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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

My 80-year-old mother is hot. I heard it with my own ears.

Recently, the two of us were out for a walk when I made a washroom pit stop in the park. When I came out, there was Mom engaged in conversation with a not-unhandsome guy, probably in his mid-70s. She told me later that this fellow had sidled up under the auspices that he liked her purse. Granted it was more of a backpack, and he called it a “bag,” but still. He wanted to know where she got it because it looked “lightweight” and he might want to pick one up for his daily stroll. Mm-hmm.

When I marched over and edged my way into their chat, Mom introduced me as her “55-year-old daughter.” Gee, thanks.

He kept his focus on Mom and said, “You’re way too hot to have a 55-year-old daughter.” (Clearly I am not hot because this fellow didn’t even venture a glance my way.)

I feigned outrage as I mentioned Mom’s married status – happily, to my dad – and whisked her away.

But honestly, I was pretty chuffed for her.

I can’t remember anyone saying I was hot. And, at the risk of disappointing my younger, more uncompromising self – who would undoubtedly have considered the characterization sexist – at my age and stage I would now revel in anyone even noticing me, much less feeling compelled to blurt out their adulation.

When I got home I was bursting with the news. I called my dad first. “You need to get off the couch and up your game,” I said, “or the next time Mom goes for a walk she might not come home.”

Next I told each of my kids. I thought they’d be as excited as me to hear that their grandma was turning heads.

I was wrong.

Independently, all three responded with a version of, “Eww, TMI, I don’t want to think about Nanny like that.”

But just what exactly was “like that?” What does it mean to be hot when you’re an octogenarian?

Now, you’ll get no argument from me that my mom is stylish. With blonde curls peeking out from under her wool beanie, and a pair of chic black and pink acetate teashade sunglasses she looks at least a decade younger than the date on her driver’s licence. And, yes, her collars are crisp and even during the pandemic, when the rest of us are wearing what we wore yesterday and the day before that, she never leaves home without a chic purse and a great pair of shoes. I am sure Park Guy noticed all that … but I doubt it’s what he found so alluring.

You see, my mom has a magnetic energy that reels people in. This Casanova was far from the first to succumb.

Between her infectious optimism and genuine interest in other human beings, Mom brings people close at warp speed. Then she disarms them with her killer listening skills. No one is immune. I’ve watched her captivate and enchant many a stranger, leaving in her wake a trail of bewildered shop clerks, baristas and handymen who, after what should have been a routine encounter, are left wondering how this vivacious woman drew out some of their most intimate secrets.

She also radiates strength. I wondered, was that hot?

I recalled a conversation I’d had years ago with my son’s friend Dawson, who was eager to share the news that he had a girlfriend in his Grade 2 class.

“Really, what’s she like?”

“She’s hot.”

Hoping that provocative selfie poses hadn’t infiltrated the primary playground, I asked him what “hot” meant.

He thought about it. “Well,” he said, “She’s really nice. And she doesn’t cry when she gets hurt.”

My husband, who had been listening, couldn’t help himself. “That is hot,” he said.

Before a seven-hour surgery a decade ago that left my mother with a ridiculous collection of hardware in her spine, she stoically managed years of back pain. Diagnosed with spinal stenosis, she gave up her pumps and had heel lifts put in all her remaining left shoes to balance out the growing disparity in her leg length. She needed a cane to walk, but in rainy Vancouver an umbrella served as a plausible and fashionable alternative.

My mom was also a true trailblazer who fought to pursue a meaningful career at a time when women were expected to stay home, raise the kids and prop up their husbands. She was a senior vice-president of a national airline when every other executive around the table was a middle-aged white guy. Not content to retire when that gig ended, she launched a follow-up career as a labour arbitrator a couple of decades ago and remains highly sought-after in her field.

While Park Guy couldn’t have known any of this, he was clearly bewitched.

But unlike him, and countless others, I have not always appreciated my mother’s powers of attraction. Sometimes I’ve been envious, and other times her unsolicited and unrelenting interest in my own life – and my subsequent confessions – has left me with a vulnerability hangover.

Likewise, it can be hard to rise to the level of her intense positivity. There are moments when you need your mom to hold your hand, jump into your sorrow and wallow there for a while. My mother does not wallow. She takes finding the silver lining to the level of an extreme sport.

But, of course, the pandemic has turned many old tropes upside down. And in a year without hugs, amid a vast desert of virtual isolation, my mother’s ability to radiate joy has become an oasis. In 2021, that’s my definition of hot.

Kelley Korbin lives in West Vancouver.

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