At photographer Robert Lautman and publicist Kay Lautman's Christmas dinner party, red amaryllis lined up in a parade of glory. Swags of green festooned the windows. On the plank trestle table, red and green pepper jelly ornamented the roast lamb.

The question dangled like a Christmas ball in the conversation: Have you, like Tennessee Williams' Blanche DuBois, ever depended on the kindness of strangers?

Graphic designer Maria Schoolman said it didn't happen to her but to someone else. The gate, by accident, was open and the dog -- a little, white, fluffy, adventurous dog -- left home. The dog's keeper and her friends and relatives combed the neighborhood, but to no avail.

Over by Pierce Mill, a woman walked along the rocky creek banks, thinking that the major part of her worries would be over if she only had, not a million, just $100. About that time a cheerful small white dog ran up, and barked to get her attention -- and supper.

In the next day's newspaper, the bereft owner ran an ad saying she'd give $100 to find where the little dog had gone. And the temporary dog feeder read the ad, took him home, and collected the $100.

"So you see," said Schoolman. "Both benefited from the kindness of strangers."

Collectors Franz and Virginia Bad er, just back from Rome, recalled the wild ride they had with an Italian cab driver. "We had berated him for taking us such a long way around to increase the fare." At their destination, they got out of the cab and walked across the plaza. Then they saw the cab driver was back, arms waving, making all sorts of dangerous U-turns to get back to them, in a mad sort of gymkhana. They feared he'd come to collect even more money. Instead he bounded out of the car and presented them with Franz's forgotten camera.

Later I heard other, stranger stories.

Elizabeth Dole is out campaigning for her husband, Sen. Robert Dole, in New Hampshire. But her favorite story, says spokeswoman Jenna Dorn, is about when Elizabeth Dole was still transportation secretary.

One morning, she found on her desk a small vase with a single rose. The note read: "I wanted you to know how much I appreciate what you've done for the women employees of the transportation department. {signed} A Civil Servant."

Kitty Kelley, whose telephone answering message includes Frank Sinatra singing "I could write a book ...," says her favorites are the million or so strangers who put her book "His Way: An Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra" on the best-seller list -- and the ones who took the time to write her.

And then there was the handsome man who gave up his first-class airplane seat for her, "because he'd seen my picture on the book."

As Kelley put it, "It's the spontaneous generosity that moves you."

Patricia Moore, who runs things at husband Arthur Cotton Moore's architecture firm, remembers the time he was out of town, and she became ill. She called an ambulance and went out to the sidewalk to wait. She collapsed on the road, but could hear the ambulance siren, circling around, unable to find Avon Place, where they lived. The next thing she knew, a cab driver and a younger man were handing her over to the hospital emergency ward. She never knew their names.

One day in 1987, I found that paragon, a cab driver with a heart of gold. I had dashed out in a hurry, hailed a cab and urged him on. We'd only gone a block when I realized I'd left my wallet behind. I did the only thing I could. I told him I didn't have the fare, to abandon me on the street.

"I'll take you there, lady," he said. And kept on driving.

I offered to write him a check. He turned his "face" to the visor so I couldn't see his name.

I offered him all the stamps I had in my pocketbook, about $3 worth. He laughed.

And he took me where I was going.

And then there was the day when I stood on the sidewalk, trying to hail a cab, feeling old, helpless, despondent. A Volkswagen made a U-turn on busy Independence Avenue and pulled up to the curb. And one of the young people inside handed me a bouquet of flowers.

When the days grow long, the wood stove isn't up to code, and you need a new year's resolution for 1988, try this one: "Love one another."

Peace on Earth; there are no strangers.