"I don't care what anyone thinks," say Susan 'Mrs. Kitty' Bryant. "That's why a drive the car I drive, bright red with big eye lashes." Kitty, as she is known by friends and family, wears a flower on her outfit everyday. Her zest for life is infectious and her personality is bigger and bolder than most women you will ever met. She offers everyone Coca Cola as we sit down at her home for some porch sitting.
This group that has gathered is no less than iconic: 'Kitty' Bryant, Martha Pullen, Escoe Beatty, and Layne Dorning. Bryant is an artist, Beatty a tireless community volunteer, and Pullen and Dorning are entrepreneurs that have been leading businesses since their youth. Pullen laughs, "I started my first business in 9th grade, I opened a dancing school in Scottsboro."
Pullen grew up in Scottsboro, but was born in Morristown, New Jersey, though her family has been in Madison County since 1810. "My 7 times great grandfather bought the 7th piece of property in Madison County." Pullen was in graduate school in Tuscaloosa when she met her husband Joe, a practicing dentist. "I married Joe, a native Huntsvillian. I had a job waiting for me in Sacramento, but I fell head over heels in love with Joe Pullen and got married instead. We met in October and were married in December. Best thing I ever did in my life was marry Joe." Pullen advises, "Marry the right person."
Pullen laughs, "I was a housewife about 3 months, when I said I just can't do this. So I opened a smocking shop." This is just one of the many things Pullen has done, from publishing to traveling the world to teaching classes on sewing to authoring a series of books.
"I give credit to God. You can't talk about me without talking about God, because everything I have been blessed with I owe to God," Pullen says firmly. At 79, she started Rockstar Sewing teaching online classes on her favorite subject. "At 79 why not call yourself a rockstar?" she laughs loudly.
When asked what advice she would give to other women, Pullen without hesitation says, "Women are the most talented creatures. Women can do anything they want to, especially older women. We have time and are primed to run a business."
Beatty chimes in, "When your kids leave the house, you have time. And you've earned it." She laughs, "I've earned everyone of these wrinkles too." Beatty's list of tireless community involvement is long. Give her a job, and she gets it done. She is a loyal friend and even recalls the night Pullen called her with heartbreaking family news. "Martha called me because she had found out her granddaughter had cancer. I said I'll be right there," as she hopped in the car in her pajamas. "You've got to talk out your troubles and you've got to have people who will share hard times with you." Reflecting on what she might tell her younger self, she chuckles, "Hold on, we're going for a ride!"
Bryant adds, "I would tell myself to stop worrying. Young people spend so much time worrying. Am I doing this right, Does this person like me. Be yourself and enjoy it." She continues, "And stop keeping up with the Joneses. Things don't matter."
Bryant is an artist; a tour of her home reveals the most beautiful paintings along with embroidered works. She used to paint for commissions, now she says she just likes to play. It's her special time with herself. He husband is away on a hunting trip and she adds, "I have the whole house to myself and I get to paint!" When asked about aging, she says, "Getting older is wonderful. I don't want to be young. I'm aging like fine wine." She adds, "Plus I don't feel old, I feel like the little girl inside me is alive and well."
Mrs. Kitty has lived in Huntsville over 65 years, but remembers growing up in Montgomery - her father helped with war efforts. A fond memory is when her dad made her a red wagon. "All the steel was being used for the war, so my daddy took a goat cart, added a handle, and wrote my name on it. This wagon went everywhere with me." She shows off the beautiful little wagon with 'Susie' painted on the side. Bryant's mother died when she was 12, so she remembers praying over and over for a big family. When she married her husband Hall, her family got bigger. Now she has over 10 grandchildren. As she looked around the family farm last Thanksgiving and saw 70 people, she jokingly says, "Why didn't I pray for money?"
Dorning has lived in Huntsville over 59 years, moving here from Wilsonville, Alabama. She owns Railroad Antiques. When asked about her favorite childhood memory she exclaims, "Summer! And no school! Being 10 years old! I would leave home early in the morning with my beautiful Collie close at hand, a picnic lunch, cruising around the lake in a boat, climb trees, and read Huck Finn." When asked What do you love about Huntsville she responds, "The weather, the terrain from mountains to beaches, the accents, the food. The joviality, the brain power, the architecture, and the hospitality."
Dorning encourages other women to cherish people, create goals and stay fit. On aging, she feels "I have reached the place that I feel most comfortable. Comfortable about everything. There is nothing to not like about growing older in good health."
As our visiting lingers, Bryant looks at the time and in true Southern fashion asks, "Y'all want to stay for supper?"
Women can do anything they want to, especially older women. We have time and are primed to run a business. - Martha Pullen