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The Stories She Could Tell: Christina Sackmann's Time Passages

Haas, Jane. "The Stories She Could Tell: Christina Sackmann's Time Passages." Ashley Tribune, 6 March 2002, 1 & 3.


Christina Sackmann has watched a century pass.

Christina Sackmann remembers a time before threshing machines, when families picked cow chips, corn cobs and wood to fuel their cook stoves and when older siblings raised the younger ones.

She turned 100 years old February 13 with birthday cake and friends. Her family surrounded her February 17 at a gathering in her daughter's home in Ashley.

Christina lives in an Ashley Medical Center apartment where in 1999 at the age of 97 she sewed 112 lap robes made of three inch squares for Zion Lutheran Church. She says she doesn't do as much any more. The busy look of her apartment says otherwise.

Sewing, a necessity in her early married days, became a passion after her husband, Martin, died in 1967.

"When I sew I don't get sleepy. If I'm not sewing, I fall asleep."

Her apartment neighbors know that. Most nights her lights are burning at ll p.m., and Christina is bent over her late 1940s vintage electric machine piecing together yet another lap robe or pursuing her other passion--crocheting. "That's my work. Then I feel good!" she says.

For 27 years Christina and Martin farmed about 160 acres on the same farm that her grandson, Keith Hochhalter and his family now operate 10 miles east of Ashley. "We started with a one-bottom plow and three horses," she said. They never had running water, electricity or a telephone until they moved to town in 1948.

Christina worked in the field alongside her husband. "My son had a lame hand and couldn't do the work, so I took his place. I worked in the field all day and then I came home and milked the cows, baked bread and made butter." She knows how to hang sausage to keep it cool in a well, butcher chickens in the morning for dinner at noon, preserve pickles in a barrel, transform cabbage into sauerkraut in a 15 Gallon crock and make her own butter. "At first I had to shake (cream) in a gallon can (until it turned to butter), then we had a wooden churn (that has a stick to stir the cream)," she said.

Laundry chores evolved the same way. Christina scrubbed many garments clean on a metal washboard. Then came the hand-operated washing machine and finally the gas-powered machine that emitted fumes and an annoying, earsplitting ta-ta-ta-ta.

She has made quilts for her two children, LaVina and Reinie Hochhalter and Lorenz and Elsie Sackmann and for her three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

"I sewed all my own suits, 13 of them, so they fit me," she says as she pats her round midsection."They are all three-pieces: Jacket, skirt, slacks."

Delicately crocheted doilies and round chair pads cover most flat surfaces in her apartment that are not already covered with quilt fabric and squares which friends give her or that she salvages from old clothing.

Sackmann, a self-taught seamstress, sewed for herself while she and her husband farmed and raised their children. After Martin died, the Ashley Family Clothing store hired her as seamstress. On the side she squeezed in time to make quilts. "I made them even to send to California," she said.

She grew up fourth in a family of seven boys and three girls."When the other (siblings) came, we (the four eldest) had to take care of them."

Her parents and all area farm families lived self-sufficiently. She said that her folks bought "a lot of flour" in the fall that lasted them all winter. "(Meat, eggs and vegetables) were all home grown," she said.

Binders and threshing machines hadn't been introduced to the Ashley area yet. The grain was cut down by hand. "I had to make stacks of (cut) grain. We stacked hay with a pitch fork," she easily recalls. No tractor and baler. No swather, no combine.

Christina, like all girls and women at that time, always wore an apron. It didn't just protect the single everyday dress that she owned; it became a towel, a shield for a baby chick, a basket for eggs and corncobs, a fashion accessary, a storage unit for a handkerchief, a tear wiper.

She is not concerned about computers, space exploration, the stock market or global warming. She just wants to get at her next lap robe or enjoy a visit with a friend or family member.

This spry "young" centenarian sums up the historic birthday that so few people reach: "I feel better today for the shape I am in."

Reprinted with permission of the Ashley Tribune.

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