Dear Miss Manners:

After a tour of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home, our family visited the Jefferson family cemetery. Other tourists had thrown coins through the fence to cover the steps around Jefferson's memorial stone.

My child begged for a coin. I was horrified but ultimately allowed her to have a nickel with Jefferson's image on one side and Monticello on the other. Was I too prudish?

As Miss Manners recalls, dear Mr. Jefferson was pressed financially by the time he died, and some assistance from a nation forever in his debt might have been welcome. She has also considered whether these might be students of the classics who are muddled about when to provide coins to the dead for their journey across the River Styx.

But, like you, she is having a hard time convincing herself that what you observed is anything but the irreverent and lighthearted use of a patriot's grave to pursue their own luck.

Unlike you, she would not assist a child to do something she found disrespectful. Other tourists are not under your jurisdiction, but a child who is is entitled to a lecture, not a coin.

Dear Miss Manners:

Having grown up a typical boy, I eschewed all things to do with relationships and marriage. Now, at 24, I have the realization that I would like to propose to my longtime girlfriend. However, I am confused about the order in which to do things.

First, I would like to ask her father for her hand. I realize the custom is outdated, but both our families are relatively conservative and it would flatter him and cover the right bases. Whom do I first ask, my girlfriend or her father? I would also like to ask her mother, as they are divorced. Is that acceptable?

Second, what is considered good taste in gift registry? We have family and friends stretched across the country, so a large chain store would make the most sense. However, some of our favorite household pieces are in smaller, more local shops. Should we include those for closer invitees, or should we leave those items to our budget after marriage?

Finally, is it appropriate for a groom to conceal honeymoon plans from his bride? I enjoy giving surprises, and would like to keep it secret to heighten fun and suspense.

What's this about a gift registry and honeymoon? Suppose her father says no? Or her mother does? Or she does?

Just a guess, but Miss Manners supposes you don't like surprises quite that much. Also, you may want to buy nonrefundable tickets. It would indeed help to approach these people in the proper order. The young lady comes first. Even the strictest of parents knows that their lives would not be worth living if they gave their consent to a suitor who had not first obtained hers.

There is no precedent for asking mothers, but it sounds like a good idea under the circumstances. Another good idea would be to ask her second and the father soon afterward. The correct thing is to tell each parent you have been lucky enough to win the heart of the daughter, and hope you will have his or her blessing as well. Trust Miss Manners, it's safer than putting it as a question.

Should either ask you if you are able to provide the daughter with a good home, the answer is yes, not that you expect the wedding guests to furnish it. You may register wherever you like, provided that you only admit to having done so in response to a guest's inquiry.

Speaking of that heart you hope to win, Miss Manners hopes you know it better than she does, and are thus better able to judge how it would respond to a surprise wedding trip. At the least, she would advise giving enough hints to facilitate the packing.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.

{copy} 1999, Judith Martin