Mary Crutchfield, 85, is known for her sense of humor and friendly nature. She can be recognized by her deep Texas accent, even after spending 40 years teaching grade school in Beverly Hills, Calif. She is a Gemini born “on the cusp” on June 21, 1935, a summer solstice.
“That’s the longest day of the year,” said Crutchfield. “And my mother sure thought so.”
Crutchfield was born into a family of storytellers who were also the founders of Abilene, Texas.
“We use hyperbole and kind of make up things as we go,” she said. “But it is true that the man who delivered me was Dr. Lovelady. And my ancestors came to Texas in 1834 with Austin’s Second 100,” a group of settlers from Tennessee. “Therefore, I could be a Daughter of the Texas Republic.”
Texas at that time was a dangerous American frontier that faced raids by the Comanches.
“My grandfather was a Texas Ranger for a while, and the sheriff in Baird, Texas, in Callahan County when I was two years old. Someone asked me if I ever slept in a jail. I said yes, and my grandparents slept in the basement.”
Her grandfather’s twin sister was named Eula. She died at 10 years old of Typhoid fever.
“In honor of her they named the community after her,” Crutchfield said. “The town of Eula is about five miles from Baird.”
Crutchfield was adopted by a Sioux Indian family, learned palm reading from her mother and how to “douse” to find underground water from her grandfather. She used the skill to find wells on a 62-acre parcel of land that was left to her, selling the land and moving to a large home in Warm Springs after retiring from teaching.
“It’s a psychic skill,” she said. “I just walked out there and witched a well.”
Crutchfield traced her ancestry back far enough to learn that a group of her forebears migrated from Normandy to York, England, in 1266. A recent DNA test indicated that she was 43.5 percent French, which came as a surprise to her.
“Some of my ancestors may have come down from French Louisiana,” she said. “My family has an escutcheon, a shield, which shows that my ancestors were Crusaders. The shield had a blue cross, three palm trees and three gold coins. The blue cross meant they fought for the royals, not the church.”
“You didn’t think I just jumped out of the nearest creek, did you?” she said.
Crutchfield married fellow drama student Norman Handelsman after graduating from high school. They went to Los Angeles where her husband scripted “Summer Children,” a 1965 film that took the crew on a 160-foot sailboat to Catalina Island.
“I cooked everybody roast beef when we got there,” she said. The film featured early work of acclaimed Academy Award winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Oscar-winner for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”). Crutchfield, who wrote poetry, grew disenchanted with Hollywood after reading a memoir written by a film star.
“I didn’t want to wind up on the casting couch,” she said.
While working as a special education teacher, Crutchfield earned a master’s and Ph.D., working with a student diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, Adam Ward Seligman, who succeeded at school and later founded an association for those who suffer from the condition.
In Beverly Hills, she made friends with the poet Myra Cohn Livingston, who encouraged Crutchfield to publish her poetry, but she never did. “I concentrated in my writing on imagery,” she said. “My husband wrote doggerel in iambic pentameter. He would have been jealous.”
Mary Crutchfield is an old school raconteur who never runs out of interconnected stories. Ask her about her trip to Egypt, or Morocco, or tell her one of your own. She likes to listen.
“Life is wonderful. There are many opportunities to grow and change,” Crutchfield said. “But I haven’t changed much. I still like good-looking men. The fact is I am here to laugh. What good would it be otherwise.”