There are so many memories about DeLand I recall, and they bring about blended emotions.
I rose from the rummages of humble beginnings: Born and raised in small-city DeLand, I spent a number of years in childhood running wild in Oakland Terrace (DeLand’s “housing project”).
I lived in a roach-infested dwelling at 421 Courage Circle. Seafood boils and the sherbet, sorbet, or Sherbert Lady, along with other neighborly comfort, made living worthwhile.
My mother Retha Small and father Don Small, worked long hours and days to see to it that I, along with my brother, Kendall Ward, and three sisters — Donna Miles, Charletha Ward and Marshallus Small — were well taken care of.
My parents had already suffered an unfortunate loss, watching the baby who would have been their oldest son, Don Small Jr., die shortly after birth.
Mother worked as a caregiver at Florida Lutheran Retirement Center for 10 years, and at Fish Memorial Hospital at 245 E. New York Ave. for six years. Father spent his days trying his damnedest to avoid cottonmouths and rattlesnakes in local fern fields.
As a child, I managed to always keep my nose out of trouble, by turning to basketball, card collecting, sandlot football and writing poetry. Silly recollections come to mind, of friends wrestling and somersaulting on thrown-away soiled mattresses. These hobbies were my escape from the harshness of the landscape that cradled my upbringing.
Every other weekend, my mother would take me to a restaurant inside of the old retail store in DeLand, called Rose’s, in the shopping plaza on South Woodland Boulevard. Mother always ordered my favorite dish, liver with onions and cheese grits (topped with lots of gravy).
Most older retail stores at that time, in the 1980s, found themselves in competition with Walmart.
If we were not going to Rose’s for breakfast, we stuffed our faces at Mr. Lucky’s Sandwich Shop (now the site of C’s Waffles). From there it was over to Tastee Freez at lunchtime, for tasty hot dogs, steak fries and shakes.
I gathered all the education I could bucket from Evergreen Day Care, Sugar-N-Spice Day Care, Blue Lake Elementary, and DeLand Middle School.
My experience at DeLand Middle School brought the most excitement. My friends and I would sprint to school to play pickup basketball games before the clang of the first bell.
Middle school introduced me to intramurals, camping for the first time, and Ms. Tisdale’s home-economics class. And yes, I burned one or two pizza pies in that class, but made up for it with my exceptional sewing ability.
I have to boast a little about my time at DeLand High School, where I attended from 1996 to 2000. I remember best about that time being on the varsity football team. Under Coach Wade Rollinson, there was no beating us! Yet, we managed to get beaten anyway. Rollinson would lead DeLand High to three consecutive state playoff berths.
The pep rallies with the students’ faces painted with war paint, chanting and cheering at ear-piercing decibels, the buttery popcorn smell, vibrant cheerleaders, the “Kool-Aid” song played by the marching band, and the clashing of the titans are memories I will never forget.
There are so many stirring moments buried in the city of DeLand.
My family along the way experienced a bit of grief. We lost Kendall in 1988. Just 15 years old, he was murdered by gunshot while walking home from the store between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. Years and years later, we lost my sister Charletha, who passed away at 41 years old from breast cancer.
We also lost a second brother to gun violence, Victor Small, who was killed as an innocent bystander, at 41 years old. Victor was a brother we had only just met, along with a long-lost sister, Keisha Small, five years before his death. His death hit hard because we had gotten close in only a short period of time.
After graduating from high school, I received a scholarship offer to play football at Morris Brown College in Atlanta. Due to my failure to pass the SAT, and because Morris Brown was having problems with its accreditation, I sat out of school for an entire year.
With the assistance of Coach Jeff Dawson, I received a full scholarship to play football at Savannah State University, after Coach Dawson sent theschool a highlight film. Three years into attending SSU, I suffered a broken leg, which ended my football career.
Since, I have dabbled in several careers, eventually settling into the role of a truck driver. Being an over-the-road driver has provided me ample time to think. Traveling steep downhill roads through mountainous landscapes, and on many byways and highways, allowed me the opportunity to recommit to a childhood dream of becoming a published author.
Chatterboxes have jam-packed brains,
And I heard that through the grapevine,
from a tree full of lemons and limes.
Word of mouth comes bittersweet,
so pick and choose ripe words to eat.
— Excerpt from a poem by Emery D. Small
On Feb. 28, my first poetry collection was published, titled Melting Faces in a Cracked Mirror: Written Works by E.D. Small.
Just weeks into publication, this self-published project has chalked up at No. 1 ranking for new releases in both African Literature and also in Death, Grief & Loss Poetry. My book is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Walmart, eBay and other online retailers.
I now have a beautiful wife, Christen Small, along with three adorable children: Lyndon, Sierra and Reyna.
— DeLand native Small, who goes by the pen name of E.D. Small, can be found on Facebook and Instagram @username: author.ed.small. He lives now in Winter Park. To contact him, send email to email@example.com.