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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My friend and I read your column and discuss the letters and your replies. We usually agree with your answers. Now we have a question for you:

Let's say that "Mary" was shopping and ran into a young woman she had known in college -- we'll call her Beatrice. Beatrice had her 2-year-old son in a stroller, and when Mary looked at the little boy, she wasn't prepared for the shock she got. The child's face was terribly deformed and disfigured!

What should Mary have said -- if anything?

My friend said, "I would have ignored the abnormality and said something like, 'My, what a sweet child. How old is he?'"

I said, "I would have been more honest and said something like, 'I'm sorry about your baby, but I hear they are able to do amazing reconstructive surgery now.'"

Abby, what do you think a parent of a facially disfigured child would want to hear? My friend and I are hoping you will respond in your column. It would be helpful to many readers. -- NO NAME OR CITY, PLEASE

DEAR NO NAME: Just when I think I've seen everything, along comes a letter such as this one.

Only a person who has walked that path is qualified to answer that question. I hope someone who has will write and let me know. The answer would be helpful to many readers -- as well as to this columnist.

DEAR ABBY: I have a friend who insists he is not addicted to tobacco because he doesn't smoke cigarettes -- he smokes a pipe! He says, "I don't inhale, so a pipe can't hurt me."

Meanwhile, his wife inhales his secondhand smoke all day, and it must hurt because she has a respiratory problem and a chronic cough. This man claims he doesn't have a habit, yet he is never seen without some kind of pipe -- which he constantly is lighting, packing with tobacco, tapping into an ashtray or fiddling with in some manner.

He has a very impressive collection of pipes as well as a variety of fancy blends of tobacco, so it's apparent that he is not just a casual smoker. He brags that he could quit his pipe tomorrow and never miss it because he really doesn't have a habit.

Abby, I wonder whom is he kidding? -- AN OBSERVER


DEAR ABBY: The heartwarming letters you have published about people doing kind deeds impulsively for strangers prompts my first Dear Abby letter.

Every Saturday night, no matter what my husband and I did, we would always wind up at Baskin-Robbins for ice- cream cones. The same young girl always waited on Bob while I sat in the car -- a '66 T-Bird.

One night, with no warning whatsoever, my husband died of a heart attack. Although we had been married for 45 years, I was devastated.

About two months after my husband's death, I stopped by Baskin-Robbins for an ice-cream cone. The young girl remembered me because of the car, and said, "I've missed you. Where is your nice husband?"

I told her that he had died suddenly. "Oh, I'm very sorry," she said. "Please, wait a minute." Then she hurriedly packed a quart of our favorite flavor and handed it to me.

"No charge," she said softly. "Your husband was such a fine gentleman."

I was so touched, I cried. -- VIRGINIA DARE LUDWIG, TUSTIN, CALIF.

Everything you'll need to know about planning a wedding can be found in Abby's booklet, "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." To order, send a long, business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054. (Postage is included.)

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