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Kathryn Finegan Clark- By the Way: Little hands at work


What would the holidays be without children? And aren’t we all more or less in touch with our inner child as we scramble to keep up with the craziness of decorating and shopping and partying?

At least I am, and that’s why I had such fun watching what looked a little like Santa’s workshop on a recent Saturday afternoon on my way to the Riegelsville Public Library. The library is on the second floor of a building that was a private academy more than a century ago and it was pleasing to hear children’s voices and the ring of their laughter bounce off those antique walls

It is now the town’s borough hall and the first-floor meeting room was humming, actually roaring, with activity. It offered a kind of comfort of continuity and I was drawn to the young people.

Then, too, our own grandsons, 9, and 4, were just here for Thanksgiving, providing so much love and laughter, and then taking all that with them as they headed through our woods and over two rivers to their home in New York. Like many 21st Century grandparents, we wish we lived closer. Both my husband and I grew up with grandmothers sharing our homes and our childhoods and we wish we could see our grandsons every day.

It was that need for youngsters that prompted me to peek in the doorway. I found Becky Finberg, youth services coordinator at the library, presiding at one of her many creative programs for young readers – and pre-readers.

Tables were set up and children were decorating mini-gingerbread houses and ice cream cone trees.

This is the third year Becky has organized the project and it gets bigger every year, she said. Last year, only 14 children had shown up and this year double that arrived with sparkling eyes and huge expectations with parents and/or grandparents tagging along.

They certainly weren’t disappointed. The library provided all the materials and the children trimmed miniature houses or coated the cones with green frosting and decorated them with colorful candies.

And, as usual with kids’ projects, the task didn’t always go as expected.

For example, Sophia Catalano, 10, one of a set of triplets, all girls, decided to turn her creation into a monster. Her sister, Ireland, stuck with tradition and decorated a house, with an open door.

Becky said she made the boxes that formed the little houses the day before, using graham crackers with frosting holding them together. The children, obviously fascinated with their tasks, chatted among themselves and showed off their handiwork to each other while the parents and grandparents mingled and chatted as well. Sylvia and Ed Grieger helped grandson, Jordan, 2, decorate his frosting tree. Jordan was mesmerized with the frosting.

Lillian Crum was there with her grandchildren. I’ve known her for years, long before we both became grandmothers. In fact, her mother, who was Revere’s postmaster, was the first person I interviewed when we moved to Upper Bucks. The hoagies at Lil’s Top of the Mall Deli in Revere exert a magnetic pull for my adult children when they come home for a visit. Apparently. the childhood memory of the sandwiches has stood the test of time, and a trip to the deli has become a tradition at our house.

It was fun to watch the children and their antics. It was rather a finger-licking experience and I saw more than one colored sprinkle wind up in someone’s hair. (Becky told me she learned from previous projects she’s staged for children to always use edible materials because it was inevitable that something would wind up in a small mouth.)

But mostly it was heart-warming, especially for a grandmother who doesn’t live next door to her grandchildren. Should we call her an absentee grandmother? Certainly not a remote one. Maybe a cellphone grandma or a Facetime grandma? It really doesn’t matter to the kids so long as they know we love them.

And what about all these amazing people like Becky who work hard, go out of their way all year long to create pleasant experiences for our children? Like all of us, they’re super-busy at this time of year but they volunteer their time just to do special things for our children – and grandchildren.