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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: The problem: I am a single woman who was out on a dinner date. The food server, who appeared to be in her early 20s, asked to take our order. Just as I was about to reply, the server stopped me and asked if I had looked at the senior citizen menu.

I told her that it would not be fair to order from that menu because I have not qualified for that discount yet. You would think that would have ended the subject, but no-o-o-o. She pursued the matter by saying, "You only have to be 55 to qualify for our senior citizen menu."

Granted, I will be 51 on my next birthday. But don't you think a person should be allowed to ask for the discount, not have the server determine eligibility?

After she left, I made a joke about it to my date, but I must admit that I was upset about the young woman's remarks, and I am afraid that my embarrassment was noticed by my date. Please tell food servers that everyone knows about senior citizen discounts without being nudged. Could I have handled this differently? -- GROWING OLD IN FLORIDA (BUT NOT THAT OLD)

DEAR GROWING OLD: You showed remarkable grace under fire in dealing with the server in front of your date. She was insensitive and clearly out of line.

DEAR ABBY: My husband is more than 50 years old and the oldest of four sons. He has always been loving and attentive to his parents, and they have always responded by treating him like yesterday's newspaper.

His parents always remember the birthdays and anniversaries of their other sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren, yet they never acknowledge my husband's existence.

We know that they remember the others because my husband is always invited to their birthday dinners, and we sit there while the cards, cash and presents are doled out, knowing his turn will never come. My husband was so hurt he finally asked his parents why they show such partiality. They said the other sons "needed" what they were giving them, and my husband didn't. Since when do you not need love and acknowledgement from your parents?

We are comfortable financially because we work hard and sacrifice. If we don't have the money for something, we wait and save for it. I feel we are being punished because we never ask for help. It's a shame that because we don't whine about always being short of money, my husband is completely ignored. Instead of being proud of their son, they dismiss him because they think he has money. Even if he has money, he still has a heart, Abby, and he hurts like anyone else.

Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. -- OUTCAST

DEAR OUTCAST: Your husband may have thoughtless, insensitive parents, but he has been blessed with a wonderfully compassionate wife.

Perhaps your in-laws will recognize themselves in this column and realize that although their eldest son may be doing well on the outside, he is hurting on the inside, and they can help him with a simple gesture of love.

DEAR ABBY: Will you please answer a question about telephone etiquette? If you call family or friends long-distance and their answering machine answers, is it polite to ask them to return your call? -- RICHARD SHOWSTACK, NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF.

DEAR RICHARD: Yes. And if you really want to hear from them, say, "My number is ( ) and please call me COLLECT."

They may not call you collect, but I'll bet they call you.

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.)

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