Last fall I spent a few days exploring Appleton and the other small towns and cities that make up Fox Cities, Wisconsin. It's such a beautiful part of the country and I can see why Appleton has been called one of the best small towns in America.
I loved the Edna Ferber and Harry Houdini exhibits at the History Museum at the Castle. I made paper at the Paper Discovery Center on the banks of the swift-moving Fox River, a hands-on center that pays homage to the city's past. I toured the grand Hearthstone House, the first house in the world to be powered by hydroelectricity.
And then, because I always try to stop by at least one antiques shop or mall when I travel, I went antiquing.
For those of us who love old things, even in this age of online shopping, it's interesting to see what people collect in different places. I almost always find some little something I don't want to leave behind.
In Appleton, I stopped by the Fox River Antique Mall and hadn't been there long when an old 1920s camera tripod caught my eye.
It was made of golden oak and in great shape. The slender telescopinng legs were straight and still had the original brass screws to tighten them to the desired height.
I've seen similiar tripods (reproductions) at Pottery Barn, World Market, Restoration Hardware and other decorating and home good stores, most made into lamps and other accessories, and they can be expensive. But the vintage piece in the antique mall near Appleton cost about what I'd pay for lunch and I knew I could make something out of it. I bought it knowing it wouldn't fit in my small carry-on suitcase but before I left I stopped by the post office, put the tripod into a flat-rate box and shipped it home.
Later, still thinking I would make a lamp, I bought an old-fashioned Edion-style lightbulb and put it aside with the box holding the tripod, waiting for the right time to start a new project.
Then, warm weather arrived and we started spending more time outdoors, eating most meals on the patio and lingering until long after dark. I put candles around the garden and shadowy corners of the patio. One evening I was looking for something with a little height to hold a candle and I remembered the tripod I'd sent home from Appleton. I finally opened the box and, after putting a white candle on the brass fitting at the top, I put the tripod in a corner beside the wisteria vine that screens the patio. It was exactly right.
Summer faded into fall and when the nights finally got too cool, I surrenderd and moved back indoors. But I brought the tripod with me. I bought a package of small plastic caps at the hardware store and covered the sharp metal spikes on each telescoping leg (useful for balancing and steadying a heavy camera in grass or soil, but not kind to hardwood floors) and replaced the chunky white candle with a wax-covered flameless candle. I set the timer and now each afternoon at 5pm the faux candle comes to life and flickers throughout the evening, creating a warm glow in what would otherwise be a dark corner. And each time I look at it I remember the trip to Appleton.
Most of us like to bring home some kind of little souvenir of the places we've traveled to. I know I do. They are special because they are tangible reminders of a vacation or travel experience. But when I stumble on a lovely old thing and can come up with a practical use for it, I love it all the more.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap's audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of 'Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons' and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgˆ