By Skip Sheffield
We first lived in Deerfield Beach the winter I was four, in 1951. We rented one of the more unusual “Kester Cottages.” It was a large two-story duplex just east of the Intracoastal Waterway and south of Hillsboro Blvd. It was knotty pine and had real cedar closets that smelled great.
My memories at age 4 are rather hazy, but a couple things stand out. My mother and her friends were avid beach-goers and sun worshipers. There was a friendly little community east of A1A and we came to know most of them. My mother’s best friend was Elvene, who lived in the two-story 1925-vintage apartment house on A1A, which only just recently was demolished.
My favorite neighbor was Mr. Strong, who lived in a tidy 1940s house less than a block from the beach.
Befitting his name Mr. Strong was in great shape. He was an avid fisherman and had great knowledge of marine life. He used to surf-cast using sand fleas as bait. He taught me how to identify sand fleas burrowed under the sand at the shore line.
Our mother did not yet drive, so we were pretty much confined to the community around Hillsboro Boulevard and A1A. There was a little grocery store around the bend toward the fishing pier. The bridge over the Intracoastal was a completely manual wooden swing bridge from the 1920s. It took forever for it to open and close, because the mechanism was powered by two men going round and round, pushing a turn-table bar.
My paternal grandparents came to visit that winter. I loved my grandfather, who was a very handy man. He set himself to the task of building a dock out of driftwood and found lumber. Back then there were no sea walls and no rigid regulations on what you could or couldn’t build.
The dock was still standing when we returned in 1954. My dad had a temporary job with Ray Qualmann Marine Contractors while he awaited his real job: executive manager of Lauderdale Yacht Club and our first house of our own. I was 7 and had started the school year at H.L. Mountz School in Spring Lake, New Jersey. The academic standards were high at Mountz School. Not so at Deerfield Beach Elementary School. My sister, who was 6 and a first-grader, and I were so far advanced the Principal wanted us both to skip a grade.
I did not think this was a good idea, as I was puny and undersized. I did not want to be the youngest, smallest person through the rest of public school.
My practical sister Sheila dealt with our situation by volunteering to tutor third-graders in reading. I was given a special exemption to nap time, which came after lunch. I was a hyperactive boy and I could never nap. I was allowed to spend the hour-long nap time in the playground, which was a lot better than being sleepless in the classroom.
Because of our nomadic lifestyle; winters in Florida and summers in the Northeast, we Sheffield kids did not have many material possessions. We did not get a television until I was 7. I never had a bicycle until I was 7. It was a used full-sized woman’s bike from the 1940s, I was huge, heavy and brush-painted forest green. My dad had given one of his black co-workers $10 for it.
No training wheels for me. Big Norm gave me an instant lesson. He told me to get on the bike and hold on to the handlebars. Then he grabbed the seat and started running with the bike. After it got up to speed he shoved it off. I crashed several times before I got the hang of it. I must admit it was a fast way to learn how to ride a bike, though I was bruised and bloodied. I was liberated on that big green bike. We moved to Fort Lauderdale in December of 1954, but I would return to Deerfield Beach to live twice more.
In 1967 a couple of band mates took me in to their apartment, just west of US 1 and south of Hillsboro Blvd. I was destitute and starving after a year of trying to live on my own after my family moved to Columbus, Ohio. I was too proud to ask my parents for help. All I had for income was a part-time job at the Boca Raton News, three days a week, distributing papers to motels and hotels. I often would work all night, and then go directly to classes at Palm Beach Junior (now State) College. I often slept in class. I would station myself behind a large person. Nevertheless I graduated with honors for an A.A. degree.
My last Deerfield stay was in an apartment building just south of where I had been previously. I had agreed to take in my 17-year-old brother John, who had been kicked out by my dad. We first lived in an opulent 1923 house in Delray Beach just east of US 1 and north of Atlantic Ave. I had what was the formal parlor, dining room, kitchen and master bedroom. It had a walk-in closet so large (with a window too) I set up a cot for John, and he had plenty of room.
Being a foster dad to a 17-year-old was not ideal. We both had our scrapes with the law. I lost my license for points, mostly speeding, for three months. John lost his license for a whole year, because he crashed the truck that belonged to the pest control company he worked.
I was already working in the production department of the Boca Raton News. I hired John as my assistant, and we got the apartment in Deerfield because we could ride to work on Dixie Highway on our bicycles. Once we got our licenses back, we went our separate ways, so it was goodbye Deerfield Beach. I can't say I won't move there again. It is a lovely little town.