There are secretaries and there are secretaries. Years ago a friend found herself promoted into a position that came with a secretary, and she got to fulfill one of her lifelong fantasies: having a man screen her calls. Another friend, the head of a film company in New York City, had a secretary who not only managed the office, but also used to show up devotedly at her home with carry-out Chinese food.

Yet another had one who could read her mind: Once when her boss was in mid-air, heading to Washington for a visit, she called me to say, "I'm sure Elizabeth forgot to go to the bank. Can you get her $300 cash?" Needless to say, when Elizabeth got off the plane, she was fuming about not having cash. I pulled three crisp C-notes from my pocket, and she said, "Lynn knew???"

But, of course, nothing could quite match the efficiency of my father's secretary. While I was away at summer camp it seemed that Dad rarely had time to write, so he would dictate short letters that were perfectly typed on his buff stationery.

During one particularly bad period of homesickness, I must have written three letters a day but . . . no reply.

Then, a buff envelope came winging through the mail. Neatly typed. Very personal. Certainly cheered me up. But the signature wasn't quite right.

Years later I realized that she must have written it.