granddaughter’s room, and the great grandma’s back here.” She describes her great granddaughter and herself as general family positions rather than as particular people. Though she may currently occupy the “great grandmother’s” room, she clearly knows that before long another “great grandmother” will take her place. The particular cast of characters may change, but the family as a set of relative positions will endure. Conceived of in this way, the tent comes to symbolize a framework of relationships– the enduring concept of the Ramsey family– rather than any particular people.
In the same spirit, Mary characterizes the objects she is accumulating in her kitchen as “everything but perishables.” Because they are conceived of as unchanging, the house and its memory objects become what she terms “a base” and “a home” to which she can return every year.
While she begins her story with ancestors and stories of death, she finishes her account with reference to children in general and her youngest great grandson Jonathan Spense in particular. The children (both particular children and the general category) provide a counter to the images of death and an irretrievable past. The young women of Mary’s generation have become, not old ladies, but “grandmamas” of children who will guarantee the continuity of the tent and its family. Her final words are not about the past but about the future:
Every summer you know because all these nieces and nephews come with their children. And the ones that were young years ago, now they’re grandmamas. And we get to see each other’s family. So there will always be a base. And I feel that as long as there’s any of my family living there will be Ramseys here. It will be in the family. It will be, I know.
The Paradox of Identity Updating
“Identity updating” engages a kind of paradox. The very notion of identity suggests a degree of continuity and coherence in the sense of self, while “updating” suggests change. A wholesale switching of identities in response to changes in social development or context (a conflation of “life” with the modern concept of “lifestyle”) does not take into consideration the cognitive need for a significant degree of continuity and constancy in one’s sense of self despite development and change. Ideally, identity updating must acknowledge simultaneously both change and continuity in one’s sense of self.
Social frameworks that remain relatively stable over time such as an extended family , a stable neighborhood or a family homestead can provide a reference base that can reconcile social development with fundamental continuity of identity. Such stable frameworks can furnish individuals with a series of developmental positions that they can occupy as they mature. Over time one can be in turn a child, a teenager, an adult/parent, an old person/grandparent and a remembered ancestor within a familiar and relatively stable framework.12
Annual reunion traditions provide a kind of surrogate “home base” for families whose working life has them on the move. This is why camp meeting has taken on an important “home coming” function for families, in addition to its older function of personal spiritual renewal. As Ann Milton put it, in characterizing Salem in the context of her family’s peripatetic life “And living in so many different homes, and belonging to so many chapels and churches, well this was