You wouldn't think that a two-inch-long piece of adding machine tape could make a grown man smile. But I've just finished an ear-to-ear job so wide that only a dentist could truly appreciate it. Here's why:

When I left on vacation three weeks ago, our Send a Kid to Camp campaign was in trouble. We had $176,593.79 in house after two months of heavy effort. That was somewhat short of our 1984 total of $180,000 and considerably short of our 1985 goal of $190,000. It looked as if some kids who'd been counting on two weeks with baseballs and bullfrogs might not see their wishes come true.

But that was before I meandered back to town and visited the mailroom. There, I found a glorious cardboard box full of glorious envelopes, which were in turn full of glorious checks.

It took me more than four hours to open them all and add them up. When I pushed the T-for-Total button on the calculator, I discovered that $16,636.89 had arrived in my absence.

That gives us a grand total of $193,230.68.

That gives us our goal.

That gives every kid who was scheduled to go to camp the chance to go.

You'll forgive me, but . . . .


Followed quickly by another word that needs saying even more:


Thanks to those of you who scraped the bottom of your nearly-empty barrels so that underprivileged kids could have a special summer.

Thanks to those of you who had forgotten to mail your checks, but remembered over the last few days, just as we were gasping toward the finish line.

Thanks to those of you who sent a second check when it was clear that our campaign was undernourished.

Thanks to every one of you who contributed -- all 7,000 or so. We can still say that, in nearly four decades of Send a Kid to Camp, the city has never let down its neediest kids. And that, friends, is saying an awful lot.

The beneficiaries of all that largesse will attend camps in Dumfries and Markham -- two Virginia communities that are still as rural as they come.

But several towns closer to Washington are betwixt and between. They were entirely rural until a short time ago. Now, tract housing sits where cows once did. The tone of the towns is semicountry and semisuburban.

Nowhere is this more true than in Oakton, a sleepy Fairfax County crossroads until the sprawl started sprawling. Gale Cordell of the Navy-Vale section of that community has a tale that underscores the two sides of Oakton.

Like her neighbors, Gale drives the local two-lane roads daily. She passes plenty of farms, and one of them recently had a blessed event.

"IT'S A GIRL!" screeched a bedsheet hung in the front yard.

"I felt a strong sense of happiness for them and was delighted that they were able to share their news with all of their 'unknown neighbors,' " Gale writes.

Just a few days later, Gale was driving the same road. A couple of miles past it's-a-girl, she passed another farmhouse. It, too, had a sign in its front yard.

This one read:


Speaking of Dumfries, that's home to Rachel Shaw, who passes along a goodie from her father, George Webb, of Placerville, Calif.

George, who retired a couple of years ago, says he now belongs to the Metallic Generation: silver in the hair, gold in the teeth and lead in the bottom.