As campers grow older and watch the generations change, the rhythms through which the camp meeting are experienced appear to shift from repetition to complex kinds of cyclicity. Here’s how two elderly campers described it.
And always you think about the way this thing keeps on. You know it’s just like a big circle, it just keeps on, keeps on, keeps on and we try to maintain the integrity of that wheel I guess you’d say and then you know you can’t help but think about the older ones that have, you know come and gone and served and they’ve passed away, but then that makes you sad but then the hope is you see their kids now taking leadership roles in it, you know and so you just see it continue to, I guess perpetuate itself.
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See things like that kids will remember. And they’ll remember here. They’ll remember things happened. I can remember back to the little old country church that I got saved in. And I’m 81 years old and that was 1934. See I can remember back things back in that church. I can remember one time I, in church, I wanted to get out and play, my britches got dusted. Mama dusted my britches for getting out there doing, walking on the cemetery wall. See that’s what these kids can remember little things that happen . . .they get old and have children, then they can tell their children what happened.
But it is not just a cyclicity that links the old and the young in a ritual circle. As campers and sit on the porches of their tents and watch the kids playing on the grassy areas surrounding the Tabernacle many seem to be able to mentally substitute themselves as children in the place of their children now, using reciprocal identification to project themselves backwards and forwards in time.
And it’s funny because when you’re young, you don’t every think about that. I mean these kids out here now, anybody below the age of like 20 is flat out playing, having fun and milking it for all it’s worth. You know, but when you get older you begin to see that and you know it, especially if you’re prone to notice that kind of thing, which I am. You can’t help but notice it. That it’s like you think: “is that so and so or is that their son?” You know, that kind of thing. Especially when you’re as old as I am because you know kids that I watched growing up have children now. I mean, you know. That’s the way it works. And it has always been striking to me. Look at that picture. I’ve got all these little girls and my cousins, I’ve got pictures of all of them doing exactly the same thing that I was doing then. That is the thing about camp meeting. There is nothing like it. I can’t think of anything like it.
Longtime participation in camp meeting produce a kind memory blurring. The generations become interchangeable as people use the current generation of children to project themselves back into their own childhoods and, reciprocally, project the children they are observing forward in time to their imagined adult status.