As a mom who worked outside the home, I was always too late for the meat I hoped to purchase for holiday meals.

Comparing prices in the circulars while sipping my morning coffee did me no good. By the time I arrived at the store boasting the lowest price, the bin was empty. That’s because I’d stop by on my way home from work.

The early bird shoppers — retirees, stay-at-home moms and folks leaving third shift — always cleaned out the stores of all the great holiday meat deals. My family was left with either a giant chicken with a side of excuses or a very expensive ham they would be stuck enjoying until next payday.

But this year, I’m home. On Wednesday morning, when the sale circulars hit our doorstep, I was ready. I compared per pound spiral cut ham prices. I found the best deal. While Hubby was getting ready for work, I headed to the grocery store.

My cart was halfway down the baking aisle that leads to the meat displays before I realized I had not yet had even a sip of coffee. But that revelation did not deter me. I nosed the cart toward the bin and scanned the displays for the sale price I’d read about earlier.

There it was, the newly posted "weekly special" sign. There were plenty of hams from which to choose. My heart filled with gladness as I imagined my children sitting around the table on Sunday afternoon enjoying succulent ham secure in the knowledge they would not have to suffer through weeks of leftovers.

Taking my time, as I had plenty of it to take, I reviewed the tags. I didn’t want anything too small, nor could our ham be too big. It had to be shaped well so as to fit in my roasting pan and then complement my dinner table as the main feature. This ham was going to be my holiday centerpiece.

After narrowing down the selection to three potential choices, I picked each up and held it. My decision would be partially based on how the chunk of meat felt in my arms. Never had I been more confident or picky in my endeavors to secure a main entree for my family.

Upon selecting the ham, I decided to walk around the store with it for a few minutes. I needed to get to know it better to be 100 percent sure it was the ham for my family. There was not a crowd at the ham bin, so I was under no pressure to be hasty.

Last fall, I happened upon a great spiral sliced ham sale in a packed grocery store on a Saturday. When I saw the sale price, I had to patiently nudge my way to the ham case and then hurriedly pick through the hams that were left. I was able to grab one, but it was oddly shaped.

As I considered whether it would fit in my oven, I glanced up and saw five other shoppers trying to nudge their way toward the hams. I could tell they wanted me to make my decision and get out of their way. If the glares aimed at me were lasers, I would have been zapped into oblivion had I not put the ham in my hands into my cart and moved on to produce.

On Wednesday, however, the packs of deal-hungry ham hunters had not yet arrived. I may have actually been the first one to peruse the sale display. A feeling of superiority washed over me.

The crowds eventually made their way to the stores once they’d finished their coffee and put on their makeup. But they had to choose from what was left after I’d pawed through them shortly after the store opened. If you want the best ham, makeup, coffee and sanity must take a back seat. It’s all about priorities.

As I wandered through the store getting to know my ham, I realized I had no idea what I was serving with it. Panic set in as I realized I had only a few days to come up with spectacular side-dishes for my beautiful, perfectly shaped, honey glazed, spiral sliced ham.

Then I realized it wouldn’t matter what I threw together to serve along side my ham. No one would notice. The ham would be the star of my meal. All other dishes would pale in comparison. Why should I worry about side dishes no one would remember once they saw the ham?

With the ham safely home resting in the fridge, I knew I’d have to focus all my attention on it once Sunday arrived. The side dishes were consequently delegated to family members.

Great ham commands great responsibility. As the owner of the least expensive best cut of ham, I am well aware of my obligation to ensure it is cooked to perfection and served dripping in homemade honey glaze. And drip it will.

In the meantime, I wish for you a wonderful holiday meal surrounded by terrific people with a knack for whipping up side dishes.

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Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of "Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville." She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is mickibare@inspiredscribe.com