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by Abigail Van Buren

Hospital Cards Find Right Room if They're Properly Addressed

DEAR ABBY: Several months ago you reprinted a letter from "Open for Suggestions" about a woman who was concerned about her daughter's classmate who came to school dirty. You advised that she contact the teacher, who would then contact the proper authorities.

I know your heart was in the right place, but really Abby, does our first recourse need to be contacting the authorities? I have been a foster parent and know how frightening the authorities can be to a child and a family.

"Open to Suggestions" wanted to talk to the boy's mother. I think she was on the right track. She should have gotten to know the woman as a friend and then made suggestions about the boy's appearance. His parents may have only needed some friendly educating. And of course, if on her first visit it was obvious that the child was neglected, after that she could have spoken to the teacher.

I grew up in a home that was filthy. I often wore the same clothes for days. We rarely washed the sheets, and I had no idea people ever washed floors or windows. But my parents fed and sheltered me. They helped me with schoolwork, marveled at my creations, held me when I cried, remembered my birthday, read me bedtime stories and so much more. The things I learned from them are more valuable than clean clothes. (Later, I learned housekeeping from my mother-in-law.)

These days people don't take the time to know others. If our neighbors are noisy, we call the police. If nearby residents don't mow their lawns, we call city authorities. If a co-worker crosses us, we complain to the boss.

I vote for talking out our differences and calling in help as a last resort. I learned this from my dear parents, who both held master's degrees in the sciences from leading universities -- and from you, Dear Abby. -- A FAITHFUL FAN