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

by Abigail Van Buren

Man's Surprising Generosity Makes His Neighbors Uneasy

DEAR ABBY: Recently a neighbor, and friend of 12 years, purchased a new riding mower after the engine on his mower burned out. He asked if my husband would have any interest in the old mower, and said that if he didn't, it would be put out on the curb with a sign reading "free for the taking." Knowing the mower was in good shape, and that he could rebuild the engine or replace it, my husband accepted the offer. We felt this was a generous gift and we needed to replace our mower anyway.

A few days later, we came home to find our neighbor's new mower in our driveway. We thought he had brought it over for us to borrow while the one he gave us was in the repair shop. When we asked, he said it was the new one he had bought recently and he wanted us to have it. He had gotten another one for himself.

We tried to refuse such an expensive gift, but he became insistent and said he wanted us to have it. It made him happy to give it to us.

Abby, these neighbors are not wealthy. In fact, they are both in poor health and his wife is terminally ill. It seems too generous a gift to accept. Even if you feel we should accept it, it seems a waste of money that could be spent in a more practical way. -- GRATEFUL BUT UNCOMFORTABLE IN MAINE

DEAR GRATEFUL: Accept the gift graciously. It made your neighbor happy to give the mower to you. It would be wonderful if you repaid his generosity by being there for him and his ailing wife during this difficult time. Or perhaps you could be a Good Samaritan by doing an unexpected favor for someone else down the road. Good deeds have been known to generate other good deeds.

DEAR ABBY: This is in response to the letter from "Dreading It in the Carolinas," who suggested that people check out the comfort level of their guest room -- or lack thereof.

Abby, we're on the verge of needing a booking agent to manage the comings and goings of all our houseguests. Often there are only a few hours between guests in which to change the sheets and clean the bathroom.

I always put fresh flowers in the guest room, offer turn-down service in the evenings and serve meals planned well in advance. Yet, I overhear comments that the bed is too soft, the bed is too hard, the house is too hot or too cold, the bird is too noisy, the dog is too friendly, ad infinitum. And yes, I have experienced the veiled insult of sheets, towels, silverware, etc., received as hostess gifts.

Abby, our guests are welcome to share whatever worldly possessions we have, but if what we have doesn't meet their standards, perhaps the hotel down the street would be more to their liking. People who hitchhike shouldn't complain that there's no heater in the car! -- LOVE ME, NOT MY HOUSE, COEUR D'ALENE, IDAHO

DEAR LOVE ME: I suspect you may be overreacting to some of the comments you've overheard. The volume of guests you're entertaining attests to the quality of your hospitality. I'm sure you are an excellent hostess. However, to regard hostess gifts you have received from former houseguests as "veiled insults" only generates ill-feeling where no offense may have been intended, so please try to be less defensive.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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