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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My husband and two sons had a family business. One son got married 13 years ago. Six years ago, the business split up. The business survived, thanks to my husband and older son.

Words were said at that time, and our younger son and his family have not visited us since. They live nearby, and I try to maintain contact. They have two children, 7 and 3. I was never asked to baby-sit even when the relationship was good, although I often did so for our other grandchildren. Our gifts of checks for Christmas and birthdays have never been cashed.

Our daughter was married three years ago, and our younger son and his wife never acknowledged the invitation, showed up or sent a gift.

Recently our daughter-in-law's mother passed on, and we sent flowers and cards, but to spare her feelings in an awkward situation, we did not attend the calling hours, for which we are being severely criticized. Should we have gone? -- HURTING IN NEW YORK

DEAR HURTING: No. Considering the circumstances, you did the right thing to stay away. People pay condolence calls to comfort the grieving family. Had you gone in spite of the rift, you would have risked causing turmoil at an already emotional time. In light of the situation, you did the considerate thing.

DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Anxious in Niagara Falls," in which the writer asked how to deal with a false rumor in her workplace, prompted my favorite memory about such rumors. Twenty-one years ago, I worked as secretary to a highly placed military officer. One day, "Col. Smith" came into my office and said he had something personal to tell me -- a rumor was circulating in the barracks that he and I were having an affair. The colonel went on to say that he wanted me to hear about the rumor from him so I wouldn't be upset by hearing it elsewhere.

He was (and, I assume, still is) happily married to a lovely woman. I was, and still am, happily married to the finest man I know, whom I love dearly. Of course, the rumor was completely untrue. The closest we came to an off-duty relationship was living two blocks apart in the same neighborhood on post. We socialized in separate circles except once, when the colonel held a promotion party at his home and invited my husband and me.

I asked him how Mrs. Smith had taken it. He replied that she understood completely and was fine. I told the colonel that if she were fine, so was I. We mutually agreed that all was well, and felt confident that the rumor would die in a short time, which it did.

As he turned to leave, I couldn't resist playing the devil's advocate by asking, "By the way, Colonel, did we have a good time?" My ability to joke about it set his mind at ease immediately.

Abby, your advice to "Anxious" was right on the money. The rumor will die a natural death when the gossips in the workplace see no evidence to keep it alive. Sign me ... NOTHING CHANGES, CHESTER, VA.

DEAR N.C.: I'm sure your sense of humor has carried you through on many occasions. I'm also sure the colonel was sorry when your professional relationship ended. You're the kind of employee an employer hates to lose.

NOT CONFIDENTIAL: In this Year of the Snake, I'm pleased to wish my Asian readers a happy and prosperous new year.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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