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Cliff 'Red' Jones
My dad, Clifford 'Red' Jones, pitching for the Alpine Cowboys ca 1956

Soon we will be rescued from two months of ho-hum televised sports viewing with opening of the baseball season. Huzzah!

I know, I know, baseball has an image problem. The fan base is shrinking. Many consider it boring. You know what? I don't care. I feel the same way about certain sports, so, non-baseball fans, I share your pain. You watch your stupid boring sport, and I'll watch something worth watching. How anyone who watched the final game of the 2016 World Series thinks baseball is boring is beyond me. But I digress.

Okay, full disclosure: I have powerful, sentimental motivation to follow a sport that admittedly can be a bit of a slog if you're not familiar with the game. My dad was a multi-sport athlete in high school and earned a baseball scholarship to Sul Ross University in Alpine, Texas (my birthplace). Alpine is out in the far west mountainous triangle-shaped frontier of Texas. Back then it was just a wide spot on the road. but it was a real baseball hotspot due to the obsession of wealthy rancher Herbert Kokernot. Dad played for Mr. Kokernot's Alpine Cowboys until he was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1956. He pitched for the Braves in their farm system for a few years before realizing the baseball biz wasn't likely to support his growing family. Oh, how times have changed.

Opening Day always opens the memory floodgates of our family baseball lore. There's the tawdry yet amusing shenanigans of baseball wives (told by my mom - about other wives, natch - Dad claims no knowledge of any such goings on). Mom does wish we'd quit telling about the time she dashed out of her seat to dodge an incoming foul ball tip, leaving me behind, an innocent, gormless infant,  blissfully unaware of the 70 mph cowhide-wrapped bullet of death about to rain down on my head. Handy tip: foul tips are possibly the lone disadvantage of players' wives getting those great seats behind the home dugout.

I'm thrilled to be able to show you the hilarious grainy video of the players milking cows on the mound as a publicity stunt. Luckily for my dad, he was a country boy born and raised. He knew his way around a set of udders just as well as he did a baseball diamond.

I am able to share with you an example of the requisite yellowed newspaper clippings like the one here, bragging up my dad as 'the big righthander' and 'fireballer' and the pitcher of not one but TWO shutouts in post-season play as a highschooler. Ain't no thang. Just two shutouts. In two appearances. Probably in the same week. Yawn.

This is why, at the Jones household, we understand why the baseball pitcher's arm is considered the most valuable body part in professional sports. This is why the Rangers' devastating loss to the Cardinals in the sixth game of the 2011 World Series still gets me a little choked up (we will not speak of this *sniff*). And this is why I'm so freakin' pumped for baseball season to start. Got the hat. Got the shirt. Got the remote. Let the games begin.

Dad and I paying homage to another Brave Eau Claire WI 1999

A version of this article first appeared in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

As Lent is upon us, I have been interested to learn what people are giving up in this season of abstinence. It is no surprise to me that the item most often abandoned is some sort of food. There are a few iconoclasts who do without tobacco, or alcohol, or shopping. I never got beyond the idea of renouncing something edible (I gave up chocolate). To many of us, foregoing food is the ultimate sacrifice. There is only one person to blame for my epicureal preoccupation: my mother.

Mom is the last of her line in a fine tradition of southern cooks. She grew up in a large family. Her own mother, my grandmother Winona, had to satisfy nine healthy appetites for the better part of two decades. Winona had no microwave or dishwasher as helping hands in the kitchen. It is no wonder, then, that as the oldest of six children, my mother soon found herself the number one kitchen assistant, and thus learned to cook at the apron strings of the master.

It is difficult to recreate the multi-dimensional majesty of my mother’s cooking

Mom at age 80 still frying cube steak like a boss

via the printed word. Thanks to Mom, if I ever find myself on death row and they ask me what I want for my last meal, I am ready with an answer: my mother’s chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes with cream gravy, green beans, and her homemade yeast rolls. Her home-brewed iced tea is the perfect accompaniment. As is the case with most meals, the meat is clearly the star.

Chicken-fried steak is a southern specialty, often confusing the uninitiated. Is it steak? Is it chicken? Deep-fried or pan fried? Some are surprised to learn it is only the humble cube steak, pounded into tender submission before being dunked in milk to allow the flour coating to stick. Then the palm-sized portions hit the hot grease of my mother’s black cast iron skillet with the initial hissssss to rival any McDonald’s French fry operation. Once they have turned a toasty brown and filled the house with the intoxicating aroma of fried meat (my apologies to vegetarians), they are ready to eat. When that first batch hit the paper towel-lined serving dish to make room in the skillet for the next, my father could always be found skulking about in the kitchen, stalking stray nibbles of steak that had become separated from the Pangaea of the bigger portions. Done properly, as my mother always did, chicken-fried steak requires nothing sharper than the side of your fork to divide it into bite-size pieces.

The side dishes pale in comparison to this pan-fried glory. They are there for the sake of upholding tradition; and in the case of the potatoes, upholding my mother’s cream gravy.

Never in all my classroom hours of chemistry or math did I ever approach the level of timing, precise measurement, and pure artistry required to duplicate Mom’s cream gravy. Making gravy from scratch is my culinary Holy Grail. I have tried and failed more times than the Jamaican bobsled team. There are just too many things that can go wrong. The grease must be of the correct temperature (hot) and quantity (equal to the flour). The flour must be stirred into the hot grease vigorously, so that the dreaded lumps cannot form. Then, and only then, the correct quantity of milk is added. If you do not own the little pink crockery bowl my mother uses for the milk, you will never be able to get the milk quantity right. I do not own one of these bowls, as they have not been made since 1960.

This is why, when Lent rolls around each year, giving up some sort of food is the worst suffering I can imagine. When I am feeling contemplative, I wonder how something so harmless as a good meal in good company should be something I should try to control; avoid, even. Then I look at my last cholesterol test results. I suppose setting aside one of my favorite edibles is the least I can do for Lent this year. If I had any guts, I would have given up chicken-fried steak.