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by Abigail Van Buren

Family Historian Wrestles With Skeleton in the Closet

DEAR ABBY: I am a genealogist who is working with my mother on a family history, and we're not sure how to handle a situation that has come up.

A relative, "Mary," had a child, "Jane," out of wedlock. Mary's parents raised Jane as their own, so everyone in the family refers to Jane as Mary's sister, rather than her daughter. My mother knows the truth -- as do other relatives -- but no one acknowledges this publicly. Mom thinks we should put the truth about Jane in our family history. However, I'm afraid if we do, it will upset my grandmother.

As a historian, I think we should print the facts. However, there has already been a great deal of feuding in that part of our family, so I hate to add fuel to the fire.

What's the best way to handle this? -- SKELETON IN THE CLOSET

DEAR SKELETON: The most skillful diplomat in your family should approach your grandmother tactfully and assess her feelings. If she would be hurt or embarrassed by the revelation, perhaps those facts should be kept "private" for another generation. Announcements of this kind can be bombshells with reverberations that echo through the entire family. While it is important to have an accurate family tree, and people are more open-minded today than they were a generation ago, there is no reason to make public at this time a revelation that could further fracture your family.

DEAR ABBY: I have enjoyed the "Pennies From Heaven" letters and thought you might be interested in another one.

Back in the late 1800s, my father was visiting his grandfather who lived in a house that was built rather high off the ground, as houses were back then. My father was playing under the house and found a penny. He was so excited that he ran in the house hollering, "Grand-daddy! Grand-daddy, I found a penny!" His grandfather took the penny, rubbed it on his pant leg, looked at it real close and said, "Lord, son, pennies make dollars," then put the penny in his own pocket. My father said, "I never did like that old man after that." -- JACK V. LYBRAND, COLUMBIA, S.C.

DEAR JACK: While I agree with your great-grandfather that pennies add up to dollars, that's no excuse for stealing from a child. I don't blame your father for feeling as he did.

DEAR ABBY: In response to the letter from a World War II vet who wrote that cigarettes were so cheap in the service, he couldn't afford not to smoke, I say, "Ha!"

I was in Korea as a Marine and never smoked -- no matter how many others were smoking around me. I knew back then it was a filthy habit, thanks to my sixth-grade teacher in Minneapolis, who taught me the definition of a cigarette:

"A little bit of tobacco, rolled up in a little bit of paper, with a little fire at one end and a little fool at the other."

Abby, that little lesson has served me well all my life. -- DICK BAKKEN, SAN DIEGO

DEAR DICK: Your sixth-grade teacher was an exceptionally wise educator. It is possible that the lesson you and your classmates were taught is the reason you are alive today to write this letter.

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

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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