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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: We have a large, supportive extended family consisting of aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. In the tradition of our Southern ancestors, we are forever attending family gatherings. In my generation, 12 cousins are especially close. We are now in our 60s.

In 1952 our cousin "Velma" became pregnant. We all pretended we didn't know. Her mother sent her to a home for unwed mothers 200 miles away. The baby was put up for adoption. The alibi for her absence was that she went on an extended tour of the great cities of Europe. We all pretended to believe it, to help her save face.

After about six months, Velma returned home and we welcomed her back. We thought she'd get on with her life. None of us brought up the subject of Europe because we didn't want to embarrass her. However, she began telling us how tall Big Ben is in London, how they erected the Eiffel Tower in Paris, how masculine Michelangelo's "David" is in Florence, and the circumference of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We would try to change the subject, to no avail. Through the years her stories have progressed to the point of being all-consuming. Every conversation is filled with her fantasies about the great cities of Europe.

Abby, the family is tired of her monopolizing every conversation with her imaginary trip. Our "Aunt Iris," age 93, is getting hard to control. She says she has heard this lie for 49 years and she does not intend to spend the time she has left listening to "bull."

None of us wants a family blow-up, but we are all tired of the subject. Please advise. -- HAD IT IN DIXIE

DEAR HAD IT: When Cousin Velma was sent away, an "out of wedlock" pregnancy was regarded as a disgrace. One can hardly blame her for inventing a cover story. However, having pretended for nearly half a century that she took the Grand Tour, she may no longer be able to distinguish between fact and fantasy.

I see nothing to be gained at this late date by informing Cousin Velma that you have known the truth all along. Continue to let her save face. If Aunt Iris can't do that, she should strictly limit her time with Cousin Velma.

DEAR ABBY: This is in response to the mother of four married children who was "Appalled in Pennsylvania" when her nephew's future mother-in-law informed her that only one couple could be invited to the wedding. You replied correctly (I'm sure) that she was merely being honest enough to admit they were on a tight budget and left it up to "Appalled" to decide who would represent their family at the wedding.

The mother of the bride should have handled the problem like my mother-in-law. She simply included in her daughter's invitations: "Kids, nobody has any money to spare. I will reserve the pavilion in the park. It will be a potluck celebration. Please coordinate with me what you would like to bring."

Abby, everyone who was invited showed up bringing salads, entrees and desserts. It was one of the most enjoyable wedding receptions I ever attended. -- NO MONEY? NO PROBLEM!

DEAR NO MONEY?: I'm sure it was. When people "take ownership" and contribute to an event, it usually is very successful.

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

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