Holding onto the walnut-shell buttons from the flour-sack dress of her childhood has also helped 85-year-old Ruthie Tripet hold on to memories of her mother, who made the dress. Some of Tripet's most precious keepsakes, and bits of knowledge, came from her parents, who raised her in Kansas during the Great Depression.
"It was a hard life, but I grew up a happy, happy child," she's quoted as saying in the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts' upcoming play, The Wisdom Within These Walls.
As executive producer and author of the show, Anne McGhee-Stinson of Castle Rock's Front Range Theatre Company, conducted dozens of interviews with senior citizens in the community before selecting seven stories to showcase.
"What surprised me the most was that sometimes the simplest life stories had the most wisdom," says McGhee-Stinson. "The most challenging thing was picking the right stories. It's taken me a year and a half to finish this show."
McGhee-Stinson molded her subjects' answers into a 90-minute production that she says features a series of funny, intimate, tender and evocative vignettes. She asked them questions such as, "What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?" in order to reach a greater insight: "What's important at the end of life?"
"I wanted to do the show because I thought that would be a good question to explore. After you've got it all, after you've obtained everything and achieved everything that the world says is important, what's really important then? What did you learn through it all?"
Four actors, senior citizens themselves, will perform the Readers Theater-style show. They'll recite the compiled "wisdom" in the company of live bluegrass music and a backdrop of photographs projected into a shadow box.
"We are using hundreds of photographs," McGhee-Stinson says. "Most of them came from the seniors we spoke with. We did a lot of original photography and scanning of old photos and collected as many originals as we could."
McGhee-Stinson says the production features many different kinds, or themes, of wisdom, most stemming from those 85 and older. The show title comes from the wisdom that each individual carries inside.
"Wisdom Within These Walls means the walls of human beings," she says. "The walls of our bodies, the walls of our community, of our culture, the walls of race, history, religion and all of the walls we build up between each other."
McGhee-Stinson hopes the production, targeted at all ages, will generate inter-generational dialogue so that even more seniors will be able to share their wisdom with a younger generation.
"For people who are struggling right now with the economy, with work or love relationships, [the show] gives perspective on that from age 90," she says. "It eases the path for everyone to learn from our elders. They've been through the Depression, they've been through World War II, they've lost family and friends, and they know it's all going to be OK."