you with them," says Mr. Basirico, author of "The Family Reunion Survival Guide," which is in its final editing stages. "The most important thing is a sense of a 'we' feeling between yourself and the other members."
Within family culture are "the little and big things that make a family what it is - the inside jokes, the common language, the family stories, the smell of the house ... the ethnicity," he says. "One of the most important reasons people have reunions is to reconnect with the sense of who they are uniquely as a family, even though you get married and create a family of your own."
Reunions have been an important part of American heritage for hundreds of years, but the numbers are increasing as never before, Mr. Basirico says.
Numbers from the Travel Industry Association of America, the national nonprofit organization representing all components of the travel industry, seem to underscore Mr. Basirico's assertion.
The group's latest poll, taken in April 2002, indicates that one in three American adults have traveled to a family reunion in the past three years. The gatherings are frequent - annual, for half of the attendees - and nearly one-quarter of attendees travel to a family reunion once every two or three years.
People do not seem to shrink at distance, according to the association. Thirty-four percent travel 500 or more miles one way away from home to attend a reunion, and another 34 percent travel 150 to 499 miles.
These reconnections with family have been spurred in recent years by rapid technological changes, relocating family members who have moved away in search of economic opportunity or as a result of divorce, and uncertain social, economic and political realities, Mr. Basirico says.
He also says baby-boomers have reached middle age - the largest middle-age generation to date - and they frequently are the family members who volunteer to organize reunion events.
September 11 breathed even more life into the concept of the family reunion, says Ione Vargus, a professor emeritus and founder of the Family Reunion Institute at Temple University in Philadelphia.
"After 9/11, the importance of family became very significant. ... People felt threatened throughout the country and began to realize that it's really important to be with family instead of chasing the dollar or other things," she says. …