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Disheveled Theologian: Of mince and (paper) men

We’ve been under the weather at our house recently with influenza and I don’t know what all. Let’s just say it sure makes a person appreciate being well again.

When I was a kid, there was a ritual to illness. There were certain foods, certain activities, certain ways of handling one’s sickness. Strangely enough, not one of those rituals have followed me into adulthood. Well, dry toast and crackers and chicken soup remains the same, I suppose. But that’s just what everybody in the known universe does, so that’s no surprise.

When we were growing up, if we suffered from a stomach malady, that meant, after the chicken soup and dry toast stage, that we were upgraded to mince. Not to be confused with “mincemeat,” that slightly mysterious British pie which surfaces every Christmas, mince is basically ground beef cooked to death. Mince is a Scottish thing that my mother had been raised on and so, it followed, were we. I liked mince. It was a rite of passage, after all. It meant we were getting better.

To make mince, one takes a pound of fatty ground beef, adds water, salt, and possibly oats, I can’t remember, and cooks it until it resembles nothing more than what one might expect sodden ground beef to look like. And then one eats it on toast.

I don’t know if this sounds yucky to the average reader or not, I just know that it was always anticipated with joy. Which was possibly because any real food following a stomach illness is likened unto ambrosia. My family, on the two instances I have made mince, did not like it. At all. Which made me sad, but yet I kinda agreed with them. Perhaps the art of making — or at least appreciating — mince, did not get passed on through the generations.

Another ritual in our family that accompanied any prolonged illness was paper dolls. You knew you were really sick when Mom came home from the local bookstore with a new book of paper dolls for the invalid. Paper dolls made being sick not only bearable, but even fun. I think I may have gone through two new books of paper dolls when I had chicken pox in the fifth grade and missed an entire week or more of school. I was an expert at cutting out their clothes, carefully snipping the narrow spaces between their legs, clipping the wee openings in the hats and skillfully meandering the edges of their curly hair.

Sometimes, when I was healthy, I was even known to make paper dolls from old Sears or JC Penney catalogs. I would find the same model throughout the pages, cut them roughly out of the book, glue them onto old manila folders to make them sturdy, and then I’d cut them out carefully. True, sometimes their feet would be missing as the appendage might have been hidden behind words or have been off the page entirely — and often they had an inordinate number of tennis outfits — but it was fun, between illnesses, to feel like I had a few new paper dolls to fill my Saturday afternoons.

Sadly, my girls think paper dolls are old fashioned. Or boring. Or both. I even have my old paper dolls — minus the Sears fashionistas — but neither of my daughters find them the least bit interesting.

Which makes me think I have failed them as a mother. My mother handed me scissors and a paper book of figures and I was thrilled, forgetting my illness, at least temporarily, in the pleasure of the challenge.

I hand my girls the remote control.

Ok, not always. I try to read out loud to them when they’re sick. Or force-feed them mince. But all too often I’m running off to work or I’m sick alongside them, and I forget about reading out loud — or I’m too ill to do so; forget about offering them paper dolls that they can then reject; forget that sickness can be a time to remember with a little fondness as a special time rather than just as a time of watching movies they’ve already seen several times over.

I guess I’m lamenting the fact that I am not my mother. Or that she doesn’t live closer. Or that I can’t make mince like she did.

Funny. Even at 48, sometimes you just want your mom.

“She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed…” Proverbs 31:26-28

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is