My mother was one of the most feared people in Wichita, Kan., and it was my fault. Whenever I got into a scrape, or even if I didn't she'd go to bat for me in the fiercest way.

One of her noblest crusades in my defense occurred just before the birthday of one of my girl friends. I was at the prissy age of 8 and dressed to kill. Starched petticoasts, my best blue dress, white anklets with lace trim. A hat with blue stain roses and a face net was perched on my pin curls.

As I marched down the street to the party, my mother stood on our front steps watching me, thinking, no doubt, what a sweet thing I was. Halfway down the block, I approached one neighbor's mass of evergreen bushes, the best place on the block for hide-and-seek, or just plain hiding.

My mother saw me stop in mid-prance. She saw me cringe, my hands flying to shield the blud netting arranged so delicately over my face. Tears and wailing accompanied my beeline back to mom and shelter.

She met me halfway. She surveyed with trained eyes the now-soaked front of my dress, recognizing the splatters of water pistols. "They're in the bushes," I moaned, naming names with great pathos.

Instant fury welled in her heart. She charged, red-faced, to the designated hedge, where the grimy clan of boys who rampaged our neighborhood still crouched, invisible, clutching their empty weapons.

She planted both feet. She shook her finger. She read them off, addressing the bushes with the coicest of epithets. Her vocal chords strained and veins popped out on her forehead. Other mothers surfaced from their kitchens, vainly craning their necks to see who could deserve such a fate.

The rats never budged. My mother taunted them: "Cowards!" They stayed put in their thorny fortress. They probably giggled throughout the brilliant maternal display.

Today, one is an insurance salesman and another a jeweler. The girl who had the party is a buyer for Neiman-Marcus and a member of the Junior League. The others remain as invisible as they were on that bright midwestern afternoon.

There were other crusades, all of them spectacular. Like the time she went to school to prove the authenticity of my eighth-grade paper on W. H. Auden's poem, "Musee' des Beaux Arts." Or the time she made an 8 a.m. phone call to the mother of the boy who stood me up for the ninth-grade picnic.

If called upon, she's do it today. That's why I'm watching the letters to the editors for the next two weeks. CAPTION: Illustrations 1 through 3, no caption, O. Soglow; Copyright (c) 1932, 1960 The New York Magazine, Inc.