Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My women friends and I are having a disagreement about whether we should put our children in the car first, or load our groceries first. One friend says that she starts her car to cool it off, buckles her children in and then loads her groceries. Another friend insists that you should put your kids in last, so if your car gets hijacked your children won't be in the car.

However, I had my baby sitting in the front of the cart while I unloaded my groceries when another car backed up so fast that she came within an inch of hitting my baby in the cart. I let out a blood-curdling scream, and she stopped her car just in time.

Wouldn't it be easier to buckle my older child and baby in the car before unloading my groceries? -– PAM IN HOUSTON

DEAR PAM: The rule of thumb should be to load your most precious cargo first. Once the children are secured, the groceries can be placed inside. The odds of your car being hijacked are far less than, say, the grocery cart with the child in it rolling away while your hands are occupied with a grocery bag, or, as you have already experienced, an inattentive driver hitting it.

DEAR ABBY: My granddaughter took me to a large shopping center to buy some things I needed. While she finished her shopping, I waited in the food court, watching the crowd.

All of a sudden, a woman who had just walked by turned back, put her arms around me, gave me a squeeze and said, "You are blessed. You have saved my day." Confused, I asked, "What did I do?"

"You smiled at me," she answered, and walked away.

Abby, I'll be 99 in a few months. I have smiled all my life, but never dreamed it could make such a difference in someone's life -– especially my own.

I promised myself then and there to smile a lot more, and I hope those who read this will resolve to do the same. It takes only 13 muscles to smile, and it's worth the effort. Look at yourself in the mirror and smile. See the difference? -– KATHRYN OF A MILLION SMILES, MANSFIELD, OHIO

DEAR KATHRYN: A smile is contagious. It's an acknowledgment of another person's worth, and usually an indication that the smiler feels good about him- or herself. And who's to say –- it might even have something to do with your longevity. Here's hoping you'll be sharing that glow for many years to come.

DEAR ABBY: Now that election time is nearing, I would like to address a question that invariably comes up this time of year. That is, people asking me who I voted for. I think this is a personal subject. I am registered with a party and support it at election time. Who I vote for is my business.

My answer is, "I voted for the person I want to win." Sometimes this is not good enough for some people, and they insist I tell who I voted for. I just repeat my answer and go on. Any advice on this? -– REGISTERED VOTER IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR REGISTERED VOTER: I agree that it's nobody's business for whom you voted. What I find interesting is, if I answer the question and my candidate isn't the one my questioner prefers, I then hear a recitation of the other candidate's campaign slogans.

You are handling the situation correctly.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600