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Lending a hand

Book commemorates centenarian’s lifetime of hand gestures.

At the age of 100, Clarice Pfefferle of Long Prairie is still making cookies. She has a plate of them on her dining room table. “They’re Aggression Cookies,” she says, “favorites of a friend of mine who is coming this afternoon from Wisconsin.” The smashing, kneading and squeezing of making Aggression Cookies is only one of many, many things Clarice has done with her hands over the last century. Loving Hands, a book by close friend Mary Zastrow, also of Long Prairie, features Clarice’s hands as she greets friends, gives treats to children, plays computer games, pulls the weights to wind her antique German cuckoo clock, cradles a treasured china doll, and many more hand vignettes. The book also commemorates a life well lived. Of course, Clarice plans to go on using her hands for some time, yet. “I prayed to live to see my oldest grandson, Michael Schmidt, graduate from St. John’s University. And then my second grandson, Matthew Schmidt, who graduated from St. John’s this spring. Now, I’m just praying to live to my birthday,” she says, laughing, in the week leading up to the celebration of that milestone. She doesn’t have any advice about living that long. “It’s in God’s hands. I’m just one of the fortunate ones. “I pray every day that the Lord will help me be worthy of everything. I can’t complain because I’ve been blessed in so many ways,” she says from her own home where she still does all of her own cooking. She also walks around the block every day; sometimes twice if the weather is good and she’s up to it. Clarice grew up on a farm near Worthington. After high school, she attended normal training and taught in a Nobles County school for five years. Then she went to college in Mankato, married and taught in Hollandale, near Albert Lea, for three years. Her first husband lived only two years after they were married. After his death, she pulled up roots and moved to Long Prairie to teach since she knew the principal. “I taught for $85 a month,” she says. “You can make that much mowing a lawn, now.” She taught for five more years and then married Art Pfefferle, had one daughter, Mary (Schmidt) and settled in to be a mother, a friend, volunteer and a poet. Yes, a poet. She wrote her first poem for her high school yearbook and has kept every one of the 100 or so poems she’s written since. She’s written many commemorative poems for birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths. She even wrote one and sent it to President Obama on the event of his inauguration. “I don’t know that I would do that now,” she says with  chagrin, though she proudly displays the response that came from the White House, on White House stationary and signed by Barack Obama. Clarice is also delighted with the book project with the photos of her hands. Her long time friend Jim Downes took the photos. “Clarice picked out activities she enjoyed doing,” said Mary Zastrow who then used the online service Shutterfly to upload the photos, lay them out on pages, add text and embellishments. “It took about two months to put it all together.” The book is full color, hard cover, complete with a dust jacket. One of the pages shows Clarice holding a China doll given to her by a neighbor when he moved away. It’s one of her most treasured possessions. She wanted to include the new neighbors, too. But there was an obstacle. “I wanted my Hispanic neighbors included in the book,” she says. But she doesn’t speak Spanish. “Sister Donna just happened to show up that day.” Sister Donna is the Hispanic liaison for the local Catholic Church. “She went over and told the Ambriz family what we wanted to do. I guess José thought we wanted a picture of all of him, not just his hands. He took the time to get all cleaned up. And he’s a very handsome man, too. But we just wanted a picture of us shaking hands; welcoming new neighbors.” That photo is in the book along with one of her hand-distributing candy to his children. “They’re just the best neighbors. If I chose my neighbors, I couldn’t choose better,” she said, adding that whenever they have a celebration, his wife, Sylvia, makes sure to include her. “I would love to be able to talk with him,” she says regretfully. Communication generally is accomplished through the children who know English. “I sure hope they come to my party.” Post script: Clarice reveled in her milestone celebration. And, the Ambriz family did come to help her celebrate, along with many others in the community.

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