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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I was intrigued when I saw the letters in your column about forgetting people's names and trying to bluff. They reminded me of an incident that happened to my father, who is a 79-year-old Baptist minister.

Dad worked many jobs over the years. He had a "paying job" to raise us kids, and on the side he preached. He met people all over the Southwest, and they remembered him because he was educated, articulate, poetic, literate, compassionate, forgiving and loving. (He still is, and he still preaches that God is a loving, compassionate and forgiving entity.)

Dad can remember the faces of most of the people he has met, but not their names or the context in which he met them. One Sunday he returned to a church where he had served as an interim pastor. A lady walked up to him after the service and said with tears in her eyes, "Brother Clark, I can't tell you how moved I am to see you again. I haven't seen you in 10 years."

She chatted on about how happy she was to see him, and Dad tried vainly to remember her name. When she mentioned how much her husband had always thought of "Brother Clark," Dad put out a feeler based on that continued theme. "And just how IS your husband?"

"Still dead," was the much colder reply. It turned out that the last time the lady had seen Dad was when he had preached at her husband's funeral!

Dad not only raises people's spirits when they are grieving, he also raises the most beautiful flowers in Clinton, Miss. (just outside of Jackson). My mother is deceased now, but one of my favorite stories about my parents concerns a woman who stopped quite often to admire the gorgeous landscaping. One day the lady turned to my mom and asked, "How much do you pay your yardman?"

"Nothing," Mom replied. "But I have to sleep with him." -- KAREN CLARK, FORT WORTH, TEXAS

DEAR KAREN: Your letter is a day-brightener. You are fortunate to have been raised in a loving home in which laughter was not a stranger. That reminds me of a quotation I treasure from Wilferd (cq) Peterson: "Laughter is the best medicine for a long and happy life. He who laughs -- lasts."

DEAR ABBY: Mothers-in-law are so often given a "bad rap," I just have to tell you about mine.

Recently my marriage was faltering. My husband, "Jack," is a complex man whom I had always had great difficulty understanding. I felt I had tried just about everything, and was one step away from filing for divorce.

Out of desperation, I called my mother-in-law (I'll call her "Adele"). She listened as I poured out the story. She did not judge, criticize or condemn either one of us. She supported her son and me equally. Adele provided some keen insights into Jack that I didn't have. In a kind and gentle way, she also helped me to see where I needed to improve.

I learned a lot about my husband and also about myself from Adele's wisdom, and I'm putting what I learned into practice. Jack and I are staying married, and our marriage is growing stronger.

I thank God for my mother-in-law every night, and I pray that when my children are grown and have spouses of their own, I will be to them the same wise and loving mother-in-law that Adele is to me. -- MICHELLE IN GEORGIA

DEAR MICHELLE: What a beautiful tribute to your mother-in-law. As your letter so accurately illustrates, there are times when it takes more than two to make a marriage flourish. Thank you for sharing that valuable lesson. Adele sounds like a jewel.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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