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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: How do you chew out someone whose heart is in the right place? During the Cold War, I spent almost six years defending the flag of our country. While I am delighted to see it flying everywhere, folks -- please use your head as well as your heart.

A flag flying from a car at high speed takes a beating. Please replace it before it turns into a rag. I have seen some so far gone that only half the flag remains. I even saw a pair of flags hanging horizontally from a car trunk. They looked like mud flaps.

If you display a flag at your home, please keep it hanging free. If there has been a strong wind, unwind it. If it has caught on the shrubbery, please untangle it.

Finally, a request to the business world: If you use the flag in your ads, please don't alter it. One of our local radio stations went so far as to replace the blue field of stars with its own logo.

When people get old and gray, it's time to love and care for them. When flags get old and gray, it's time to replace them. -- KEN DALE, WEST LINN, ORE.

DEAR KEN: Thank you for a timely letter. I, too, have seen torn, faded, rain-drenched American flags flying from car windows, and tangled flags on homes and apartments. The U.S. Flag Code, adopted in 1923, describes the following rules for proper flag protocol:

(1) Always display the flag with the field of blue in the upper left-hand corner. To display it upside down is considered a distress signal.

(2) It should be carried aloft and free, never flat or horizontally.

(3) The flag should always be kept clean and safe; never let it become torn, soiled or damaged.

(4) The flag should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.

(5) Always treat the flag with respect. Never embroider it on household items or pieces of clothing.

People who are unable to dispose of the flag in the prescribed manner should contact their nearest American Legion or VFW post. Most of them have an annual ceremony in which old and worn flags are properly destroyed.

Readers who would like a copy of the brochure "Our Flag: How to Honor and Display It," and a flag fact sheet on "Flag Retirement," need only request it and send $1 plus a long (business-size), stamped, self-addressed envelope to National Flag Foundation, Flag Plaza, 1275 Bedford Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15219-3630. It can also be reviewed on the Internet at www.americanflags.org. Or call the NFF toll-free: (800) 615-1776.

DEAR ABBY: I have a question regarding wedding shower gifts. I live in my own apartment. My fiance lives at home with his folks. We registered for some practical things -- mostly items for the kitchen.

My question: Is it rude to use the gifts BEFORE we get married? We're not being married for four more months. It feels a little strange to be putting our wedding shower gifts to use, but isn't that the purpose -- to set up housekeeping? Please advise. -- GAYLE IN TOLEDO

DEAR GAYLE: Call me an incurable romantic -- or perhaps superstitious -- but the time to start using wedding shower gifts is after the honeymoon.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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