My sister’s five-hour round trip saved my life.
During Stetson University’s demolition of Red City, and its rebuilding project in the neighborhood, I moved away from DeLand with my father, Donald Small.
My mother and her boyfriend then needed to re-evaluate their financial situation and could not, at the time, give me proper care. I was quite fond of my family and friends in Volusia County, and I did not want to leave.
At the playful age of 12, living in St. Petersburg, I quickly ran into problems that would play on my mind. My father’s friend who stayed with us had a drug addiction. No sooner than my dad would leave the driveway for work each morning, she would sit in a reclining chair snorting cocaine in front of me.
Seeing only the whites of her pupilless eyes was a terrifying sight. It was mind-boggling. I had never witnessed anything like this in my young life.
I quickly became homesick, started skipping school and began to question whether life was worth living.
Word traveled back to my family in DeLand that I was not doing too great. My sister Donna hopped into her car to make a two-and-a-half-hour drive to pick me up.
Within days of taking me into legal custody, she enrolled me at DeLand Middle School; I was in the sixth grade. As a DeLand Terrier, for the first time, I was able to feel the excitement of school spirit.
My friends all welcomed me with open arms. I once again felt as if my being alive meant something, to someone. My sister’s five-hour round trip had saved my life.
Thinking back, there was not much on Earth more comparable in excitement to middle-school intramural sports.
Others may tell you differently, but there was no team better than the Galactic Gladiators.
With bluer skies came other moments that are lasting memories. Among them is receiving an A in English for the first time as a middle-schooler. And, the world’s coolest campus statue, a Terrier, kicked back, wearing shades, with his hands folded behind his head. Then there was one morning during my eighth-grade year when I got caught chasing the coattail of a kid named Antwan Gibson around campus.
I remember the school principal, Mr. Calkins, stopping me dead in my tracks, to unexpectedly ask, “How would you like to play football on my team?”
Although I could not afford to play Pop Warner football, and had never played before, I guess Mr. Calkins adored my chasing-kids-around-school skills enough to provide me with a scholarship.
As a 240-pound eighth-grader, I started at running back in my first game for the Delco Oilers. It is safe to say, Antwan is responsible for getting me noticed by a football scout. Now there were kids chasing me around the field! Thanks a lot, Antwan!
Then came those Flash Gordon Cooley High years. Being in survival mode and needing to earn every cent I could, I walked around DeLand High School with my duffel bag filled with Candy Castle candy.
I sold everything from bubble-gum lollipops to AirHeads and chewing gum. Campus safety officers once checked my bag out of suspicion about weapons. Reminiscing on this moment makes my heart burst into uncontrollable laughter. The officers walked away with fruitful candy-cologne scents on their breath, patting me on the back. They never made that mistake again.
I can still hear echoes traveling from the crowd, of my sister Donna, my brother-in-law Treven Miles, and my mother — all shouting from the metal bleachers of Spec Martin Memorial Stadium.
They sported custom-made green-and-gold T-shirts from Special T’s in Downtown DeLand, with “Big E” lettering on the back. My family being in those stands was the ultimate motivation, and it equaled a long night for the opposition.
Oh, the enjoyment of getting lost in a moving moment.
When my sister took me into her home, she already had two children of her own, Travanda Miles and Kendall Miles, that she was providing for. She is by far the hardest-working woman I have ever seen.
My brother-in-law, Treven, was completing the final year of a six-year bid in a federal prison. Throughout the years, I saw this man accumulate trophies in football, basketball and baseball — all as an inmate. In dark places, we sometimes find inspiration.
As a child, I needed to see that there was more to life than my surroundings. Seeing Treven get out of prison and become a hardworking man helped shape who I was to become.
And, my brother-in-law and sister, after raising me, have gone on to foster the upbringing of six other kids, on top of their own two.
My sister’s five-hour Volusia County round trip saved my life. Donna and Treven are the reasons I can call myself an author. They are the reason I can say, I have wonder-filled memories of West Volusia.
— 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 with his wife and children. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.