There aren’t many people who have led a more fabulous life than my grandma Topsy. When asked how many countries she’s been to, she laughs and responds, “Oh — almost all of them!” And she’s not exaggerating. She’s been to Antarctica twice, journeyed from Capetown to Casablanca, and explored the depths of China when it was first opened to westerners after Chairman Mao.
She’s part Grace Kelly, part Auntie Mame, and I thought it might be fun to interview her for all you adventurers out there.
What would you say is the secret to a long and happy life?
Oh, boy. There’s probably lots of secrets! I would think the most important thing is an upbeat attitude about life — being positive.
How do you think you learned that?
I think I was born with it. I really do! I think if you feel badly about yourself, you can learn to undo that. But if you’ve always felt that you were OK, it makes life a lot easier. And that’s what I mean by upbeat, I think.
Can you tell us about your upbringing?
I grew up in New York, but only until I was eight or nine. What I remember about it … I went to an incredible school. It’s the school that was described in Auntie Mame, where they played leapfrog. It was called the Froebel League.
My mother sent me to school when I was two! And the reason — this is funny — the reason was she had felt that one of the most interesting parts of her education had been the year that she spent in Switzerland. So she was planning my whole life when I was only two years old! …
Eventually my mother said four children is too many to bring up in New York City and my father found this farm in Connecticut. There weren’t any private schools around; you had to go to public school. I just flunked everything! It was so interesting, everything that was going on.
I did stay there for 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. And then my mother decided this was ridiculous — I was getting all these bad marks; I wasn’t learning anything! So she sent me to Cleveland, put me on the train in the middle of the night and sent me to Cleveland all by myself in the 8th grade…
I had a really strange kind of education — wonderful, in a way, because it was different.
Did you end up going to Switzerland when you graduated?