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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Will you take one more comment about children at weddings?

Traditions defining many public ceremonies arose in times when the only public record was the public recollection. Centuries ago, before publicly recorded deeds secured property owners' rights, buyers and sellers would gather witnesses, including 10 small boys, and define the boundaries before exchanging a bag of gold for a symbolic clump of dirt. The men would then beat the boys to fix the transaction in their memories. This provided witnesses able to attest to the land sale covenant in the event a dispute arose, even decades later, in spite of limited life expectancies. I discovered this fact while researching land sales during law school.

It is my understanding that weddings included children for similar reasons. Celebrations, parades through the streets and processions into the church provided a positive reinforcement to the memories of the young children included to preserve a good public "record" of the marriage covenant. Modern ring bearers and flower girls apparently represent a remnant of this tradition. If correct, the tradition explains why such participants should be old enough to be cognizant, but otherwise very young.

Regardless of the reasons, sniffling, giggling, chattering children, missing their cues in the procession or fidgeting among the witnesses, remind me that some element of the family and community can attest to the vows long after the other witnesses and I are gone. In my opinion, a ceremony that excludes children misses the point of a public ceremony. -- BENJAMIN PITTS, CHATTANOOGA, TENN.

DEAR BENJAMIN: Thank you for a fascinating letter. However, let's agree to disagree on the subject of children at weddings. Older children, who know how to behave and are aware of their surroundings, can certainly be invited to share the festivities. Small children, with short attention spans, are disruptive and should not attend a wedding unless specifically invited.

P.S. Thank God society has progressed beyond beating boys to record real-estate transactions.

DEAR ABBY: I work with a team of 10 individuals in an open cubicle situation in customer service, so we have periods of downtime during the course of the day.

We have two team members who cannot be quiet! They have an opinion about everything and anything, and ramble on without regard to anyone's privacy. If no one is talking to them, they stand and strike up a conversation without encouragement, leaving the rest of us to listen to them babble on and on.

Since I work on creative writing projects, or read books during our slack periods, I feel uncomfortable complaining about them because they are not interfering with my work for the company. I brought this to our supervisor's attention and she was unwilling to intervene. I tried asking the whole team in a nice way to quiet down and preserve a more professional environment, but the talk continues. How can I make these guys get the message: "Say what you have to say, keep it short, then sit down and be quiet"? -- GOING CRAZY IN COLUMBUS, OHIO

DEAR GOING CRAZY: Since your supervisor declined to intervene, bring headphones to work and wear them during your downtime. (Whether or not sound is coming out is your business.) People whose main entertainment is hearing themselves talk are usually unable to believe that everyone around them isn't fascinated by their chatter.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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