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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have tried for years to contact some of my husband's Army buddies. I have finally gotten in touch with one of them, and we'll be visiting him and his family for a weekend in the near future.

They told us our large family is no problem, and it would be easier for us to stay with them than in a motel. Because of the size of our family, I feel we should stay in a motel. My husband thinks we should stay with them.

Abby, what should I take with me when we visit them? What would be an appropriate hostess gift? I have never met these people, although we've communicated often via phone calls and online communications. Should I bring groceries or go shopping with the hostess and pay for some of the food? Should I send money in advance to help with the extra expenses of our visit? Should I take towels for our family? Six showers a day equals a lot of laundry.

I would appreciate your guidance. -- UNEASY VISITOR IN BATH, N.Y.

DEAR UNEASY: Because of the size of your family, ask your hosts if they would like you to bring towels, pillows, sleeping bags or linens and blankets. If they aren't needed, they will tell you. Forget about taking groceries since this is only a weekend visit, but do take your hosts out for a meal during your stay.

Take along a lovely basket of fruit you can all enjoy as your hostess gift, and following your visit, be sure to thank your hosts in writing for their hospitality.

DEAR ABBY: Last fall, you printed a letter from a woman who gave her friend a hat shower. The friend had lost her hair from chemotherapy treatments. Because you printed that letter, I was the recipient of two hat showers! You have no idea how much they meant to me.

At one of the showers, the hostess asked everyone to explain how they knew me and to tell what I meant to them. It was a very special and emotional time. I have never felt so loved and embraced as I did that night. The hostess also asked the attendees to give me a card to open at a later date. I now have cards to open over the next four months -- and I look forward to opening them. What a thoughtful way of letting me know how much I am loved long after the shower.

The school bus drivers I work with gave me the second shower. To see all the drivers wearing pink ribbons on their I.D. badges was awesome!

The first time I went through chemo was 13 years ago. This time I have almost 100 hats from which to choose. It makes being bald not quite so hard.

Thank you, Abby, and also the woman who wrote the letter. I love all my hats. Each one has a special memory. -- CONNIE OLIVER, MOSES LAKE, WASH.

DEAR CONNIE: I hope your terrific letter inspires other readers to follow suit. We all need affirmation in times of trouble. I wish you successful treatment and a speedy recovery.

DEAR ABBY: You were wrong when you told "Happily Dating in N.J." that "years ago girls used to dream about a little white house with a picket fence. Now they're likely to dream about a corporate office with a couple of windows."

Many girls still dream about that "little white house," but today they are focused on providing it for themselves instead of waiting for a man to get it for them. -- GRANDMA GAYLE IN TENNESSEE

DEAR GRANDMA GAYLE: Your point is well taken. However, I think we are both right.

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