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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I want to thank you for Operation Dear Abby. I was in the Navy for five years. Holidays were a miserable time for me until I received the Operation Dear Abby letters. Not having a close family, I truly appreciated the heartfelt gestures from everyone. It made me feel very proud to receive the love and support from you and the caring citizens of our country. I cried real tears of happiness with the encouragement I received from so many whose faces I did not know.

I am now medically retired, but I still remember the joy I received. So now I send letters to those who are stationed overseas.

I can't thank you enough for remembering the military men and women who give up their families to give strength and protection to our greater family -- our nation. God bless you and all of those who have ever sent those letters and gifts. I will be forever grateful. -- NAVY PRIDE, RIVERDALE, CALIF.

DEAR NAVY PRIDE: Thank you for a beautiful letter, which I'm sharing with all those who have worked so hard to make Operation Dear Abby a success. May the holiday be healthy and happy for all of you.

DEAR ABBY: I must comment in regard to the letter from "Hell on the Home Front" -- the Florida mother whose young daughter had returned to the nest.

For one thing, being out on her own has to be hell on the 18-year-old. She is fresh out of high school with no experience or realization of what life is about or the responsibilities entailed. I am 28 years old, and being on my own is no easy task.

The daughter may be crying out for guidance and companionship. Instead, her mother is looking at her daughter as a burden and distraction -- and even a destroyer of her marriage. That mother should take the time to speak with her daughter instead of telling her what to do or acting as if she were 18 years old herself. Obviously, they did not get along in the first place.

Older teen-agers (or should we call them young adults?) need their self-esteem and confidence bolstered. They do not need to be pushed out the door. Please sign me ... HAPPY TO HAVE HAD A MOTHER WHO SAT AND TALKED TO ME IN L.A.

DEAR HAPPY: I agree with you that there are fences that need mending in the household. The daughter may be immature and cannot be expected to know what she hasn't been taught.

DEAR ABBY: I have a Christmas story I would like to share with you:

Just about 14 years ago, our family spent the Christmas holiday skiing at Keystone, Colo. On Christmas morning, as is our custom, we were all gathered in the living room, opening our presents as the radio played lovely carols. Our grandson Peter, age 6, struggled up to me with a large box he'd obviously wrapped himself with many pieces of Christmas wrap and lots of Scotch tape! Placing it in my lap, he said, "This is for you, Granddaddy."

I, of course, showed great excitement to be receiving anything so large. With great ceremony, I carefully unwrapped it. I looked inside and said, "Well, Peter, what a joke you've played on your old grandfather -- you forgot to put anything in this box!'

With a startled look, he raised on his tiptoes, looked in the box and then looked at me, saying, "Oh, no, Granddaddy, I didn't give you an empty present. I filled it with love!" In that moment, our 6-year-old grandson gave us a gift we shall never forget and taught us the true meaning of Christmas. -- DAVID B. PICKFORD, CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA

DEAR MR. PICKFORD: Thank you for sharing your priceless gift. You should be very proud of your grandson.

CONFIDENTIAL TO EDWARD PHILLIPS IN MINNEAPOLIS: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SON. YOU WERE WELL WORTH THE LABOR PAINS!

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, 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. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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