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

by Abigail Van Buren

Gifts From the Heart Will Please Seniors on Your List

DEAR ABBY: Last year I missed your column on Christmas gifts for seniors. I remember in the past you printed some great suggestions, and since there are several seniors on my list this Christmas, how about helping us again? -- JESSICA IN ANAHEIM, CALIF.

DEAR JESSICA: Certainly! I combed my past columns and found a wealth of ideas that come from the heart, not the wallet. Remember, most seniors have more than their share of dusting powder and aftershave, and have run out of room for bud vases and bird feeders. Consider these more practical alternatives:

-- Postcards or lined stationery and envelopes with a generous supply of postage stamps.

-- A gift certificate for their favorite grocery store, deli or pharmacy.

-- An assortment of greeting cards for birthdays and anniversaries, as well as get-well and condolence cards.

-- A "paid in advance" certificate for 10 lawn mowings or snow shovelings by a neighborhood youngster.

-- A "certificate" for a service you can perform that is difficult for them -- a thorough house cleaning, a month's laundry, a handyman visit for home safety inspection and minor repairs.

-- An offer to rewrite their address book in larger, more legible print.

-- A month of Sunday drives to church, or to the country, the museum or the park.

-- If the person on your list is on a limited income, a check in any amount will be appreciated.

-- A subscription to their favorite magazine or the daily newspaper.

-- A basket of goodies assembled especially for them -- cans of ham, tuna, chicken, hearty soups, chili and stew; instant coffee and tea bags; crackers; instant soup mixes.

-- A selection of their treasured, tattered photos retouched and placed into a new album, with captions.

-- A drive to see the Christmas lights and decorations, as well as store windows.

If a senior says, "Please don't give me anything," that usually means, "I have more things than I need." However, a gift of your time may be appreciated and will be remembered long after the holiday has passed and the material gifts are stored away.

DEAR ABBY: The recent list you published of armed services addresses for your annual "Operation Dear Abby" brought back a flood of memories.

Five years ago, a parent volunteer in my second-grade class brought me a clipping from your column and suggested that this would be an excellent writing project for my students. We wrote to two of the addressed and received two responses. Both were from U.S. Marines in Japan. They became splendid pen pals, but one went above and beyond the call of duty.

This pen pal, Dennis DeNoi, always sent each child an individual response, even if it was just a few lines. (Remember, he was writing to a class of 30 children whose writing was not always legible!) Needless to say, this wonderful Marine caught the attention of the teacher, and we began an 18-month correspondence that eventually resulted in a very happy marriage.

My husband will retire soon from his beloved Marine Corps after 22 years of service to his country, to begin a new career in law enforcement. As the fifth anniversary of our first letter approaches, I want to say, "Thank you and God bless you!" You and this wonderful man have given me so much. I am forever grateful.

I encourage all of your readers to support Operation Dear Abby and our servicemen and women. You may use my name. -- CHERYL TUCKER DE NOI, LOS ANGELES

For Abby's favorite family recipes, send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet No. 1, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64112; (816) 932-6600