DEAR MISS MANNERS: Several doors up the street from my house is one of those street-side shrines -- the memorials set up by friends and family at the site where someone has been killed.
It was set up over six months ago by high school students where one of their friends crashed his car and was killed. The offending telephone pole was decorated with a large Irish flag inscribed yearbook-style, votive candles, flowers and many small mementos.
Never beautiful to my eyes, the display has been neglected and is now little more than a pile of trash. I walk past it several times a day and I'm tired of looking at it. I'd like to remove it, but ...
Is there a standard period of tolerance for such displays? Though it's not in front of my house, do I have any right to remove it, or must I persuade my neighbor to do so? Should I just forget it until the seniors have gone to college in the fall and won't be around to refresh it if it's removed?
GENTLE READER: You do see the pathos, and not just the unsightliness, in these shrines, don't you? However miserable a heap of wrinkled balloons and rain-soaked teddy bears may appear, it symbolizes the anguish of the bereaved in wanting to assure the dead that they are not forgotten.
The problem, sad to say, is that the symbols, if not the people, are forgotten. Even the most assiduous mourners are not likely to attend to gravesites daily, which is why these should be located in dedicated places with custodial care. While Miss Manners will not allow you to refer to the display you mention as trash, she agrees that makeshift memorials abandoned in public space do take on that appearance and character.
To clean this up without violating the spirit in which it was built, she suggests notifying the high school that it is time for the students to collect what they want to preserve, and to think about a more lasting tribute to their friend.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the correct response when one's grown-up child has not received an invitation of his own (or even had his name added to the invitation of his parents) and upon going through the receiving line the bride or groom ask, "Where is Bob?"
I hesitate to answer with the truth, "Home because he was not invited," and end up with a lame excuse, usually saying, "He was sorry he could not attend." But I hate to have them think my son or daughter would not have written a note accepting or regretting when the invitations were delivered.
GENTLE READER: That is presuming that they expected replies from people they didn't invite in the first place -- but Miss Manners suspects that you are right in not putting this past them. You can salvage your child's reputation without directly chastising your hosts by saying, "Oh! He didn't know he was invited! But I know he wishes you all the best."