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Why I hope to become just like my ma
Tom Purcell
Tom Purcell

I hope to be just like my mother one day.

Now in her eighth decade, my ma has arrived at a coveted place: Her “filter” is pretty much gone, and she has no problem telling anyone what’s on her mind.

“Ma, please don’t tell us any more details,” my five sisters and I beg her, when she shares “way too much personal information” about her 63 years of marriage to my father.

“Cowards,” she says with a snort.

My ma’s passion is to teach the youngest members of her large clan the most important things in life (family, charity, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you) and to waste as little time as possible on the least important things (money, selfishness, giving too much weight to what others think of you). 

And she voices these opinions loud and strong.

“Ma, you can’t post that on Facebook,” we tell her, mortified, when she responds to a post she adamantly disagrees with.

“Then unfriend me!” she says with a defiant laugh.

“Ma, you can’t pressure wash and paint the deck anymore and neither can Dad!” we plead with her.

“Worry about your own silly deck,” she says, supremely confident she and my father will get the project done without help, as they’ve done dozens of times before. “And while you’re up, get me another glass of wine!”

I can’t blame her for thinking as stubbornly as she does. She’s proved naysayers wrong for most of her adult life.

The oldest of six siblings, she spent her early life caring for her young sisters and brothers. Her mother relied heavily on my ma to run their home.

At 19, just a year after graduating from high school, my ma got sick - very sick. 

She was engaged to my father when it happened, but he was serving in the military in faraway Texas. Mortified that she hadn’t been writing him or accepting his phone calls, he dispatched his mother to make sure she was OK.

She wasn’t. Rheumatic fever nearly claimed her life. Doctors would tell her that her heart was damaged by a serious murmur - that she should never bear children and would be lucky to live into her 40s.

My mother’s response: “To heck with that!”

She had six children and now has 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

When she and my father retired more than 20 years ago, did they downsize to a smaller home, as sensible people do?


They bought a large fixer-upper with a great big living and dining area that could seat up to 40 people at three or four tables for holiday dinners. Our extended clan enjoyed many events at that wonderful home.

And now, as spring blossoms, are my mother and father touring retirement homes, as their more sensible friends are doing?


They are at the hardware store as I write this column, picking out deck paint so they can get their home in order before the next family gathering - which, fittingly, will be on Mother’s Day.

My ma’s unflinching devotion to all things good and true - a strong sense of family, charity and doing unto others - has been passed on to her extended clan.

Her spirit certainly lives in my youngest sister, Jennifer, and Jennifer’s three sons. Last week, my nephew Carson made sure that a shy, autistic classmate was recognized on his birthday with a proper celebration.

That is the “power of mothers,” the caretakers of empathy, beauty and all of the most important things in life.

My fearless, filterless mother is driving my sisters and me buggy in so many ways, if you want to know the truth.

I hope to be just like her one day. 

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at