Story by Kathy Steebs
Back in the early 1900s, when Sturgeon Bay’s sidewalks were still made of wood, before blacksmith shops were replaced by service stations and Third Avenue was known as Cedar Street, a young Grace Samuelson was making memories that she would later share in her locally-popular 1986 book Reflections on Door County.Samuelson, a Door County native who was born in 1904, wore many hats in her life—wife, mother of four, writer, restaurant owner (and head cook), star of a local cooking show and columnist for the Door County Advocate. And, with her book, she was also a published author, documenting life in Door County in the early 1900s.
According to Samuelson, spring was all about rituals—spring cleaning, spotting the first robins, digging dandelions for salads and searching for wild asparagus and rhubarb.Some spring rituals, such as spring cleaning aren’t the same now as they were in Samuelson’s day—given our modern conveniences, the process isn’t nearly as laborious.In her book, Samuelson recalls each home in town was torn apart for a few weeks during spring cleaning, with most mothers getting a head start on the activity by mid-March so the house could be put “back to rights” before Easter. Curtain stretchers could be found on every front porch, and Saturdays found children outside beating the dust out of carpets and carrying household items outdoors for a good airing out while their mothers scrubbed inside, with the smell of “ammonia, boiled linseed oil, and vinegar” pervading the house.When the children were not helping with the spring cleaning, Samuelson recounts the warmer weather and longer daylight hours found them lingering outside with friends after school, searching for wildflowers in the woods and sampling the sweet sap as it dripped from the maple trees.
But it was the stop and start pace of spring that was so frustrating, she wrote. Samuelson described March as “capricious and ornery,” with melting snow and spring flowers peeping out of the ground one day only to be followed by “blustery winds and snow squalls” the next. Those snowy spring days found Samuelson and her sisters bundled up, carrying extra wood for the range and coal to heat the house.Later, as a restaurateur, Samuelson writes about slipping away from the endless work of the restaurant, to walk to the creek and take in the refreshment of spring.“Everywhere the fragrance of spring is evident—the spicy smell of cedar, the moist, pungent smell of grass and moss underfoot, the delicate odor of blossoms, even the alliaceous whiff of leek and skunk cabbage and the dank scent of decaying leaves and branches. “I breathe deeply, savoring it all.”