Travels with sis and mom, the 100-year-old rock star

WAG Wanderer Debbi Kickham and sis Christine light out for Poland and Paris with their 100-years-young mother, Joanna Karpowicz.

My mom, Joanna Karpowicz, is 100 years old, still traveling, still shoe-shopping, still going strong. 

Most people are amazed that she is as active as she is — constantly attending book clubs, going to movies, gardening, you name it. She uses a walker occasionally and has a hearing aid. But other than that, she is still buying clothes and jewelry, and vacuuming the sofas.  She never stops.  Her motto is “Keep Moving.” Raised in Poland, she spent most of her life in Milford (where she has been a widow for the past 54 years). Mom has an incredible work ethic that you just don’t see in people today, and she is as alive and as witty and funny as ever. She loves to travel and frequently accompanies my sister, Christine Lynch, to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where they always have lunch at a little French bistro beforehand.

This past summer, mom, Christine, and I went on a month-long trip to Poland and Paris. Here are some of the highlights of our family trip — and mom’s inimitable travel advice.

Be game — even if you look ridiculous.  mom is always open to trying new experiences (especially if she is wearing the right shoes). In Poland, we visited Krakow’s medieval Cloth Hall, where we discovered a stall selling (plastic) helmets, which looked like armor from the Middle Ages. We each put one on and took a snapshot. (By all indications, we were ready to cross the moat.) The resulting photo of us was hilarious and we’re grateful it didn’t ruin mom’s hairdo in the process.

Book a luxury limousine. When going to the airport to begin our trip, we wanted a safe, secure, upscale experience that would set the tone for our journey. Mom, especially, wanted to spend the two-hour drive in comfort. We found exactly what we wanted with the award-winning chauffeured car service EmpireCLS of Secaucus, New Jersey. Our driver, Carlos, became our instant friend and we can honestly say that we so appreciated his professionalism and charm. We were so impressed that we personally requested that he pick us up at JFK four weeks later when we returned home. Like just about everyone we met on this trip, Carlos couldn’t believe mom is 100. (Similarly, at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, one of the flight attendants from Norwegian Airlines, who was assisting mom, burst into tears when I told her mom was 100. No one believes it.) “Go in luxury when you can,” is mom’s motto. She just loves to go first-class (even when it’s just eating the world’s best hot dog at Danny’s Drive-In in Stratford).

Show your gratitude. From the moment we arrived at the trendy Parister Hotel in Paris, we were wowed. The manager on duty was waiting for us — outside — and he escorted us in and offered us a glass of wine, before the night crew circled around mom and sang, “Happy Birthday” in French. In fact, the hotel blew us away with its personal touches and on-the-spot answers and assistance. Mom went out of her way every day to thank — and tip — the staff. She never missed an opportunity to say something kind to the staffers and to be mindful and thoughtful about her gratitude for their hard work and service.

Go first-class for your face. Mom still spends time searching for the perfect blusher (although she loves Nars’ Orgasm) and the ultimate foundation. We spent an afternoon at the swanky Le Royal Monceau Raffles in Paris, visiting the white paradise that is the Spa My Blend by Clarins. We all oohed-and-aahed the moment we entered, seeing the sumptuous surroundings of this five-star hotel. There, we all had a one-hour Clarins Facial ($207), where we were sloughed and buffed to perfection. The spa is also the only place where you can purchase Clarins’ 11 boosters (developed by founder Dr. Olivier Courtin-Clarins) that can be added to any face cream. Mom had also had a facial in Krakow the week before — and believe me, she’s got the complexion perfection to prove it.

Try new things. While we were in Krakow, we visited the internationally famous store selling Inglot — a high-end cosmetics brand in Poland for years (which is available in Manhattan at its store in Times Square and at Macy’s).  Inglot is beloved for its huge, huge, huge selection of first-class color cosmetics (and skincare). Jennifer Lopez is its spokesmodel. We three Karpowicz girls had makeovers using the latest-and-greatest hues and techniques. Of course, Mom bought everything and used it every day — even when we were on our family farm in the small village of Sokolina and not going anywhere special. Mom grew up on the farm, which has been in the family for more than 100 years.

She’s also always eager to try new foods (and still weighs herself daily) and, to this day, is still raving about our first meal at the Parister Hotel — a buttery burrata mozzarella. Similarly, mom cannot stop talking about our tea in the Proust Salon at the Paris Ritz, complete, of course, with birthday cake and a serenade by five senior members of the staff.  And here’s a tip: We saved the pastries they served, putting them in the hotel’s fridge and then bringing them home to share with our family in Trumbull.

Stay curious. In Poland, mom heard of a brand new book that was written by former Polish President Lech Walesa’s wife. She snapped that up faster than you can say “Solidarity.” Mom is also always reading books, voraciously (especially if the books are available in large print).

Take a private tour. Though we have traveled to Paris with mom before, we took an exclusive Paris City Vision morning tour with our host Sandrine. Today, mom still talks about our delightful visit to Montmartre and all of the interesting facts and tidbits that Sandy told us. This private tour was as good as it gets. We were accommodated in every way (especially when we needed to stop for a café au lait). Sandy, like everyone else, thought that mom was about 70 years young, in looks and demeanor.

When in doubt, buy chocolate. You should see mom at the duty-free shops at the airport. While she loves Lindt, she’s still nuts about Nestlé. She’s there buying chocolate for everyone she has ever met in her life (along with beautiful bars of soap). 

Stay active. Mom never sits down — except to say the rosary. When she’s not baking, scrubbing or weeding the garden, she is polishing the silver and ironing the sheets. (You should have seen her maneuvering the Champs Elysées — with her walker — while sightseeing on the streets of Paris.) While at the Parister Hotel, she told the concierge about all of her chores back home. “You know,” he said to her with a big laugh, “We just might have a job for you right here.”

Enjoy life every day. When I returned home, I told a colleague about mom, and he kept shaking his head in amazement. “Wow, I would love to take her out sometime,” said my 60-year-old friend. “Tell me,” he said with a deep laugh, “By chance is she still dating?”

Mom, je t’aime. Always.

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