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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: We worked hard all our lives and raised a large family. Once our children were educated, they took jobs far away and married. We seldom get to see our grandchildren.

When it came time for retirement, we bought books on the best retirement locations, checked out tax bases and compared real estate prices. We moved to the Sunbelt. Wonderful! No more cold, snowy winters or hot, humid summers!

We moved into a small community, which is what we wanted -- very little crime, no heavy traffic, small-town values. People have lived here for generations and have deep roots. The trouble is, they have their extended families, their lifelong friends, their routines. They aren't about to open up their circles and take someone new into the community.

I know what you are going to say: "Join a church and get involved in community work." We have. We attend church every Sunday and do all those other things you might suggest. People are very cordial and pleasant. However, there is a big difference between being cordial and establishing a friendship.

We are well-educated, outgoing people who have never before lacked for friends. Here, we find ourselves definitely outsiders. It is very lonely, and I shudder at the thought of growing older and more isolated. Forget about moving. We have put too much sweat and money into organizing our home just the way we want it. We're stuck.

I guess what I want to tell people is: Don't be too quick to uproot yourselves and move somewhere new. When you are older, there are a lot worse things to contend with than bad weather. -- LONELY IN NEW MEXICO

DEAR LONELY: As the population ages, your experience is becoming increasingly common. It is also true that some communities are more hospitable than others. Perhaps some of my "transplanted" retired readers will share how they met the challenge of starting over in a new location.

DEAR ABBY: There is no doubt in my mind that you sincerely care about the people who write to you. You always try your utmost to give them sound advice. Unfortunately, there are two sides to every story.

The letter from "Little League Mom, Fruitland Park, Fla." praised Orel Hershiser while chastising the other athletes her sons wrote to during the World Series. The time elapsed between the letter sent to the players and the time her letter to you was printed was just a few weeks. (She noted that Hershiser was pitching in the Series when they wrote to the players.) This is such a small time lapse.

The primary reason the players probably didn't autograph the cards was the high prices people pay for autographs. Many players have stopped signing autographs at games because adults get children to obtain them -- and then the adults sell the autographs. This is using the children and the players, and it's wrong. What's to stop a con man from mailing in numerous requests for autographs using the return addresses of friends and neighbors?

If the mother wants her sons to have autographs, she should take her children to card shows that often will have stars on hand to sign autographs for a fee. -- DOUGLAS D. WATSON, EVANSVILLE, IND.

DEAR DOUGLAS: While there probably are collectors who cheat to obtain autographs to sell, I doubt if America's heroes would cut off their young fans to prevent a few unprincipled and greedy adults from making a profit on the players' fame. That would be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. I suspect there are other reasons why players fail to return cards and respond to letters, such as requests too numerous to fill, schedules that don't permit them to respond to every fan, and possibly contracts with their owners.

Card shows where players autograph items for a fee are not a bad idea for serious collectors, but young fans who want an autograph simply because they "worship" the player should be able to write directly to the athlete or a fan club and request an autograph. It's the "American way."

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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