My earliest memories are of stories — they came flooding back to me during the Tellabration in Pine this past weekend as master storytellers enthralled 100 delighted listeners at the Pine Community Center.
I remembered how as a child, before I went to sleep, I would listen intently as my mom read stories from Richard Scary and the Brothers Grimm — and all the wonderful books that followed. With Thanksgiving approaching, I’m eager for the stories my dad tells at family gatherings about growing up on a farm during World War II, riding home late at night from the movies on the handlebars of his cousin’s bike.
My grandfathers were also gifted storytellers, who used to take me on one knee and my sister on the other to tell us stories of the feisty cows that got out into the cornfield or the pigs that rolled in the mud. My Grandpa Skoda had stories about tipping over outhouses and scaring Girl Scouts by dropping a snake out of a tree.
I remember laughing and losing myself in the story, fully entertained, but I can never return to those times. Both of my grandpas have passed on.
On Saturday in Pine, the veteran storytellers reminded their roomful of smiling listeners of their own family tales and lost storytellers. Each year, in Pine, Tellabration celebrates the ancient art of storytelling and offers a couple of hours to connect with friends and neighbors.
Hosted by the Senior Citizens Affairs Foundation (SCAF), the organization invites storytellers from around the state for a visit and a dinner to support the Pine-Strawberry School and the community Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
This year, while the snow fell outside and a fire burned in the great room, five storytellers shared their craft.
The lineup included guitar-strumming Dee Strickland Johnson, named an Arizona Culture Keeper and Academy of Western Artists’ Female Cowboy Poet. Surrounded by a forest of out-of-the-box fake-but-looks-real evergreen trees, Johnson sang a song of Three Craw’s (Crows) with an Irish brogue.
“Three Craw set upon the wall,
set upon the wall ...
The first craw fell off the wall ...”
She proceeded to tell the story of each until she got to the fourth crow,
“And the fourth craw ...
Well, what about the fourth craw ...!?
That question ended her performance as the audience laughed and she exited the stage.
Master of ceremonies Don Doyle, a tiny, feisty, apple-checked Irishman and former professor of theatre from ASU, introduced Victor McCraw, a captain in the Arizona Department of Public Safety and student of the South Mountain Community Storytelling Institute.
“It’s rare that I have to raise the microphone,” said Doyle walking up to the mic in a lowered position because Johnson sat for her performance. He introduced McCraw as a seven-year veteran of Tellabration.
McCraw had many stories to pull out of his hat about the numerous people he has met doing his job on the highways. Who knew simply stopping someone for a ticket could be such rich fodder for stories? The highlight came with the man who got away with speeding after McCraw’s DPS cruiser caught on fire.
Liz Warren, a fourth-generation Arizonan, storyteller, teacher and writer, has recorded a version of “The Story of the Grail” that has won a Parents Choice Recommended Award and Storytelling World Award.
She continues to remain active by serving on the boards of the Phoenix Fringe Festival and the Celtic Harvest Festival Sedona.
Doyle even took a turn at spinning a yarn when he told an old Irish tale.
The final storyteller, Marilyn Torres-Sierra, channeled the ancient art of telling a tale to teach a concept and celebrate traditions.
Her heritage includes Celtic, Nigerian and Puerto Rican roots.
Each culture has its own types of stories, which she stores in her memory to share with the audience she speaks too.
“I was drawn to storytelling when I was 8,” she said. She told the audience that growing up in New York, storytelling came to her as music did for the character in the movie “August Rush.”
Torres-Sierra said she came to Tellabration with five stories in mind, but after having dinner with the community before the event she settled on two.
“The sense of community here inspired my choices,” she said.
Her first story came from Africa and had to do with the collectiveness of community, the second had to do with turkeys since Thanksgiving is around the corner. The turkey story came from Puerto Rico.
As she told the stories, she moved her arms and hands with the grace of a dancer. Fitting, as she is also a dancer. She sang to enhance her stories, her voice honey sweet.
“You have to have your sensors out,” she said about how she connects to an audience.
I sat with rapt attention as each storyteller took the stage, just as I did with my grandpas. I never knew where their stories would transport me, but I knew I would forget myself, my cares and worries and open up to the moment. I may not be able to crawl up on Grandpa’s knee anymore, but I can come back to Tellabration next year and lose myself again.