By Robin Rhyner
“Yes…okay. Brown sugar, butter, lemon zest. Um…What’s lemon zest? Right. Go on. Currant jelly, cloves, mustard powder. Mustard powder? Really? Orange juice, starch for thickening. When do the raisins go in? Right. And how much ham do you think I’ll need? Thirty people. I’ll ask the guy at the shop. Thanks. I’ll let you know how it goes. ‘Bye, Mom.”
I’d never in my life cooked Christmas dinner for anyone. Certainly not for the entire teaching staff. Actually, this wouldn’t be Christmas dinner, just a party, and the guests were bringing dishes to share. But still, I had never hosted a Christmas party. Or any kind of party at all.
I was a renter. After fifteen years of living in this small, coastal town, I still wasn’t sure if I was ready to settle down. I lived in a rented cabin with only 500 square feet of space. I didn’t entertain more than one person at a time. My friends thought perhaps I had outgrown this existence. But I liked it. I liked knowing that when the ancient Sitka Spruce eventually crashed through the picture window during a winter storm, my landlord would be the one responsible for replacing all that glass. I liked that my rent was about half as much as my friend’s mortgage payments. I liked that if I decided to leave and teach in the Alaskan bush, there would be no house to sell, and not much to pack.
I lived month-to-month; like some kind of perpetual tourist on a beach holiday who just happened to have a job here. More like a gig. A teaching gig. At Christmas, I would go to other people’s parties, bringing wine to share, but was never expected to reciprocate the invitation, considering where I lived. For fifteen years, I packed a suitcase and drove over snowy mountain passes to spend Christmas at my childhood home. My mother made Christmas-Baked Ham With Raisin Sauce, and I helped her decorate her Christmas tree.
But last year, I bought a house. Just before Christmas. And I volunteered to host the staff Christmas party. I’m not sure what finally convinced me to buy. Other than plummeting home prices, low interest rates, and making the last payment on my student loan. And, oh yeah, I was on the verge of turning forty. Whatever.
Owning a home can be like eating salty ham in order to enjoy the pleasure of sweet, tangy raisin sauce. The first week I moved in, a gutter broke during a storm, sending cascades of water down an exterior wall, through the seal around the window, to flood my kitchen floor. But I did host my first Christmas party. By the way, about that Christmas-Baked Ham With Raisin Sauce, the recipe I got from my mom… I’m making it again this year. For my family. They will be driving over snowy mountain passes to come and visit me in my home, and help me decorate my Christmas tree.