• Erika Head

Poet Debbie Collett's creative roots began at Indian River HS


A Kempsville resident and Norfolk paralegal, Debbie Collett’s creativity has its origins in an advanced English class at Indian River High School where, “they concentrated on literature; that’s where I really fell in love with writing,” she said.

Since then, she has worked, traveled, communed with nature, cared for wild animals and worked of a Virginia lawmaker. Her creative inspiration for writing comes from local places, including Virginia Beach, and childhood summers spent in rural North Carolina.

“I took English-style riding lessons when I was around 13," she said. "I used to drag home any animal I came across as a child; I guess I still do as an adult. I am especially fond of sailing. I like camping, skiing and hiking.”

She not only creates art with her words, she also collects local art depicting nature scenes and realism.

“I love good art,” she said.

Collett and her brother, Gerald, were raised by parents who were sweethearts at Oscar Smith High School and later married. She recalls their flair and imagination, saying that they are both “extremely talented and creative.”

When her mother, June, was alive, she was well-known for her taste and appearance.

“She always looked amazing,” Collett said of her mother.

She speaks with her father, Freddie, a Korean War veteran, often during the week, she said. His creativity and talent for working with his hands are seen in many of the improvements he made to the family home over the years.

“He can do almost anything with his hands," Collett said. "He converted our garage into a den, built a fireplace in our living room and many other things.”

Collett is quite fond of spending time outdoors with nature and animal life in southern Virginia Beach and Sandbridge, which sometimes serves as an inspiration for her poetry.

As a young girl, she loved helping wild animals she found in distress, something that has stayed with her through her adult years.

“Once I rescued a cow bird with a broken wing at the far end of Sandbridge, a few years back," she said. "I took him to a vet, who bandaged his wing. I nursed him back to health and released him at False Cape State Park.”

Prior to living in Kempsville, she resided for 15 years at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, at one time renting a small hotel, with a roommate, during the off-season.

“The owner simply wanted someone to stay on the premises during the winter," she said. "He repeated at least five times that, ‘you are going to get cold.’ We were so ecstatic at the deal, we said that would not be a problem. I think we paid $350 per month.”

The roommates spent time entertaining family and friends in the hotel's antique-filled spaces.

“We cooked Thanksgiving dinner for both of our families," she said. "I did more cooking than I have ever done. We had a small commercial kitchen; it was fantastic and everyone really enjoyed it.”

The landlord’s prediction of cold weather was correct. During one winter snowstorm, Collett spent time hunkered down in the hotel, sheltered from the cold but still shivering with her dog, Muffin.

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Collett recalls one foggy morning when she ventured out of the home to and walked out to the pier behind the house. “The water had risen up to the top of the pier,” she said. “As the fog started clearing, I found I was in the midst of a very large group of beautiful wood ducks, all gathered in that spot. I could have reached out and touched them; it was wonderful.”

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“I remember covering up under five blankets and a quilt; I had an electric heater in the room,” she said.

When she awoke the next morning, she looked out at the ocean and saw what was for her, a rare sight.

“Large chunks of ice floating up on the shore; yes, we got cold,” she said.

She also lived in a 100-year-old home at the end of Little Neck Road which, she said, was situated on a small hill and looked “beautiful.”

She recalls one foggy morning when she ventured out of the home to and walked out to the pier behind the house.

“The water had risen up to the top of the pier,” she said. “As the fog started clearing, I found I was in the midst of a very large group of beautiful wood ducks, all gathered in that spot. I could have reached out and touched them; it was wonderful.”

Collett works as a paralegal in Norfolk, but before working in the legal profession she was employed in the Virginia Beach office of West Coast shopping mall company, Ernest W. Hahn, Inc., which is known for the inception of large malls, such as San Diego’s Fashion Valley.

Collet recalls that Hahn was famous for “adding amenities, like ice rinks and day-care centers” to shopping centers. During her time with the company, she had the opportunity to travel around the country for meetings.

“I spoke with presidents of companies all over the country who were interested in leasing space in various malls,” said Collett.

While Collett has good memories of her legal jobs, she is especially fond of her time working for Virginia Delegate Billy Robinson, whom she remembers as “one of the most charming, kind, and intelligent persons I’ve have ever known.”

Following Robinson’s death, she went to work for his son, Trevor, where she remains today.

“Trevor has been a pleasure to work for,” she said.

Travel is in her future and writing more poems for VBSunonline.com, as she wishes to add to an already extensive travel log.

“I’ve been up and down the west coast," she said. "A few years back, I traveled from Seattle to San Jose on a train trip. My favorite stop was Santa Cruz.”

As for her preferred photo medium.

“I prefer an old 35mm camera to digital,” she said.

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Here are two of Debbie Collett's poems and her inspiration for writing them:

A few years ago, I took a trip from Seattle down to San Jose, California.

One of the stops was Santa Cruz. There was a horrible storm the night before. My traveling buddies went flying out for breakfast. I was so exhausted I just went out on the balcony with a cup of coffee, left to myself.

I was on an upstairs balcony, about three blocks from the water. It was a magnificent view, to say the least.

The owner had about eight hummingbird feeders just under the awning and there were many of them flying about, not afraid of me at all. There were birds singing and seabirds flying, a slight breeze and it was a beautiful scene. Especially after the horrible storm the night before.

Have you ever seen or experienced anything that made you want to just hit the “pause” button? There was a fog bank drifting over the water, which I have never seen the likes of here.

Everything is in constant motion and I scribbled down this poem:

Seconds

The air is cool, the breeze is warm.

The aftermath of last night’s storm.

The silence breaking, into sound

A shining leaf, falls to the ground.

The morning mist is almost gone.

A robin hops about the lawn.

The sun is peeking through the trees.

The clouds are breaking in the breeze.

A song is heard, not far away,

You wish somehow to make it stay.

A swallow sings, and then takes flight

The moon is traveling, out of sight.

No sign of rain and flashing light.

And dancing trees, within the night.

Or shards of lightening breaking high

Into the heavy swollen sky.

Or crashing thunder, singing wind

Or purple light to frame it in.

Or running waves upon the shore

The rampage of the night before.

The newly color-dappled day,

I’m wishing somehow I could stay.

A mist of floating clouds in view

Somehow I still am missing you.

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I have camped at Cape Hatteras many times. While there, I love to visit the lighthouse. That was my inspiration for my poem entitled, Lighthouse.

Lighthouse

If I’m adrift and cannot see,

I know your light will rescue me.

No force can make me run aground;

I know my course can still be found.

Into the wind and through the rain,

You help me find my way again.

Despite the lashing, raging sea,

You always light a path for me.

A quiet sea or fierce storm,

The light you shine will keep me warm.

You dawn within me and provide

A light upon the changing tides.

I know that I will reach the shore,

Because the light in you is more;

More than I can ever find;

More than hope and more than time.

Courtesy photo of Debbie Collett.

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