One of Jordan Roberts’s latest graphic designs is bizarre and a little spooky: a skeletal creature dubbed “The Rhiney,” surrounded by strange iconography. Around the circle, Roberts, a graphic designer based in Phoenix, added the words “TO HUNT. TO HAUNT. TO EMBODY HORROR,” followed by “THE MAYNARD MONSTER CULT ETERNAL.”
The emblem only means something to an exclusive group: the 20 or so individuals who on a recent weekend convened in Fort Collins, Colorado, all donning tan T-shirts or tank tops with the emblem silk-screened in red ink onto the back. The group was Roberts’s family, gathered for a family reunion, as families do around the world. Scholars who’ve studied familial traditions in various cultures have repeatedly found that reunions have special significance among extended families that are physically disparate, whether because of political or economic circumstances, and who crave a sense of continuity across generations. Researchers have identified echoes of these themes among African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Korean families, for example.
Certainly the experience of being spread out geographically is common for many American families these days, and family reunions are remarkably popular. A poll conducted last year by the Family Travel Association and New York University found that 37 percent of adult parents in the United States with kids 17 or younger have taken their children to a family reunion. (Comparable historical data about the popularity of reunions are unavailable.) Their popularity, notably, appears to be consistent across age groups—older and younger Americans are just as likely to attend family reunions, according to the AARP. The main motivation for attendance: “reconnecting with old and new family members, making new memories, and sharing family history.”