It was hard enough the first time around. The days of waiting in early December almost got the best of me. I could always be found near the mail room, feeling discouraged.

Bill tried to explain to me that nothing would or could change the natural order of our fund-raising campaign. A slow start would build into an abrupt crescendo just before Christmas, and then fade back to a slow pace about mid-January, he said.

Of course, I never doubted the Old Master, but later, when the pipeline was going full blast, it was easy to imagine the end would never come.

"Be patient," he said. The he revealed the unwritten rule to too many District Liners. "Without fail, they always wait until the last minute."

They waited, and I waited. Then, suddenly, without warning, even the largest Washington Post mailbox couldn't hold a day's run through the pipeline. District Liners responded to the annual call, helping provide free or affordable medical and surgical care for needy children.

Bill even had to "lend" me part of his mail slot. The letters, filled wish good wishes and containing checks to support Children's Hospital, arrived by the hundreds daily. They came from all over the country, from good samaritans both young and old.

It took a lot of time to open, organize and report on all of the mail, but the effort was well worth it. I caught up with the flow much too quickly.

Now it seems like early December again. If a mailbox could be lonely, mine certainly would be. Just two days from now, our annual fund drive will officially be over for another year. But we could fill that box to the brim, if everyone who "meant to send the children a check" would do it right now.

The letters don't have to get here on Jan. 31. They just have to be postmarked by that date. Then I'll wait a few days to let the pipeline clear before calculating this year's grand total, and issuing a final report.

Even a ballpark figure on our final tally would be difficult to predict today. We still must hear from the Navy, and from Mother Bell's legions. Those groups will take us over the $200,000 mark. "Will we collect more than $223,000?" is the big question.

Fortunately there's still a gurgle in the pipeline, at least. Today the mail delivery grought the hospital assistance from 29 anonymous District Liners. All together, they sent $1,082.

Last minute help also arrived from seven groups or organizations.

Starting things off today were members of the Cissel-Saxon Unit No. 41, American Legion Auxiliary. They sent best wishes, and a check for $25.

A check for $30 arrived from members of the Open Door Bible Class. They meet at the First Baptist Church in Hyattsville, and desired to "assist in the blessed work started by Bill Gold and now coordinated by you." "

Taking us at our word, several neighbors residing in the 1800 block of Ft. Davis St. SE created an "informal group" and gathered $100 for the hospital. The coordinator for the group has been collecting for Children's since 1973.

Accompanying a check for $107.71 was this note: "Our group has been inactive for several years and we decided to put our 'idle' money to work for the children." The anonymous members suggested that other "inactive" organizations follow their lead. I second the motion.

Ah, ha! The Child Improvement Agency has come through again. Along with checks totaling $256 was the claim that the Conptroller's Office was the first to be "so identified." The plot gets thicker and thicker, and the staff gets smaller. But somehow the contribution is always larger.

Employees of Comerce's Economic Development Administration, Information Systems and Services Division, collected $518.30 for Children's Hospital, and would have had first place sewed up today but for a bit of insomnia.

Unable to sleep, I thumbed through some of my early attempts at "column-writing" and spotted the words "Oakwood Garden Apartments, Falls Church." Like a thunderbolt, my steeltrap mind recalled a brunch date to pick up their second check of the drive. An hour later I was on my way.

The residents at Oakwood have a "sparkplug" who gets things done. I don't know how this lively activities director keeps it up, but when she handed me today's winner, a check for $575, all I could do was thank her in amazement. The friendly folks at Oakwood started me out with $350 on Dec. 4.

The total sent to the free-care fund from these seven groups was $1,622.01. Combining that with the individuals figures of $1,082 gives us $2,694.01 for the day. Yesterday we had carefully tucked $170,995.39 into the shoebox, so now we have $173,689.40.

Can that same old address work any magic in the pipeline? Let's try it. Please send your check, payable to Children's Hospital, to: Scott Chase, c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.