Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, Published December 28 2010
Annie's Mailbox: Tell friend you won’t contact jailbirdDear Annie: Recently, my dear friend “Jill” learned that a long-lost high school friend has been incarcerated for nine years. Jill insists on contacting “Alan” and has encouraged our friends to do the same, even though we have not spoken to Alan in more than 13 years.
I am scared of what might happen to Jill. The circumstances surrounding Alan’s incarceration are nothing short of horrifying. My husband and I feel there is no need to get in touch with him.
I love Jill with all my heart and soul, but I am unsure of how to break the news to her that this is a Pandora’s box that should never be opened. Jill is a trusting soul who feels the need to help everyone. We don’t want to hurt her feelings, so how can we explain that we don’t want to write Alan? We need to protect our families. – Wish to Tactfully Decline
Dear Tactfully: Tell Jill plainly that you are not interested in contacting Alan. You also should inform her that although she obviously feels sorry for a former classmate, it would be irresponsible to correspond with him without checking out the situation more thoroughly.
Prisoners have been known to take advantage of sympathetic friends and family members. She should contact the warden at the prison and ask for information and suggestions.
Dear Annie: We have wonderful young neighbors we like very much. However, they continue to ask us to baby-sit their young children. We have raised our kids and enjoy our empty nest. We do not enjoy baby-sitting, although we are willing to do so for our own grandchildren on rare occasions.
You would think they would get the hint since we have politely refused them more than 20 times. How do we graciously decline without hurting their feelings? – The Older Neighbors
Dear Older: You graciously decline by saying, “Sorry, we can’t manage that.” And say it as many times as necessary. Either your neighbors are extraordinarily dense, or they are hoping to wear you down. Explaining that you don’t like to baby-sit will likely result in a harangue about how easy their children would be to care for. Still, you do not need to be frank if you are worried it would be rude. Simply continue to say no, politely and respectfully.
Dear Annie: After reading so many letters about the family problems that ensue when splitting up belongings after a death, I thought I’d tell you what my siblings did.
The nine of us met at our parents’ house. We picked the largest room in the house, put up nine pieces of paper on the walls and numbered them 1 through 9. We then went through each room of my parents’ home looking for items we wished to keep. We brought these things into the large room and placed them under each sheet of paper so that there were nine piles. If one pile looked skimpy, we would add to it on our next trip. Appliances and furniture too large to move were numbered where they stood.
We then wrote the numbers 1 through 9 on pieces of paper and put them into a hat. Each person pulled a number that corresponded to a pile, and the things in that pile belonged to them. No one “rigged” a pile, because no one knew which number they would pick from the hat.
When we were finished, if anyone wanted to swap, that was up to them. This system worked perfectly, and there was no fighting. Of course, it also helped that we are a close and loving family. – Did it Right
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to