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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: "Pam" and I have been friends since childhood, when we attended preschool together. Our backgrounds are similar and we share the same religious views.

About two months ago, Pam suddenly stopped speaking to me. I have wracked my brain and honestly have no idea why. I have called, e-mailed and sent her letters to which she tersely replied, "Leave me alone."

I'm sick over it and don't know what to do. My kids love Pam and I adore her children and family. I cannot for the life of me imagine what would cause her to discard our friendship with no explanation.

I heard through the neighborhood grapevine that people suspect there must have been some kind of infidelity involved -- such as Pam's husband hitting on me or mine on her. According to one neighbor, "It's the only plausible reason" a friendship like ours would end so abruptly. I am beside myself. What should I do? -- HAVEN'T A CLUE IN NEW YORK

DEAR HAVEN'T A CLUE: I wish you had written me before soliciting advice from your neighbors because now you've got them talking. There may be something going on in your friend's life having nothing to do with you that she's not comfortable talking about right now -- which could also account for her silence. Try not to internalize what has happened and allow her the space she's asking for. The truth will come out eventually. It always does ...

DEAR ABBY: I am a disabled man and I live with my 75-year-old mother. Most of the time we get along OK, but Mom is a "clutter bug." I have never known her to throw anything away.

There are newspapers and magazines stacked everywhere in our home dating back at least 10 years. Mom doesn't want to invite anyone into the house. She says it's "a mess," but she won't take advantage of any professional cleaning or organizing services. We haven't entertained in 30 years!

Could this be a sign of Alzheimer's? What can I do about her? Please help. -- BURIED ALIVE IN AKRON

DEAR BURIED ALIVE: If your mother has been this way for 30 years, it's not Alzheimer's -- she's a compulsive hoarder. She may need psychological help and/or medication to overcome her anxiety about letting anything go. If you have a social worker who helps with your disability, talk to that person about finding help for your mother. If you don't, talk to her physician. The situation as you describe it indicates the house could be a safety hazard -- possibly a fire trap. Please do not procrastinate any longer because your lives could depend upon it.

DEAR ABBY: Is it odd to eat with one hand in one's lap? I didn't realize that I did it until my fiance's parents mentioned it to me at a dinner. When we subsequently ate with my family, I realized that every person in my family eats the same way.

My future in-laws say they have never heard of such a thing. My grandmother says it is good table manners, and I have no intention of changing. (My fiance and I are both third-generation Americans.)

What do we teach our (future) kids? -- PROPERLY TAUGHT IN ARIZONA

DEAR PROPERLY TAUGHT: Teach them the proper table manners that you were taught as a child. According to Emily Post, by the time a child is 12, he or she should have learned to "sit with good posture and feet firmly on the floor throughout the meal. (And) keep free hand in lap when not cutting food or passing items." (The italics are mine.)

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 $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)