Asked to describe the feeling, one 11-year-old starts singing the back-ground music from "Jaws" . . . "Bahh-dum, bahh-dum."

Eight other campers, seated around the fine arts-and-crafts picnic table, drop the brightly-colored yarn they've been weaving into "eyes of God" and chime in:

"Your heart starts to bump, and your face gets like rubber."

"It's like when you're finding out whether you've made cheerleader or not."

"You start breathing fast, because it's real suspenseful -- like a scary movie."

"It's sort of like how you feel when your teacher hand our report cards."

Mail call, at YMCA Camp Letts, is serious business.

Although the co-ed camp on Maryland's Eastern Shore offers everything from horseback riding to sailing, "Getting your mail," asserts 10-year-old Ali Beckerman, "is the high point of the day."

Letters are distributed in the privacy of individual cabins, during the post-lunch "siesta," partly to ease the chagrin of campers who never get any mail.

"When I walk across the field with the box of mail in my arms," says counselor Kristin Ward, "the kids press their faces against the screens or stand by the door and call out, 'Is there anything for me?'

"I watch the eyes of the ones who don't get mail day after day. . . . It's devastating."

Getting a handful of letters -- or a coveted "care package" -- can make a camper the envy of the bunk.

"One guy in my cabin got five letters from girls and one letter from home," notes Jamil Hamilton, 10, of Northeast Washington. "I asked him, 'How'd you pull that one off?'"

But it doesn't take a stack of mail to make a camper happy. "Just getting a letter, no matter how long or short," says Tony Fernandez, 11, of Rockville, "is great."

While all letters are prized, some are better than others.

"The best letter I ever got had everything that happened in my favorite TV show -- 'Little House on the Prairie,'" recalls Kelly Sullivan, 12, of Clifton, Va. "That's a lot better than the ones that say, 'We went to the pool and sat around.'"

"My mother wrote me a poem once," says Ali Beckerman. "It made me feel good that she took the time to tell me everything that happened and make it all rhyme, too."

Most kids "just want their parents to tell them what's going on," says 8-year-old William Eldridge of Chevy Chase. "I would want to know if any of my cats died or if we've gotten robbed."

"I wish they'd write me what's going on in 'General Hospital,'" said Kent Phillips, 13, of Gaithersburg."When you get attached to a show it's torture to have to miss it for two weeks. When I get back I'll be totally lost."

"I like it when they ask questions like what's the food like, or if I'm making friends," adds Kelly Sullivan. "Then it makes it easier for me to write back because I know what to say."

A good letter should begin -- "Dear Damon, What's happening?" proffers 11-year-old Damon Chase of Northwest Washington. "Then I want to hear that they miss me and love me and find out everything that's going on in the house, like if anyone got hurt or moved."

There are a few things, however, that some campers would prefer not to hear about.

"I wouldn't want to know if they went to King's Dominion," notes Kevin Raich, 11, of Alexandria, "because I've always wanted to go, and I'd feel bad to miss it. Or if they do something I like, like target shooting, I don't want to hear about it."

"I wouldn't want to know if my best friend's house caught on fire or some big tragedy like that," adds Kent Phillips. "Then you just feel sorry you're not there."

"I probably wouldn't want to hear if a cousin or a pet was dying," says Beth Cohen, 11, of Fairfax. "Then you'd just feel homesick and bad that you couldn't do anything. But I guess it would be good to know if you could write them a letter to make them feel better."

Some letters, campers admit, are downright boring.

From Beth Cohen: "I don't like the ones where they tell me they went shopping and list every store and what they got there. I mean really. Who cares?"

Kelly Sullivan: "I hate hearing about the weather -- that's so dull."

Among other boring subjects, campers listed "buying socks," "cleaning the house," "how big the tomatoes are" and "headaches."

By contrast, nearly anything written on a greeting card has special value.

"My mother once sent me a Muppet card that said, 'How are things at your side of the swamp,'" said 12-year-old Brenda Leszkiewicz of Rockville. "It was really special, and it made me feel good."

"My dad sent me a card once," said Justine Simons, 12, of Northwest Washington. "It was especially nice because he doesn't usually write letters. I hung it up on the wall."

Mothers tend to write more often than fathers, says Ali Beckerman, "because even though mothers work, somehow they seem to have more time for you."

Kelly Sullivan: "I wish my father would write something in my mother's letter or write me a separate letter or anything. Just so I know he's still alive."

Letters are better than postcards, the campers agree, because postcards are "too short" and "other people can read them." The kind of stationery doesn't matter -- so long as the letter is lengthy and "fills up all the paper."

Sending comic strips (Peanuts, Big George and Blondie in particular) is "extra special." Jokes or a suggestion or pranks to play on other campers "would be neat to get." Letters from siblings, other relatives and pets ("just put his paw print") are also prized.

For those parents who get writer's block, Justine Simons has this advice: "If you don't know what else to write, just say you're having a good time, you miss your kid and you hope they're having a good time, too."