By Tim H. Martin
Olivia “Hunter” Martin was 10 years old when she took her first deer.
A little ceramic crock sits on my kitchen counter, filled with sourdough bread starter from a recipe given to me by my mother many years ago. Once a week, I take a dipper of its content, mix it with flour, oil, yeast and sugar to begin filling the kitchen with one of those smells that gives a house its soul: the tang of baking sourdough bread.
It occurred to me one day that the bread starter was a living, breathing member of our family — a temperamental thing that thrives on attention and nurturing, not unlike raising a teenage daughter.
The list of similarities is striking. Both are beloved members of the household, although they don’t always mind very well. Both need to be fed on a regular basis, and both get REALLY sour if neglected. On rainy days, neither wants to rise, and both seem to make teenage boys suddenly materialize from out of nowhere.
I’m not joking! The other day, I was taking a loaf out of the oven when a 15-year-old lad just sprouted up from the kitchen floor. I told him to have a slice and stay away from my daughter. He stuffed his mouth and vanished, but when I turned around, there were three more boys standing beside the cooling rack.
Now that Hunter is 14, Dad misses the days before text messaging, hip hop, eye-rolling and, most of all, boys.
About the time my daughter, Hunter, turned 14, young men started showing up on my doorstep for reasons totally unrelated to buttered bread. It’s as if someone kidnapped my Sweet Pea and replaced her with a miniature woman — with an attitude! Whatever happened to that little girl who grew up wearing Realtree hairbows, listening to country music, begging to thread worms on her own hook and snuggling with Daddy in a cold deer stand?
Nowadays, it seems like Hunter’s chin has fused to her chest from staring down at a text message thingy. I’ve watched in dismay as she flails away at the tiny keyboard, glassy-eyed with concentration and tongue flipping around like a snake caught in the garbage disposal. I swear, the kid is so fast, she could probably text The New Testament before I could figure out how to send “u-r-n-trouble-git-ur-butt-home-now.”
And she’s learned this bizarre new trick with her eyeballs. When I was a kid, I don’t remember us being able to roll them completely backward into our skulls.
When Hunter turned on her iPod to discover that I’d replaced all the hip hop tunes with George Strait, The Eagles and Merle Haggard, her jaw dropped and her eyeballs fluttered backward like a broken slot machine. I put a bucket under her chin in case they landed on double BARs and nickels started to pour out of her mouth.
As I write this column, it’s as if God hit the PAUSE button in Hunter’s desire to spend time with me, and I’m suddenly the second stupidest person in the world (congrats to her mom for being No. 1). My buddies with older daughters reassure me that she won’t always hate me. They say, “Aw, don’t fret, man. When she’s about 21, she’ll come back to you.”
I long for the years when I’d bundle Hunter in little camo clothes and take her hunting. We’d climb into a box blind and she would pig out on Halloween candy I’d secretly stuffed into her pockets before we’d left the house.
That trick kept her happy and quiet for at least the first hour. Then she’d usually lean against me and fall asleep while I kept vigil over the food plot. When a deer would appear, I’d gently nudge her and she would quickly be wide-eyed with wonder at the new creature in her world. I’d forget all about the deer and just watch my girl.
The day Hunter shot her first deer was one of the proudest of my life.
I never prodded her into hunting. I waited for her to ask me before I even allowed her to practice shooting a pie plate on a deer mannequin. She passed that test with flying colors, so I knew she could do it. Still, I waited for her to ask before I let her shoot a real deer.
As we sat in our deer blind on a bluebird December day, she finally asked, “Daddy, if a deer comes out, can I shoot this time?”
Fearing that she’d start to get nervous, I said, “Maybe so, Sweetie. But lets wipe the chocolate off your trigger finger first.”
When a small doe made the mistake of grazing onto the field, she nonchalantly asked, “Hey, Dad, I like that one. Can I try?”
Knowing the big moment had arrived, I tried to hide the quaver in my voice as I coached her through the steps again. Then I placed earmuffs over her ears, removed the safety, stuck fingers in my own ears and prayed.
At the shot, the doe folded and never flinched. I turned to hug Hunter and was puzzled to find her holding her hands over her nose with tears streaming down her face. I said, “It’s okay! You made a perfect shot!”
She said, “I know that, Daddy, but the scope bumped my nose ... really hard.” Sure enough, a welt was already forming above her right eye and across the bridge of her little nose. I kicked myself for not noticing that the stock had slipped off her shoulder before she shot.
With my own tears forming, I kissed the bumped nose and hugged the scope ding away. Two minutes later, she was giggling and rejoicing over her first deer.
In retrospect, if Hunter handles life the way she handled her first deer, I have no worries.
And after 14 years of fatherhood, I can say that raising a daughter is a lot like making homemade bread. Both bring joy to life, yet demand plenty of love, patience and prayers in order for them to grow to their greatest potential.
Now if I can just get all these boys out of my kitchen.
Mom's Sourdough Gold Recipe
• 1/2 cup sugar, 3 Tbls. instant potato flakes, 1 cup warm purified water, *Note: Sourdough starter doesn’t like chlorinated water or being stirred with metal spoons.
• Mix starter ingredients in a quart-sized jar, cover with a coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. Sit it in a warm spot for 3-5 days. Then, feed it another batch of the starter mixture and allow it to sit 3-5 more days; until it bubbles. Now you can make bread every 5-7 days. After making bread, don’t forget to feed your starter a batch of mixture. Even if you don't make bread, toss a cup and feed your starter every 5-7 days.
• 1 cup starter, 1 (1/4 oz.) pack rapid rise yeast dissolved in 1 1/2 cups warm water, 1/2 cup corn oil, 6 cups bread flour (Mom uses White Lily), 1/4 cup sugar, 1 Tbls. salt, butter-flavored spray-on vegetable oil, 2 Tbls. melted butter for brushing loaf tops.
• You’ll need 2 large or 3 small bread pans. Dissolve yeast in 1 1/2 cup warm water. Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Then add the yeast-water, starter and oil. Work the dough with your hands until mixed thoroughly. Lightly coat dough with spray-on vegetable oil, cover the bowl loosely and let it rise until it has nearly doubled in size. Punch down dough and divide into two or three equal portions. Knead each portion a bit on a floured board and place in lightly sprayed bread pans. Allow dough to rise in pans and brush with melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (23 minutes in my oven). Remove from the oven, place on cooling racks and watch out for stampedes. Note: Bread is affected by weather, altitude, location and other variables. It’s a trial-and-error endeavor. But if you stick with it, this recipe will be like family.
— Recipe Courtesy of Yvonne Martin
Print The Recipe!