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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My mother-in-law, "Ruth," who is 80, my husband, "Clarence" (50ish), and I (40ish) all live in the same house. Ruth's husband died before Clarence and I were married. She sold her home and Clarence sold his so they could buy a house together.

My mother-in-law is a wonderful lady. However, she is a complainer. She becomes agitated over petty things. She also doesn't like for Clarence to criticize anything. (His style is more a commentary than criticism.) I don't think Ruth realizes how much complaining she does.

Even though we've repeatedly asked her not to, Ruth "sorts" through our mail and throws out important letters and catalogs she feels we don't need. (She has an obsession with frugality.)

Clarence is even more upset about her behavior than I am. He says if things don't change, he and I will be forced to move. What do you think we should do? -- FRACTURED FAMILY IN FLORIDA

DEAR FRACTURED: If this is relatively new behavior, Ruth may need a physical and mental exam to determine if she's experiencing dementia. However, if this is the way she normally acts, you and your husband are going to have to have it out with her -- and Clarence is going to have to tell his mother that if things don't change, the two of you will be moving. In the meantime, arrange to have all of your mail delivered to a post office box and don't give Ruth a key.

DEAR ABBY: It has been 15 years since our young son David asked us, while riding in the back seat of our car, "How do babies get into mommies' tummies?" My husband immediately said to me, "Honey, since you told our girls all about it before, you can tell David, too."

I retorted: "You're right. But they are girls. I'm sure it would be better for you -- his dad -- to tell our son." With that, his dad asked, "David, are you sure you want to know now?" David said, "Yes, Dad."

My husband then went into detail. I sat frozen, seat belt-bound, as the car and his words drove forward. When the lecture was finished, my husband said, "That's it, son."

Our 7-year-old boy began laughing so hard that we couldn't help laughing with him. When we finally settled down and could talk, we asked David what was so funny? Still chuckling, he replied, "OK, Dad. Now tell me the TRUTH." -- LINDA BRESSLER, TAMPA

DEAR LINDA: Sometimes truth may seem stranger than fiction, but your husband was right to answer your son's question fully and completely when he asked.

DEAR ABBY: I really enjoyed the response Patti Fairchild Bartee told you about in regard to sneezing: "Gesunheit" the first time, and "Gesundheit squared" when the sneezing continued.

It reminded me of a similar saying in the German immigrant community where I grew up near Strawberry Point, Iowa. After a person sneezed and was wished "Gesundheit" (health), the person who sneezed might reply, "Besser wie krankheit," which means, "Better than sickness!" Gesundheit to you, Abby. -- PASTOR OTTO ZWANZIGER (RET.), CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA

DEAR PASTOR ZWANZIGER: God bless you, too!

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

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