Storyteller Is One Funny Lady



Mariya Nelson is a storyteller, and a very funny person.

"I've been here a long time -- actually since September -- but it feels like a long time," Nelson said. "I bought a little trailer that has been a plumbing nightmare.


Mariya Nelson

"Every plumber I've had either fell over their dog the night before and broke some ribs, or wasn't really a plumber and fixed the leak with JB weld."

Passing through Payson on her way home after visiting her mother in Prescott, Nelson decided to stay.

"I found a couple of people who welcomed me," she said.

Home, for the previous five years had been Pietown, New Mexico, not too far from Springerville on Highway 60.

"Only 17 adults live there now, but I did some history," Nelson said. "It was founded by people escaping the dust bowl, and at one time it was the pinto bean capital of the world.

"One legend is that an old rounder just got tired and had some rotten fruit and made fruit pies.

"Another was about a hardware man who came out and funded folks for the first full year, but then they opened a cafe and sold pies."

Nelson's storytelling roots reach back to Austin, Texas, where she dressed up in costumes and did balloon deliveries for a company called Three Ring Service. She quickly learned that she doesn't mind being the Easter Bunny, but never again the gorilla.

"It was the busy season and they had sent me out in a bear costume," Nelson said. "I came back and they said, ‘Quick, go back out.'

"I got my balloons and put on my bear attitude and was ready to sing ‘Happy Birthday' when this huge woman -- the mother or hostess -- came running out. She said, ‘We didn't want no bear. We ordered a gorilla.'

"I went back, and whoever was normally the gorilla was out, so I put this gorilla costume on that was made for a 6-foot man and this rubber mask, and it's Austin in the summer."

But being the Easter Bunny isn't without its perils.

"One Easter morning, they sent me out to an Easter egg hunt all loaded down with baskets," she recalled. "The suit had a huge belly on it, and you could only see out of the teeth, so they, like, pointed me in the right direction.

"These 200 Hispanic kids said, ‘Here he is,' and they came running to get the candy. Somehow or another with these big bunny feet I trip and I'm flat on my back and I can't get up -- like a turtle. I made the 6:00 news.

Fortunately, Nelson got out of the balloon delivery business when she was inspired by a storyteller she heard at the big storytelling festival held each year in Jonesboro, Tenn.

After perfecting the craft, she got on the National Endowment for the Arts bank and told stories for over 25 years in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

"I'd hit up librarians and the grand poobah of the Moose Lodge and anybody who would want to have a storyteller come and entertain," she said.

Nelson's specialty is fables based on moral, ethical themes, but not "religious stuff."

"Sometimes (themes like) the price of greed are more palatable if it's put into the form of a parable," she said.

"I know some Native American stories, things from other countries."

Nelson also writes a lot of her own fables.

"I'm a ‘fabulous fableist,'" she said. "There are only so many stories and they keep getting told over and over again."

Nelson has enough material to do a five-hour performance, with individual stories ranging from one to 20 minutes in length. She's available for workshops, school programs, libraries, camps, festivals, civic events and special occasions, and can customize her presentations to specific age or interest groups.

For more information, Nelson can be reached by telephone (928-951-4103) or by writing her at P.O. Box 2786, Payson, AZ 85547. Her website is www.


Name: Mariya Nelson

Occupation: Storyteller/Artist (I do water colors of landscapes in the Southwest)/Shriner (Not in the traditional sense, like a Mason. I build themed shrines out of found objects, so I'm a one-woman recycling outfit).

Employer: Self

Age: 56

Birthplace: Dallas (but I'm from New Mexico).

Family: I have family in Prescott.

Personal motto: Shrine on.

Inspiration: I'm influenced by the light. I love the color of sky and horizon. I'm influenced by nature.

Greatest feat: Survival.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: I really like to garden.

Three words that describe me best: Cute and wonderful.

I don't want to brag, but ... I'm a standard bearer of a very old and legitimate tradition. We need to better communicate with one another.

Person in history I would most like to meet: Bessie Coleman, the black aviator.

Luxury defined: A hot bath.

Dream vacation: I have traveled abroad and the Mediterranean coastline comes to mind -- a place without war, but not Antarctica. I don't want to go there.

Why Payson? Why not?

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