He lived next door on Sans Souci Avenue. We were 10-year-old buddies. Like me, he had a couple of sisters and loving parents — the usual 1950s baby-boomer mix.
Ronnie and I were rivals. We each wanted to be the Great American Hero. You know, the guy who took the Japanese machine-gun nest, scored the winning touchdown or hit the walk-off homer.
We were rivals, but we were also buddies. He was an integral member of the Sans Souci gang. We were a pack of 10-year-olds who did everything together. The Little Rascals had nothing on us. We swirled about in a cloud of bikes, dogs, footballs, baseballs, bats, gloves and army-surplus gear.
We had a clubhouse in Mike Langman’s backyard, where we planned daily military operations against the Japanese, or dressed out for our football games on the field beside Stover Theatre.
In the summer, when we weren’t playing army, riding our bikes or chasing baseballs, we were at Ponce DeLeon Springs Park, pouring cold water on our sunbathing sisters, swimming out to the boil, jumping off the diving board or watching the skiing elephant.
How we loved that elephant!
One Easter, Ronnie got one of those baby chicks. He was dyed pink. He was very cute until he changed into a large mangy rooster that hated kids.
The rooster lurked in the garage waiting for an unsuspecting kid to come down the street. Then he would pounce — the poor kid never had a chance. The rooster got “disappeared.” Nobody missed him.
Ronnie and I drifted apart when he moved to one of the suburbs outside DeLand. We both played football for DeLand High School. I played offense and Ronnie played defense, so we were always “running” into each other. Ronnie was a scrappy defensive back who never, ever backed down!
My last memory of Ronnie is of a late-fall night in 1963 when DeLand was playing Wildwood. We were the underdogs, but we beat them, and Ronnie had a key interception that sealed the upset.
I have never forgotten the expression on his face when the guys were jumping all over him in adulation. He was ecstatic, and I was a little jealous.
I left DeLand in 1964 in the middle of my junior year, but never really forgot my Sans Souci buddies.
I never knew what happened to Ronnie until I found the DHS Class of ’65 website. There among “deceased classmates” was Ronnie Beach Smith.
He passed away in 2011. I felt a deep sadness, and I Googled his obituary. Ronnie served in the Marine Corps for 20 years, including two tours in Vietnam. He was a real American hero! He retired with the rank of sergeant first class, and worked for 20 years for the U.S. Postal Service.
He was survived by his wife of 34 years, two sons and several grandchildren.
I had not seen Ronnie in more than 50 years, but I know this: Childhood friendships stay with you forever.
They are a part of who you are, and when one of these friends dies, he lives on in your memories of a time when your main worry was a pink rooster that hated kids!
They are memories to be treasured.
— Editor’s note: Once again, Realtor Bill Mancinik’s “Native Reflections” column has inspired the contribution of a memory of growing up in West Volusia. This one comes from Jimmy Doyle in Rome, Georgia.
Doyle grew up in DeLand in the late 1950s and the 1960s. He moved during his junior year in high school and, he said, hated leaving. Now a retired reference librarian, for many years Doyle returned to West Volusia annually for camping, hunting and fishing. However, he hasn’t been back for some time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.