I remember the day that I received a letter from a local funeral home stating that I needed to come and pick up my Aunt Della’s ashes. To say I was surprised would be an understatement, but that is neither here nor there. Of course, I couldn’t bear to go alone, so I asked my momma to come with me. When we arrived, the owner of the funeral home and a dear childhood friend of my mother greeted us. While the two of them talked for a moment, all I could think about was a woman who seemed larger than life, had been reduced to ashes. Of course, she would have been the first person to tell you that this day would come for all of us, and that’s why she lived life on her own terms. I can hear her now! “I’m DMC!” Then, a few expletives would follow. You know what I mean… curse words! Yep! She was truly one of a kind, but I digress. So! There I was, being handed a shiny black box with her ashes in them, and I was scared to death. I didn’t know what to do with ashes, so I placed her on our mantelpiece when we made it back home and the longer, she was there, it stirred this desire within me to learn more about the woman we lovingly referred to as Aunt Della.
Della Mae Crutcher “DMC”
So, who was she? According to her and the obituary we wrote, she was Mae Bell Cosey and William F. Crutcher Sr.’s daughter. On April 13, 1927, she was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She lived through the Jim Crow era, the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of prominent leaders like President John F. Kennedy (1963), and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968). Of course, we didn’t add those things in there, but we could have because it speaks to who she was and how strong she was because she could have chosen a different path in life. Oh, wait! I’m sorry. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Well, as you can see in the pictures, Aunt Della was a fair skinned woman with silky jet-black hair. In other words, she looked like a white woman with a slight tan in the summer. For this reason, people speculated about who her father really was. Some people said her father was a white man who lived within walking distance of her home, and it was rumored that she spent time with his family on certain occasions; however, some members in our family believe she received her complexion from our Cherokee ancestors. (I recently discovered that part of our ancestry, so I thank my family in Ohio for educating me. I did not know.) Some family members believe she was simply light skinned because African Americans are a diverse people group. We are born various shades and God created every one of them. Of course, no one is 100% certain. We don’t have access to her DNA results. It is all speculation at this point; however, one thing is certain. She refused to take the “out” that the world gave her. With her complexion, she could have left the south and all that she had to endure as a young black woman, and she could have started a new life as a white woman in another part of the country. She could have started a life that didn’t include sitting on the back of the bus, entering the back of a store, drinking from “Blacks Only” water foundations, or using “Blacks Only” restrooms. We hear about those stories all the time from the 40s, 50s, and 60s; however, she was a strong independent beautiful black woman who was fearless. She thrived under pressure. She wasn’t about to run from anything or anyone. She was proud to be a part of the black or African American community, and she was proud to be a member of the Crutcher family. She was Mae Bell and William Crutcher’s daughter, and she would not let you forget it!
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m DMC!”
In conclusion, Aunt Della’s strength lives on in each of us, and I can feel her presence as I prepare to take this walk down memory lane. I hope you will take this journey with me; however, I must warn you that there will be some twists and turns along the way because Della Mae Crutcher was a beautiful but complicated woman. To be honest, she liked the complicated part the most because she didn’t want to be figured out. She liked the idea of keeping the world guessing.
To my family in Ohio, I want to thank you for helping me tell her story! I love you all, and we will talk again soon.