Weekend canoe trips were a part of my childhood growing up in Kansas City. Whether with family, friends or youth groups, I frequently made the trek to the Ozark region of southwest Missouri which is filled with ideal canoeing rivers. Establishments renting canoes, gear, and offering portage services dot the area.
One place I remember patronizing for canoeing supplies was a little general store along Highway 181 in Dora, Missouri. Dora’s total population was at most a few dozen souls. It was near the White River, a tame but scenic river, which made it a great place for amateurs like me. I have fond memories of canoe trips there but I never really thought much about Dora itself. A few years ago, that changed.
About ten years ago, I became intrigued with family origins. My father’s side of the family was known to me but my mother’s roots were more mysterious. My maternal grandmother died more than a decade before I was born and my grandfather died just shy of my fifth birthday. My mother didn’t know much about her parent’s lives so I begin to do a little digging at the library. Using census records I was able to establish my grandfather’s whereabouts in 1910 at the age of three. He lived at Dora, Ozark County, Missouri!
Further research established that my great-great-grandfather had moved the family to the area of Dora in the early 1880s. My great-grandfather was a child when they moved to Dora and he lived there until moving on in search of work about 1915. My grandfather was born and spent the first eight years of his life there. A variety of records show numerous cousins, second cousins, and other relatives living all around the town of Dora. Less than two miles west of the general store where we rented the canoes are the gravestones of two great-great-grandfathers, a great-great-grandmother and other relatives. All the time we had been going canoeing at this out-of-the-way location, I had been walking in the footsteps of my ancestors and I didn’t know it.
Stories like these stir a mixture of emotions. For me, there was an increased sense of being rooted in the past. It is intriguing to imagine what my ancestors lives might have been like as I walk where they walked. But stories like these also suggest something quite disturbing. They remind me of something most of us would rather not reflect on.
One day we will die and, before long, even our blood relations will have no memory of us. Yes, there will be photos, recordings, and various other remnants from our lives. But the substance of our personhood, which can only be appreciated by authentic human relationships, will be no more. Someday some descendant may walk where we walked and speculate about our existence but it will be just speculation. Within very few generations it is entirely possible no one will remember our existence. It is possible that our entire culture will have died out and us along with it. Looking at the longer view of millennia, it is conceivable that the whole human race could disappear.
"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." William Shakespeare--From Macbeth (V, v, 19)
Was he right?