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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have been friends with a certain gentleman for 45 years. I'll call him "Paul." I had been very friendly with his wife, who passed away eight years ago. She was a good-hearted soul and I thanked her for everything she ever did for me -- or gave me. There was only one problem. She never stopped reminding me of what she had given me.

Now Paul is doing the same thing! Six years ago, he gave me a basket of artificial flowers for Easter and told me he had paid $35 for it. Every time he saw me after that, he asked me if I was enjoying the flowers that he paid $35 for.

Paul also sent me a Christmas card that played "Silent Night" when you opened it. Abby, would you believe that in July he asked me if the Christmas card he gave me was still playing "Silent Night"?

Abby, what on earth is this man's problem? -- HAD IT IN CARLSBAD, N.M.

DEAR HAD IT: It's anybody's guess. Perhaps he doesn't want you to forget the amount of money and effort he's invested in your friendship. At least you'll never have to worry about Paul's memory. He can remind the elephants.

DEAR ABBY: I'm a recovering alcoholic who loves to entertain. The letter from the woman in Tucson who abstains from coffee, tea and alcohol for religious reasons struck a chord with me. Like her, I'm comfortable dining out with people who order drinks, but shopping for liquor or keeping it around the house would present too great a temptation. I've found a couple of solutions.

One is to invite people for brunch instead of dinner. When offered an assortment of herb teas or fruit juices, no one clamors for a Bloody Mary. Another is to let guests bring whatever they want to drink. Here in the Midwest, no one accepts a dinner invitation without asking, "What can I bring?" I reply, "If you'd like wine or beer, bring it along." Then I make sure they take home the leftovers.

In the winter, I've found that hot cider or hot chocolate is always welcomed; freshly squeezed lemonade draws raves in the summer.

If friends can't enjoy a few hours with you without drinking, they need to take a long, hard look at their own alcohol use. I know -- I've been there!

I didn't think I could have a social life in sobriety, but I was wrong. Now I enjoy the parties I give much more, and I don't have to face the cleanup while coping with a hangover.

Since I'm in AA, just sign me ... SUE IN WISCONSIN

DEAR SUE: Congratulations on your sobriety, and thanks for a helpful letter.

DEAR ABBY: Tell "Frustrated in New Jersey" that she shouldn't have to "swallow" anything.

Here's how I handled the bridesmaid thing with a bride-to-be who gave the ring back to her fiance three times.

With these bad vibes in mind, I asked the bride to sign an agreement, with a post-dated (the date of the wedding) check so if the wedding didn't take place, I could cash the check (for the dress only -- $180) and she would get the dress. She agreed.

Yes, she did marry the groom and I returned her check.

I did this because I already own two dresses, two purses and two pairs of shoes (never worn) costing a grand total of $530.

This time, I covered my bases. -- TAMPA BRIDESMAID

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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