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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My purse, containing all my personal identification, was recently stolen. Without my ID, trying to prove I exist has been a frustrating experience.

I was unable to convince the Motor Vehicle Bureau and must go through the whole application process again. I notified the police department about my loss, closed my checking account and canceled all my charge cards.

Also in my purse was a booklet that is vital to my health. On the cover it stated, "If lost, by your mercy, please drop in any mailbox and the family will gladly pay the postage." It has not turned up. As an active octogenarian, my faith in common decency is shaken.

The Social Security office insisted on past medical records, which required my making two trips. My Social Security card and Medigap cards will arrive in due time.

Abby, perhaps your readers can learn from my experience. Tell them to photocopy all charge cards, front and back, and also their car registration and license, a voided check, their Social Security cards, health cards and health records. It can save them untold time and frustration in case there's a loss or theft. -- BELLEFONTE, PA., READER

DEAR READER: It's not necessary for me to tell my readers. You have done it, and very succinctly. However, I'd add one more suggestion: Keep the photocopies in a secure place such as a safe-deposit box.

DEAR ABBY: It gripes me that there's a continuing tendency in the movies and on television to misrepresent the South. Our part of the country seems to be a favorite lampoon target. If we can't laugh at ourselves, we have no right to laugh at anyone. But there are several common portrayals of Southern life that sho' 'nuff rile me!

A common mistake that's made by actors and actresses impersonating Southerners is to use the term "y'all," while speaking to and about only one person. Abby, everyone should know that "y'all" is a contraction of "you all," and obviously is plural. If we say "y'all" to an individual, we are referring to that person and at least one other.

We realize y'all like our accent, and we appreciate it. But a fake Southern accent is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Do it right or don't do it! Hire a true Southerner to advise.

We really can pronounce the letter "r" at the end of a word. We seldom use the phrase "li'l ol'." Few of us go by a double first name, such as "Jim Bob" or "Billy John." Some of us have never tasted a mint julep or sat in a magnolia tree. A number of us regularly wear shoes, at least in winter, and hardly anyone wears overalls anymore (not to church, anyway). Indoor plumbing is almost common now, and inbreeding is actually frowned upon in most circles.

I heard of a woman not far from Birmingham who scored above average on an IQ test! Not to brag, but I, myself, can correctly identify either of those letters three times out of four! Some Southerners don't even like grits. Usually, such people are accepted by society anyhow, except at really important affairs.

I hope this helps you Yankees, etc., to understand us ignorant Southerners a little better. After all, we can't all be fortunate enough to be born north of the Mason-Dixon line. So go ahead and laugh at us. But please do it with respect. Remember that we're trying to understand you, too. And we often do. Except when you talk.

Y'all come! -- BAMA BUBBA

DEAR BAMA BUBBA: You have stated your case very well -- and you have an excellent sense of humor. I'm reminded of the lyric from an old Phil Harris song: "And that's what I like about the South ..."

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