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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Your letters about chivalry prompted mine. Years ago, I was standing in a crowded post office. There was a long wooden bench where customers could wait for their number to be called for their turn at the counter. Many people were standing that day.

I was in my 20s at the time and had four small children with me, when a man who appeared to be in his 70s struggled up off the bench and offered me his seat. He obviously needed it far more than I, so I refused his offer. He said a man couldn't even be a gentleman anymore. I have remembered his hurt all these 30 years. I'll never forgive myself for that thoughtless act.

Since then I have always thanked every man who steps aside, assists me, holds a door or offers me a seat. I am blessed to have a husband who does all those things for me -- even after more than 20 years together -- and I appreciate every gesture, no matter how small.

I hope that all the gentlemen who read your column will accept my gratitude. Some of us can do it for ourselves, but we also know that everyone can use kindness and assistance sometimes. -- CHARLA IN ROSEMEAD, CALIF.

DEAR CHARLA: I agree. Good manners dictate that every kindness we receive -- large or small -- be gratefully acknowledged.

DEAR ABBY: I was invited to share Christmas with a group of friends and family. We had a wonderful time. After dinner, gifts were exchanged, and the hostess made sure that each guest had a gift.

As we sat talking over coffee, I was appalled when one of the women reached into a kitchen drawer, pulled out some plastic bags and proceeded to fill them with food to take home. Have things changed this much?

When I was raised, people didn't help themselves to anything in another person's house. It was my understanding that if you brought a gift or a dish to the party, it was the property of the hostess to serve or not as she saw fit.

I actually saw one lady put an entire loaf of bread into her bag. The hostess had almost nothing left. I overheard her husband ask, "What happened to the bread we had for dinner? I'd like a sandwich." Imagine, not enough left for a sandwich!

When you bring a dish to a party, do you scoop it up and take whatever is left home with you? Do you fix yourself a "doggie bag" without the hostess's permission, knowledge or consent? Abby, isn't what goes into a hostess's house hers to do with as she wishes? -- STUMPED IN NEBRASKA

DEAR STUMPED: When a guest brings food to a dinner party, it is considered a gift for the hostess. She is not obligated to serve it as part of the meal, and is within her rights to pop it into the freezer to enjoy at another time if she chooses.

Well-mannered guests do not remove anything from the house without being invited to do so by their host or hostess.

DEAR ABBY: After receiving sympathy cards after a death in the family, how are they displayed -- or are they displayed at all? -- BARBARA IN PHILADELPHIA

DEAR BARBARA: If it would be comforting to you to display the sympathy cards and letters of support you received, I see no reason why they couldn't be displayed on a shelf or tabletop. However, typically such cards and letters are placed in an album with the death announcement and, perhaps, some photos of the deceased, or in a keepsake box or decorative basket.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-size, 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, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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