"Unless my total recall is something less than total," writes Col. Rudolph M. Bush, "you said last year that somebody else would be collecting for Children's Hospital this year. I assumed you were planning to retire. Did you tell us in a column I missed that you had changed your plans?"

So many readers have asked more or less the same question that I suppose I had better respond publicly.

I didn't mention the word "retire," I didn't say somebody else would probably be sitting in my chair by the time the 1976 Children's Hospital fund appeal started.

In December of 1975 I faced the prospect of open-heart surgery. I faced it with my usual level of bravery and optimism, which in round numbers comes to plus or minus zero. The Children's Hospital campaign requires hard work and long hours, and I had a strong feeling I just wouldn't be able to go through another one. So I simply reported what my intuition told me. It turned out to be as reliable as Col. Bush's total recall.

After I survived the '75 campaign, my first wife announced, "One thing is clear. You can't ever do another one." Naturally, I had to do at least one more just to protect my reputation for cussedness. So here I am. Big deal.