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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Last winter, my sister and brother-in-law informed me they were coming for a 17-day visit. I live in a small cottage with a roommate, whom they have never met. My brother-in-law made reservations at a nearby condominium, which my sister promptly cancelled because it was more than she wanted to spend. (She has always stayed with me for free.)

I didn't ask if they could afford this vacation, and I told them I could help by building an extra room on the cottage for $600, which would save them $1,100. They sent the $600 and construction started. My roommate's brothers worked day and night to finish it in one week. I had just gotten home from major surgery on another island, and it couldn't have been more inconvenient for me to have company. However, I suffered in silence.

From the minute she arrived, my sister acted like I owed her something. Her demeanor embarrassed me and her holier-than-thou attitude was inappropriate. I had to work most of the time they were here because I was financially strapped from losing work due to my illness. They had access to my cottage on the beach, TV, stereo, new bed, telephone, etc., but nothing seemed to please her.

Before she left I told her to stop telling me what to do, which she denied doing and got her husband involved in our discussion. She has burned all her bridges with our family and I was her last relative to abuse. Should I have not taken the money for an addition to the cottage and let them fend for themselves when they got here, or just told them I was not in a position for company? -- USED-UP BROTHER IN HAWAII

DEAR USED-UP BROTHER: Yes and yes. Your sister now feels she "owns" a room in your cottage.

If I were you, I'd return the $600, roll up the welcome mat and change my phone number.

DEAR ABBY: I read the letter from the church elder who was concerned with an overweight member who bent the church's folding chairs when sitting on them, causing costly replacements.

This issue has bothered me as well, because I am also overweight. The new trend in building churches seems to be to use folding chairs in the sanctuary instead of pews. Abby, folding chairs are very uncomfortable for overweight people.

Three new churches in our area all use folding chairs because they can be removed to reconfigure the sanctuary into a fellowship hall where tables can be set up. The kitchens are built next to the sanctuary, making it inconvenient for weddings and funerals because after a service, parishioners have to wait for the chairs to be removed, tables set up, chairs placed at the tables and the food transported.

I, for one, will not attend a church anymore where they use folding chairs in the sanctuary. It's very uncomfortable and is difficult to rise from these small chairs.

Your column seems to be the best way to spread the word: Elders, PLEASE go back to using those comfortable benches or pews.

Abby, thank you for allowing me to air this gripe. -- HATES FOLDING CHAIRS, HELENA, MONT.

DEAR HATES FOLDING CHAIRS: I'm sure your problem is shared by many. However, since the folding chairs are bought and paid for, it may take a miracle to turn back the hands of time.

Discuss this problem with your pastor to determine if you can arrive at a compromise. Surely there are funds available for solid, comfortable chairs for large-sized churchgoers. They would pay for themselves in savings in the long run.

For Abby's favorite family recipes, send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet No. 1, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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