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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have never written to you before, and I'm sorry it has to be about something so tragic.

Here in Utah, two children died after playing hide-and-seek in an old refrigerator. The refrigerator had been left in a rural area, lying on its back with the door open.

No one really knows what caused this tragedy -- whether the door fell shut and trapped the boys, or whether they closed it in order to "hide."

Abby, please put a warning in your column about this potential danger. If one person will heed it, perhaps other children will not lose their lives. -- VIRGINIA JOHNS

DEAR VIRGINIA: This is not the first time I have been asked to warn my readers about the dangers posed by stored or abandoned refrigerators, which can be death traps for children.

Unused refrigerators and freezers should have the doors removed so that tragedies like this can be prevented.

DEAR ABBY: In your reply to "Steaming in Dallas," who wrote about her in-laws who believed a man should be in charge of all financial and other matters of major importance, you stated that the in-laws' values "are firmly rooted in another century." Don't be too sure about that, Abby.

There are groups today that attract huge numbers of men (one group fills stadiums full of men) and preach that men should be in control of every major facet of life. These groups usually cloak their male-supremacy message in biblical teachings and in the cultural icons of America.

While promoting many worthwhile tenets and publicly decrying spousal abuse and infidelity, they encourage male control of positions of leadership in the business, political and religious arenas and within the family structure. These groups often obtain legitimacy by associating with local churches, which may or may not fully understand the organizations' agendas, strategies or political ties.

While people have the right to their own personal religious beliefs and to join whatever legitimate organizations they wish to, I would caution all clergypeople and church members to fully investigate any outside group that appears to be infiltrating and exercising control within their men's ministries. I would caution any wife to beware if her husband says something like, "Honey, I've made a terrible mistake. I've given you my role." This is the standard approach for "handling the little lady."

The Center for Democracy Studies, 177 E. 87th St., Suite 404, New York, N.Y. 10128, offers information to anyone wanting to know about groups with organized efforts to undermine the rights of women, people of color, labor or any other groups, through religious or political intolerance. I would bet that "Steaming in Dallas's" in-laws may have been influenced by one of these very current groups rather than by ancient history. -- SUSPICIOUS IN ILLINOIS

DEAR SUSPICIOUS: Whether the group is contemporary or not, I stand by my original answer. That kind of philosophy is firmly rooted in another century.

However, thank you for taking the time to alert my readers and for naming an information resource for anyone who is concerned about an encroachment on civil rights.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600