In early December I was invited to a Christmas party by a former co-worker, and I accepted. I received a written invitation in plenty of time, and a map with directions to her house.

I forgot all about the party. I don't want to call and tell her a fib about why I wasn't there, but I certainly don't want to call and say I forgot the occasion. I'm too embarrassed to do anything. Should I send her a note or just forget it?

GENTLE READER - Forgetting a social engagement is bad enough. Miss Manners does not understand why you think it would help to forget the social obligation of an apology.

She does, however, understand that you think an admission of forgetfulness might sound callous. This is how you dress it up:

"I'm just sick over forgetting your party. You can't imagine how much I was looking forward to it, and then I must have just blanked on the day. Please forgive me. But I'll never forgive myself. I was so delighted you asked me, and all excited about going . . ." etc.

This is called groveling. After a while, the person at whom you direct this becomes willing, even eager, to wipe the slate clean.

DEAR MISS MANNERS - My new boss at work seems to assume that everyone who works for her is an instant friend. I'm used to picking my friends, and I feel I cannot be friends with any boss - a certain amount of distance has to be maintained. After all, she has more power over me than I have over her. (I felt this way when I was an officer and supervisor in the military, too.)

Her main fault is that she likes to sit down and talk about personal matters to me in my office. How do I discourage this?

She's preventing me from getting my work done. When she does this in her office, I get up and move slowly away, and she gets the message.

GENTLE READER - You will recall that in the military there are rules against fraternizing, actually put there for a reason unconnected with sabotaging American egalitarianism. As you point out, true friendship is impossible when one person has such power over another.

Miss Manners doubts that your boss understands that she is paying you to listen to her confidences, and that this is not work that you enjoy. We shall not be so cruel as to point this out to her, but you can certainly point out how eager you are to do your real work. A bright declaration, "I'd love to chat, but that's not what you're paying me for - I've got work to do," cannot offend your boss, no matter how much it disappoints her.

DEAR MISS MANNERS - Please discuss family obligations at the time of a death in the family.

Our family is very small. I live in the town where Mother lives, and I have lived there since childhood. I have one sister who lives out of town and who has behaved very badly. She is insufferably rude, to the point where we have asked her to stop calling us with irresponsible insults and accusations. She contacts us only when she is angry. She has lied to other family members about me. Her family ignores us.

When Mother dies - she is very old - what are my obligations? I have been close to Mother. I have been responsible for her, her health, her finances. It has been difficult, but I've stuck with it and done the best for her that I could. When she dies, there will be sadness and a void for me.

Do I have to open our home to my sister and her family?

Do I have to serve a meal or meals for the whole family? If not, what do I say to any old friend of hers who may come by? Should I fake it and act cordial during that period?

GENTLE READER - Miss Manners wishes to defer on this matter to the person who first taught you etiquette.

What would your mother want?

Does she feel that there is no hope of getting you and your sister together, even on the most important of family occasions, and that it would do more harm than good to attempt to repair the rift?

Or would she perhaps prefer that you do your part to see if the sad occasion could be civilly shared?

DEAR MISS MANNERS - Please suggest a suitable response (preferably one with an edge) to the question "When do you plan to retire?"

I am a gainfully employed, energetic, competent, hard-working employee, and am also quite youthful for my years. I have no intention of retiring before my time, and I am really weary of this infernal, rude question.

GENTLE READER - Miss Manners presumes it is neither your boss nor your assistant who is asking the question.

As a social query, it is rude, she agrees. One may assume, however, that someone who asks it doesn't think so, but is indeed ready to discuss his or her own retirement. So while Miss Manners doesn't know about edges, she would countenance your replying: "I haven't begun to think about it. What about you?"

1991 United Feature Syndicate Inc.