DEAR MISS MANNERS: Several years ago, I volunteered at an elementary school and became friendly with a mother and son who both taught there. My health has since deteriorated to the point where I am in a wheelchair. I left my volunteer job and the mother and son moved on.
In the eight years since we worked together, the mother has sent me jokes and prayers thru email, but seldom a personal message. I have not heard from the son in at least four years. Nothing at all until I received his wedding invitation.
I sent my regrets, and a note saying I would send a gift when I was out of the hospital. That day, I was cleared for surgery, and I spent three days in a hospital and four weeks in a rehab facility.
While I was unable to get my email, the mother of the groom sent me four emails reminding me to send her son "something to honor his special day." I then received a group email with a few wedding pictures, so everyone she sent it to was able to read her message that I could finally get her son a gift, and how was surgery? I could also see that she had abased another recipient.
I finally wrote her that I'd had enough. They claim to be devout Christians, yet they are hounding me for a gift. I explained that being in a wheelchair, it is difficult to get out, and I was sorry I didn't go shopping.
Then her son took over. He ignored my physical limitations and went on and on about how he gave me two months and I should have had plenty of time to buy him something. I have not heard from the man in four years, and then I receive an invitation to his wedding. Do I owe him a gift?
GENTLE READER: As a symbol of your affectionate relationship? The next step in such a campaign is to threaten to break your knees. When this happens, Miss Manners recommends involving the police. In the meantime, she suggests blocking or deleting their email.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: In listing the obligations of a good houseguest, you mentioned using one's own telephone. I am old enough to remember the days when long-distance calls were paid by the minute, and a guest would place a call, keep track of its duration, and attempt to reimburse the host for it. This is certainly one incidence in which the invention of the mobile phone has been a good thing.
However, I'm curious: Why is telephone usage the only expense thus singled out? The guest eats and drinks, uses electricity, hot water and laundry supplies, soap and other consumables. Is there a reason that phone use is not part of the hosting package? I accept the rule but would love to know the rationale.
GENTLE READER: When the guest eats and drinks, the hosts can eat and drink. When the electricity is on, it shines on the guest and host alike. With any luck, they can both take showers at the same time, although Miss Manners knows about the problems in old houses.
However, when the guest uses the telephone or, for that matter, the host's computer, the host is cut off from sending and receiving communications. Therefore, the considerate guest brings his own devices or asks permission to use the host's and minimizes usage.