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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a 14-year-old girl. Last summer my family and I went on a trip to the Cayman Islands. I planned to go to a camp in North Carolina after our trip, but because of a scheduling mix-up, I ended up leaving the islands one day earlier than my family.

I was petrified to go on a plane alone -- especially in a foreign country -- and to change planes in Miami to get to our home in New Orleans.

Well, I got safely on my plane to Miami, but when I got off, I didn't know what to do. I followed other people to immigration, where I was supposed to show my passport, but I wasn't sure which line to get into.

This small, dark-haired lady was walking beside me. I had noticed her on my plane. She asked if I was traveling alone. I nodded, hoping the fear didn't show in my eyes. She directed me to the right line and waited for me to get through. Then she led me to the baggage claim, where I got my suitcase to take it to my next check-in.

It was extremely kind of her, because she hadn't checked any luggage -- yet she went out of her way to help me. After I got my suitcase, she guided me to my terminal. (Hers was on the other side of the airport.) She never told me her name. I am thankful that she helped me; otherwise I would have been completely lost at that big airport.

Please print this, Abby. I want that woman to know what a help she was. I'm so glad there are still good people in this world who will go out of their way to help a stranger. -- GRATEFUL GIRL IN NEW ORLEANS

DEAR GRATEFUL GIRL: I am pleased to print your letter. However, I would like to add that parents of children who are not used to traveling alone should make arrangements with the airlines. In this way, the minors can be escorted to other terminals or through customs, if necessary, so they can arrive safely at their destination. To paraphrase Tennessee Williams' famous line, they should NOT have to depend on the "kindness of strangers."

DEAR ABBY: My mother was killed in an automobile accident 11 years ago. A week after the funeral, I had to return to my home 1,000 miles away. For the first time in my father's life, he was living alone. I called him as often as I could, but it didn't lessen his loneliness.

Seven months later, at Christmas, my wife and I went to visit him. He asked us to invite a special woman friend of his to dinner. Though we didn't say anything, we were very upset. This would be our first Christmas without my mother. I couldn't believe my father would bring another woman into our lives so soon. So when Mary Jo arrived, I was prepared not to like her. However, within seconds my attitude changed.

Mary Jo, like my mother, is an artist. She walked around the house telling us how much she liked our mother's paintings. At the dinner table, she asked questions about Mom. We laughed when she told us stories about her sons -- and we cried when she shared the story of her husband, Bill, who had died of cancer.

Abby, that dinner was 10 years ago. Since then, Mary Jo and Dad have married and "blended" our two families. They are an inspiration to my wife and me. They honor their former partners by living their lives to the fullest. I wish everyone could learn from them. -- CHAMBERS STEVENS, LOS ANGELES

DEAR CHAMBERS: So do I. Your father was fortunate to have married two such gracious, talented and sensitive women.

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

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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