Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am the confused grandmother of a darling 7-year-old granddaughter I'll call Mary. Her father never married my daughter, but there is no question about who Mary's father is because she is the very image of him.

He has never paid child support because he refused to acknowledge paternity, but he drops off a birthday gift and another gift around Christmastime. Mary frequently wants to call him and constantly asks her mother and me why she can't see her daddy more often. He gave her his telephone number once when he was in a good mood and told her she could call him, but he rarely returns her telephone calls.

Abby, what can her mother and I tell this sweet child about her father without hurting her feelings? I need some answers to pass along to her mother. -- ILLINOIS GRANNY

DEAR GRANNY: Stick to the truth and don't try to spare Mary's feelings by making up excuses for her father's obvious lack of interest in her. While it may be painful for her, she's far better off dealing with reality than a well-intentioned fabrication.

DEAR ABBY: I recently lost my only sister. I'll call her Anne. She left a husband, a son and a daughter I'll call Karen. Karen is 22.

Knowing she was dying, Anne asked me to do her a favor. Of course I agreed; how could I refuse? She wanted more than anything else to live to see Karen walk down the aisle. Karen's wedding date is March 6. We discussed the wedding at length, and I offered to buy a card for my sister to present to her daughter. I wrote in it exactly what Anne dictated and promised to give it to Karen on her wedding day if Anne wasn't able to do it herself.

Anne died two weeks ago.

I know my sister meant well and had only Karen's best interests in mind when she exacted this promise from me. But I don't want to make Karen sad on her wedding day. She and her mother had planned every detail together. On the other hand, the card and its message might mean the world to her. Abby, what would you do? -- TORN IN NEW ORLEANS

DEAR TORN: I would give the card to Karen a few days before the wedding. That way she will walk down the aisle with her mother's message without the trauma of reading it on a day already fraught with emotion.

DEAR ABBY: My husband's mother passed away two weeks ago at the age of 100 plus 9 months. His father is still living at the age of 101 plus 5 months.

We observed their 75th wedding anniversary last September. We know of other couples who have been married as long as they have, but we don't find another couple who both attained the age of 100 years old.

Can you -- or your readers -- tell us how rare this is?

My husband thinks you make up these letters, so if he sees this in print, it may make a believer out of him. -- POLLY SCHROCK, CONGERVILLE, ILL.

DEAR POLLY: Your in-laws' longevity is unusual, but not unheard of. People are living longer, thanks to the wonders of medical science and knowledge about the benefits of sound nutrition and regular exercise.

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4900 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64112; (816) 932-6600