DEAR ABBY: Last night, I attended an elegant dinner party at the home of a friend. She served a delicious meal on a table set with crystal, bone china, silver and a low centerpiece of fresh flowers. Everything was perfection -- with one exception. As soon as we were seated, our hostess's elderly Aunt "Ethel" began talking about her health, with graphic details of every symptom, every allergy and every pain she had ever endured.
Other guests tried changing the subject several times, but Aunt Ethel evidently believed she was being entertaining. Among those at the table were a lawyer, a teacher and a friend who had recently returned from living several years in Africa. Each had more to contribute in the way of conversation. But not one got the opportunity to speak more than a few words before Aunt Ethel was reminded of yet another ailment she "knew" we'd find interesting.
How does one handle an awkward situation like this? In spite of her age, the woman is essentially in good health and ours is a small town. She'll probably be present at many more dinners. -- FRUSTRATED IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
DEAR FRUSTRATED: (And I'm sure you were.) Your hostess lost control of her party. A way to have handled it would have been for her to say to Aunt Ethel, with a SMILE: "That's very interesting, Aunt Ethel, but I invited everyone to come here for a reason -- so each person can tell us what they've been doing since we were last together, since I know a lot has been going on." Then she should have started around the table.