DEAR ABBY: A letter in your column addressed a problem I have worried about for years. It's the practice of joining hands at the table to say "grace" - and then everyone eats.

I support religious freedom and I am not phobic about germs, but every time I have a meal at which we are asked to "join hands" in prayer, I wait a few seconds, and after the "amen," I excuse myself to go and wash my hands. I do this because I could not enjoy my meal wondering whether - or how well - the person beside me had washed, or if he/she had coughed into that hand before holding mine in prayer.Abby, could we ask the devout among us to reconsider this very unsanitary practice and rely on our sitting shoulder-to-shoulder to provide the sense of brotherhood they're hoping for?

If I bring this up in my family, I'll be reminded sharply that I am the family heathen.

Abby, please help to spread the word - not disease. - THE FAMILY HEATHEN

DEAR FAMILY HEATHEN: Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder might be a little too close for comfort. Would you settle for just a token "hooking of little fingers?"

Seriously, we in this part of the world are a friendly, hand-shaking, hand-holding people. Fine. But let us also become a more hand-washing people.

DEAR ABBY: Please tell me that it isn't true that another person out there thinks people are superior to animals. I'm referring to the person who wrote to say that he (or she) was "mortified" to learn that a couple had included their dog in their wedding ceremony. (The dog was the ring bearer.)

Abby, human beings are not superior to animals. In fact, we humans can learn a great deal from animals. When was the last time an elk tossed a cigarette out of a car window and started a forest fire? When did an elephant kill another elephant for his money? And when did a cat give birth to a litter of brain-damaged kittens because she took drugs during her pregnancy? - DANA FROM COLORADO

DEAR DANA: Hear, hear! In the words of that great American humorist, Mark Twain: "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."

DEAR ABBY: I am a newly married military wife. My husband and I planned to have children in three or four years. However, events in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia have raised some questions. I would like to ask your readers who were in the military during World War II, the Korean conflict or Vietnam their opinions on having (or not having) a baby in case Daddy doesn't come back.

I do not want to be a single parent - it wouldn't be fair to the child, and it certainly wouldn't be easy for me.

On the other hand, how would I feel if the worst happened, and I lost the chance to bear his child? Please help. - MOM OR NOT

DEAR MOM OR NOT: This is a very personal decision. I, too, am interested in the opinions of those who have lived through that experience and made a choice. Readers?

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