Gray-Haired Granny? An 85-Year-Old Writer Goes Punk Rock Instead When novelist Anne Bernays became a great-grandmother, she dyed her hair bright blue. She says young people tend to treat the elderly as if they're dumb, "whereas I feel like I'm still a teenager."
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Gray-Haired Granny? An 85-Year-Old Writer Goes Punk Rock Instead

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Gray-Haired Granny? An 85-Year-Old Writer Goes Punk Rock Instead

Gray-Haired Granny? An 85-Year-Old Writer Goes Punk Rock Instead

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

More than half a century ago in Cambridge, Mass., a young mother published her first novel. Today, Anne Bernays is 85. Her kids are grown, and she's still writing as well as teaching and throwing weekly cocktail parties in her apartment high above the Charles River. Earlier this year, Bernays wrote about making a bold fashion choice.

ANNE BERNAYS: (Reading) The same month I became a great-grandmother, I died my white hair blue - not a wussy, blue-rinse blue, but eye-stabbing, punk-kid blue. Grouchy people smiled at me. An older woman stopped me on the street to shake my hand. I was sort of like the dog who stands up at the piano and plays "Melancholy Baby." For you young folks, that's an ancient reference to a smutty joke.

INSKEEP: Now, this year we're talking at aging. And as part of our coverage of the changing lives of women, we asked Anne Bernays to think out loud about what life is like in her ninth decade.

BERNAYS: People look at you differently. And they tend to, you know, call you little lady and treat you as if, like, you were dumb. I mean, it's the attitude of a lot of young people to older people. Whereas, I feel like I'm still a teenager.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BERNAYS: I'm Anne Bernays. I'm 85 years old. I have written 10 novels and co-authored three nonfiction books. I teach, and I live day by day.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BERNAYS: Somebody looked at that picture the other day and said, who is that beautiful woman? And I said, that was me. And I didn't realize that I was OK to look at. I'll tell you, I was quite beautiful when I was young, and - but I didn't know it. And that probably saved me from being absolutely repulsive as a person.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BERNAYS: You know, at my age, you just don't know what's going to happen when. And so you make the most of every day. I'd have to say that I'm extremely fortunate. My mother lived to 88. My father lived to 103. And I have these genes that allow me not to have most of the complaints many people much younger than I have. I have a little arthritis. My eyes aren't as good as they used to be. But I walk every day for 30 minutes. I can run, if I have to. I cook. I shop. I do all the things I've ever done.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BERNAYS: My husband of 60 years died about a year and a half ago. And that was a huge blow. And I'm still not over that. I felt alternately numb and in excruciating pain. There was no - nothing in the middle. It was just horrible. And I'm slowly coming out of it. It could happen at any time of the day - there isn't any one time - when I just feel, I wish you were here. It just comes on you - (sniffling) - crying a little.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BERNAYS: His name was Justin. But I called him Joe - best sense of humor of anybody I've ever known. And it wasn't telling jokes or anything like that. It was after he would listen to a conversation - he was very shy and was a little introverted - then he would make one remark. Everybody would go (gasping) like that. He would - it was witty. And it was right to the point. And it was so funny. And he never talked about himself. He was sort of super modest, which is nice in this day of egotists and super egotists.

It's the same as if I was 50 or 40. First of all, I need somebody to bounce off - that is, conversationally. And I have several women friends I can do that with, but it's not the same thing. I also like to cook for people. And cooking just for myself is very lonesome. And also, I like sex (laughter). You know, and the thing is people think, oh, my God. People over 50 having intercourse, it seems obscene.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BERNAYS: I joined match.com online, and, boy, there are a lot of screwballs on there. One man said he was 55, and I said, I could be your mother. And he emailed back, I like them old (laughter). I didn't - I didn't bother to meet him. Although, he was cute. That's not my thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BERNAYS: It's been a great pleasure. I've told you more secrets than I have anybody else (laughter).

INSKEEP: Hey, that's the writer Anne Bernays recorded in her home in Cambridge, Mass. You can see pictures of Bernays teaching at Harvard, complete with blue hair, at npr.org. Anne Bernays also asked that we mention she is the mother of three, grandmother of six and the great-grandmother of one.

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