by Dave LaBelle
This week I share with you another amazing woman named Colette Mynatt. Last I heard this witty, feisty and charming woman is now 105 years-old and living in California, likely still blessing all those she comes in contact with.
She still cooks, cares for herself and lives in the same house on East Brow where she has lived for the past 72 years; the same house where she raised four daughters and cared for her mother four-and-a-half years until she died just short of her 99th birthday.
At 94, Colette Mynatt is mentally sharper and more physically able than many 30 years her juniors, and until four years ago, could be seen driving her red Nissan pickup truck around the mountain. But, at 90 she decided to quit driving.
“My driver’s license expired before I did,” she laughs.
Mynatt came to Lookout Mountain just after fifth grade when her father, Lemuel Clayton Smallwood moved his wife and three children – two girls and a boy – to Bragg Avenue from their farm in the Chattanooga Valley. According to Mynatt, her father, a construction engineer, built the first paved road on Lookout Mountain, the roads in Fairyland and the Presbyterian Church building on North Bragg, as well as several area bridges.
In 1937, at the age of 21, she married Henry Grady. They were married 33 years. The well-known criminal lawyer once spent six weeks in the same court room with Jimmy Hoffa when the labor leader’s court venue was changed to Chattanooga.
“They didn’t get along too well,” remembers my Mynatt, referring to her husband and the infamous union leader.” They were too much alike,” she adds, rolling her eyes
Though Mynatt is clearly not a woman to sit around and pine for the past, she readily admits she misses her second husband, the man she married in 1976.
“It was just so wonderful,” she said, her girlish brown eyes dancing with the memory of Tillman Ellery Mynatt.
“He ran a dental lab in cattle farm, and was a dear man who love the Lord,” Mynatt recalls.
“I ran that man down but it took a while,” she grins.
They married only three years before he passed.
“It was brief, but it was quality. We toward south America.”
Asked if she thought she would marry again, Mynatt quipped, ”No. Men only want two things – purse or nurse. I don’t have any money, so I’m pretty safe.”
After 32 years, my net who attended GPS studying English and Latin, decided to go back to school and pursue a history degree at Covenant College, which she finished in 1969. It was there she met Claudia Peters, a 17-year-old student, and asked the younger student if she would type her papers for her. Peters later learned she and her new friend had another connection.
”She prayed for my family, for my three brothers when they were missionaries in Costa Rica before I was born,” says Peters.
The two have been friends for 43 years. “She is my rock,” insists Peters, now a librarian at Covenant College.
“She is the most important person in my life,” almost tearing at the recognition. “She is amazing.”
Colette Mynatt feels the increase in population is the biggest change she has seen on the mountain 80 years.
“We lived in the woods and now we are wall to wall houses.”
When the spirited and girlish Mynatt thinks back of growing up on the mountain, she giggles with memories of riding sleds from the water tower down to the base of the mountain. They would put their sleds on cattle on a cattle catcher on the front of the Incline car. “It only cost 25 cents to ride back then, and ran until 10 p.m.”
“You made your fun then,” she offers.
She remembers the fire department giving them an old hose that was fastened to a tree on the bluff and the boys would swing off it.
Her eyes widen joyfully she recalls the mischievous boys slipping up behind a small street car called “The Dinky” and moving the wire to break the electrical connection. “The driver would have to get out and put it back to get going again.”
Mynatt recalls riding horses with girlfriends Ann Glass and Susan Chambliss, usually up to Jackson Hill. “Ann rode a white horse named Nell and I rode a big strawberry roan named Dog Allen. They ruined it (Jackson Hill) by putting Covenant College on it,” she kids.
She remembers Buck Stamps, “who was so good with children.”
“She remembers miss Frieda Carter’s kindness and the man in Columbus.
”He was a black man who taught who thought he was a train,” she fondly recalls.
We would hear a train whistle in the night, and someone would say here comes Columbus. We liked to hear the train coming down the road at night. He would stop at our house, one of his station stops. He endeared himself to us. Oh, he was perfectly harmless.”
The deaths of three young girls – Nan Chamberlain, Charlotte Patton and Mary Smart – in separate incidents still swim in her memory. “I still remember the day they told me Mary Smart fell off the cliff.”
What is the secret of Mynatt’s long life and good health?
Colette is “sandwiched” between an older and “baby” sister – one is 97 the other 90. Her brother, Clayton, died in a car accident when he was 25 years old. “Mentally handicapped, he was the greatest blessing on our family,” she suggested. ”Having someone like that in the family teaches children to be loving and caring.”
“It doesn’t matter what we eat. I eat bacon and sausage. It doesn’t affect us,” she insists.
“It has something to do with our body chemistry. My mother used to ask for the fat of the ham and she lived until 99. We live on and on. It isn’t easy to get out of here,” she kids.
When suggested she might yet live another 20 years, the witty Mynatt fired, “Oh, shut up. Don’t threaten me.”
Mynatt, who says she talks with the Lord daily, “Because we are in business together.” A proclaimed Christian, she says her faith is her life.
“It’s and ugly word these days, so it is a good one to claim,” she adds.
She doesn’t watch television anymore, and believes the secret to her sharp mind is her daily scripture memorization, a routine she developed at a very young age.
“My time is so short and I have so much to learn,” she smiles. “I have the most wonderful life …everyday.
Colette Mynatt: A Lookout Mountain Gem
Originally published in the Lookout Mountain Mirror, July, 2010