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DEAR ABBY: I had hoped last Christmas would be different, but it turned out to be the same as every other Christmas for the past 14 years. My husband and I always go to his parents' for Christmas dinner, followed by the exchange of gifts. In all the years I've been married to their son, my in-laws have never once included me in the gift exchange.

When we started our family, they were good about giving a gift to each grandchild -- and always to my husband -- but never to me. Trust me, Abby, it's not the gift I care about, it's the fact that they go through this routine in my husband's presence and he never says one word about it.

How should I handle it next year? If I speak up, it could cause a family feud, and dissension between my husband and me. Must I simply resign myself to the fact that this is the way it is? Please tell me what you think. -- EXTREMELY REJECTED IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR EXTREMELY REJECTED: For your in-laws to exclude you at Christmas is cruel, insensitive and rude. For your husband to let this go on year after year and say nothing is spineless.

Tell him that unless you can be assured that you'll be treated with the respect you deserve next Christmas, it will be your last with his family -- and you and the children will make other plans.

DEAR ABBY: My 88-year-old mother has vascular dementia, but is still able to live in her own home with 24-hour caregivers. Recently, Mom's sister, "Velda," visited her and asked the caregiver on duty to bring her a silver pitcher from Mother's dining room. Velda told the caregiver, "No one needs to know," and took it.

Of course, the caregiver promptly reported the incident to me, and I picked up the phone and confronted Aunt Velda. At first she denied taking the pitcher -- then she said it had originally belonged to their deceased brother. Then she accused ME of wanting it for myself and ended the conversation by sarcastically saying she thought Mother seemed "fine" to her -- and hung up on me!

What makes this so aggravating is it isn't the first time this has happened. One of my brothers says to forget it. The other is ready to file theft charges. What is the appropriate action, Abby? -- DEVOTED DAUGHTER IN HOUSTON

DEAR DEVOTED DAUGHTER: You are fortunate that your mother's caregiver reported the theft promptly. Instead of filing charges, instruct the caregiver to call you or your brothers the next time "Aunt Velda" shows up at the door.

DEAR ABBY: In a few minutes, I have to start getting dressed. I haven't worn a suit since I buried my older brother last year. In one hour, I'll bury my lovely wife. I'm so glad my son could fly in. I need him so much at this time.

Abby, please urge your women readers to get that Pap smear now. Tell the guys to take them. Don't let them put it off. Cancer is a monster. Just ask anyone who has seen it up close. -- WES IN PHOENIX

DEAR WES: Please accept my deepest sympathy for your loss. Your message is sobering and certainly worth space in my column.

Readers, cancer is often treatable -- if it is caught early. The screening tests that exist today are effective only if they're performed. Please don't gamble with your health by postponing them. (And I'm not just talking about Pap tests!)

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

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