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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a widower who enjoys maintaining contact with -- and occasionally entertaining -- the friends my wife and I shared before her death. At a dinner party I hosted last weekend, one of those friends nearly died.

This lovely lady, who has been a friend for nearly 20 years, is allergic to peanuts. With the exception of her husband, no one else at the party knew this. One of the appetizers I made that night was skewered chicken with a peanut dipping sauce. She sampled it and went into respiratory failure.

Fortunately, the paramedics were able to sustain her breathing until she could be rushed to the emergency room. Thank God she is recovering nicely.

Last night, I received a phone call from her daughter, who berated me for nearly "killing" her mother and threatened to sue me for negligence. Abby, I'll be honest. I didn't react to her accusations gracefully.

Another close friend is allergic to shellfish. My dinner companions and I make it a point to carefully isolate any shellfish dishes from other food being served when this friend is present. We know that even a bit of sauce dripped from a serving spoon that has come in contact with shellfish can create a health hazard for her.

She does her part by taking responsibility for herself. She doesn't hesitate to ask about each dish being served, so she'll know if one of them could cause an allergic reaction. If the lady with the peanut allergy had done this, she wouldn't have suffered a close call at my home last weekend.

Please warn your readers to be open about their food allergies. -- DON'T BLAME THE COOK, HI NELLA, N.J.

DEAR COOK: The woman's daughter was reacting out of fear, so I hope you weren't too hard on her. Your point about adults taking charge of their allergies is an important one.

DEAR ABBY: My cousin "Jenny" and I have always been close. We talk on the phone a couple of times a week. However, when it comes to phone etiquette, she's clueless -- and it's bugging the heck out of me.

When Jenny and I are on the phone, she constantly interrupts me by talking to her cats. These comments are not made because her pets are misbehaving. She'll start baby-talking to them for no reason while I'm in mid-sentence. In addition, I'm pretty sure she isn't listening to me half the time. If I ask a question, there's a dead silence until I ask her if she's still there.

On the other hand, when Jenny has a problem or wants to say something, she talks a mile a minute and gets annoyed if I don't catch it all.

Another thing: She calls me at work and expects me to have long, leisurely chats. When I try to explain that there's no way I can do that, Jenny gets huffy.

I'm not sure how to handle this. What should I do? -- QUESTIONING COUSIN IN PEORIA, ILL.

DEAR COUSIN: Your cousin's behavior is rude. By her actions, she is delivering a message that what you have to say isn't important to her. You're right -- dead silence when you ask her a question means her attention is elsewhere.

The next time Jenny talks to her pets while you are conversing with her, tell her you have to go -- and hang up. Ditto for her calls to you at work. Tell her to call back in the evening when you're not on company time.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

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