The Genesis:3 Project
With the first light of morning, the men were sent off with their pack animals. Genesis 44:3
My dad loved to fish. I have written about it before, but whenever I see a reference to heading out at the first light of morning, that’s what I remember.
When I was a kid – nine or ten – until I was in high school, I spent a lot of time with my father on a simple fishing boat, rented at a public dock. There were two heavy tackle boxes, mine and my brother’s to schlep. We were taught to ties hooks and lures securely to fishing line. We learned that you could lubricate the parts of fishing poles that slide together by rubbing the “male” part on the side if your nose.
Our destination in those early years was Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, not yet the high-rent tourist town. We were guided by Ray Waters, also known as Peanuts, who knew the lake like the back of his weathered hand. As a Cubs fan, I enjoyed fishing off the Wrigley estate, though the success rate there was similar to the Cubs’.
Eventually, my father discovered Lake Wisconsin, farther north where the Wisconsin River was dammed. He had bought his own outboard motor, which meant a lot to him. We stayed in a fisherman’s motel with a bar and a family-style restaurant attached. Somehow, Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” was always playing on the jukebox.
In the Lake Geneva days, first light meant 0-dark-thirty on Saturday so we could be on the water when the sun was still very low in the sky. Lake Wisconsin was a longer drive, so we left Friday after work, but first light was when we wanted to be on the water. I was no more a fan of getting up that early then than I am now, but all these years later I know how remarkable the quiet hustle was. The fuzziness of the world was a backdrop to the clarity of purpose, which was less about fish and more about father and sons. My father’s love of fishing was nurtured by his father, who died while his teenage fishing buddy was fighting World War II, and I have no doubt he hoped desperately that his sons or his daughter or his eventual grandchildren would catch the passion.
We didn’t. Eventually, we chose Shabbat over fishing trips. My dad switched to Wednesdays on Lake Michigan off the Chicago shoreline and the kids went to college and work on those days. My brother and I long ago did a sort of memorial day-expedition, but fishing itself is a memory for us.
Instead, my siblings have our bonding rituals with our kids. Some of them center around holidays and others around baseball games, summer camp, vacations, travel, sports, learning and lots of family jokes. In terms of quality, they are interchangeable with fishing. Maybe the next generation knows something about their parents from our choice of activities like we know about our parents from theirs.
But for me, the first light of morning will always resonate in a particular way. We set off with the Oldsmobile packed, up the Tri-State Toll Road, past Fred Harvey’s “oasis” (the restaurant built on the toll road overpass), through the town of Muenster (whose mayor, I insisted, was known as the “Big Cheese”), into – and eventually beyond – Lake Geneva. Each time, to reference John Denver (forgive me), we came home to a place we’d never been before.
Whatever the destination and whatever my enthusiasm for it, that early embarkation held a lesson more important than extending our hours on the lake or doing the heavy lifting before the heat of the day. The sons of Israel were sent off early to make it look like stealth when Benjamin was framed – a purpose beyond extending the hours on the road or doing the heavy lifting before the heat of the day. Before the commotion of an awakened world distracts us from the part we play in it, the first light of morning makes us focus on our point of entry and our purpose in the day ahead.
It would be years before I discovered the value of coffee over orange juice which has made early rising much more tolerable. I wouldn’t rediscover the sacred nature of the light before dawn until we had babies to remind us of what it means to bond with the sunrise. (I wasn’t any happier about it then, but those memories, too, have sweetened with time.) But when my body or mind rouses me in my senior years at the first light of morning, I have something to remember as I rub my eye with my fist and grumble my way to my first-things-first. There is a fish waiting for me somewhere and someone to show me how to catch it.