DEAR ABBY: I am an 88-year-old woman, and although I have read your column for years, this is my first time to write you a letter, but now I must.

On a cold Friday evening before Christmas, I went grocery shopping. I took a pie out of the freezer, then I carried it to the cashier and asked her how much it was because it wasn't marked and it was the only one of its kind in the freezer. After I learned the price, I put the pie back in the freezer because I thought I should not be eating too many sweets.As I turned and started up the aisle, a tall, elderly gentleman approached me and handed me a folded $20 bill. He smiled and said, "Now, please go back and get that pie." Then he walked down the aisle and out the door!

I was so shocked, I couldn't utter a word. He must have been near the checkout stand and heard me ask how much the pie was, and when he saw me put it back in the freezer he thought I couldn't afford to buy it.

Abby, that's one of the nicest things that has ever happened to me. - A LITTLE OLD LADY IN LITTLE ROCK

DEAR LADY: And yours is one of the nicest letters I've ever received. Today, when we hear so much about man's inhumanity to man, learning about an anonymous kindness does the heart good. Thank you for sharing it with me so that I may share it with others.

DEAR ABBY: Someone told me he had recently read in your column that if a man or woman has lost a family member in the war, that person is automatically exempt from active duty if a war should break out.

Please clarify this in your column. I need this information immediately in writing. - BALTIMORE MOM

DEAR BALTIMORE MOM: I published the information in November 1990. But for anyone who might have missed it who now needs it:

According to the Public Affairs Office of the Department of the Army, if a member of the armed services has lost an immediate family member (father, mother, brother, sister or child) in a DESIGNATED hostile-fire or imminent-danger area (the loss may be due to death, missing in action, or from a 100 percent physical or mental disability), the service member can apply for exemption. It is not "automatic."

The service member initiates action by contacting his/her company commander. For an immediate family member to make application, a request must be made in writing to: HQDA, DAPC-EPO-C, Alexandria, VA 22331-0400. And the service member may waive a request initiated by an immediate family member and still serve in the hostile-fire area.

NOT VERY CONFIDENTIAL: From The Wall Street Journal: The "daffynition" of biodegradable is "safe sacks."

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