home. Because it was the only thing that was. It stayed, always permanent.”
Uninterrupted annual attendance at camp meeting is highly values at Salem, and campers readily testify to newcomers like myself how many years they have been coming to Salem. The regularity of participation does not simply convey dedication, but appears to be an essential component for many campers of having a coherent identity. Through the seemingly endless stories of bygone camp meetings , and through surrounding themselves with photographs of themselves and their ancestors at Salem, campers self-consciously link their current sense of self with a series of their own past identities as well as with the identities of ancestors some of whom they will never have met other then through stories and photos.
As we saw with Mary Ramsey’s framing of the bedrooms in the Ramsey tent (“the great grandaughter’s bedroom,” and “the great grandma’s bedroom”) Salem provides campers not only with strong particular relationships, but with a powerful set of collective statuses through which they can pass as they grow older, a common framework for growing older together that reconciles the tensions between basic change and basic continuity in identity.
In their stories campers frequently conflate the past and present, and appear to view their experiences at Salem as incorporated in a long chain of generalized event types. For example consider the memory chain invoked for Laura Kemp in the deceptively simple offering of cookies to us in her tent.
Would y’all like a cookie? These are special cookies. These are my grandmother’s icebox cookies that my aunt made. And she said she stopped counting at 24 dozen. That was very sweet of Ann to make---and it was very deliberate that she made Mom’s icebox cookies. Mom meaning my grandmother, too. People don’t understand that we are talking about our grandmother when we say “Momma.” She was “Momma” to everybody.
In this remarkable statement the cookies have a powerful synthetic function, linking herself to her aunt to her mother and ultimately to her grandmother. These are powerful semantic cookies, at once particular food items and. More abstractly, the locus of a chain of Laura’s matrilineal kin.
This conversion of particulars into a chain of deep family associations was also evident in Mary Ramsey’s explication of one of her old photos. In her tour of the Ramsey tent Mary suggests how strong the impulse is, as campers grow older, to place themselves in a continuing chain that both distinguishes them as individuals and incorporates them as generalized statuses. Consider the following exchange between Mary and Scott Edmundson who was filming the interview.
Mary: This is a very old picture: Martha, Spence, Sam’s mother and daddy, Mary Sue, and then Big George and Mary Sue. Big George married a Mary Sue, Spence’s sister was named Mary Sue, and so when I married, I told them to call me “Mary.”
Scott: Now where are you in [the photo]?
Mary Oh I wasn’t in the family then. . . But now I’m the “quote” matriarch of this Ramsey family.
Scott’s misunderstanding is perfectly reasonable since Mary seems to be asserting that