Barbara Bush, who has vowed that "if he goes, I go," is expected to accompany President Bush to the Persian Gulf to spend Thanksgiving with U.S. troops.

The White House confirmed last week that the president would make the long-rumored trip, which will first take him to Europe for talks with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Ludwigshafen, Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel in Prague and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and other leaders in Paris at the 34-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. From there, the Bushes will fly to the Middle East, where Bush has more talks in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Mrs. Bush has made no secret of her desire to go along. Nor has she kept particularly quiet about Iraq's president -- whom she frequently describes in interviews as "that dreadful Saddam Hussein" -- for holding Western hostages since invading Kuwait three months ago.

She recently told Knight-Ridder correspondent Ellen Warren she would be "sick with worry" if one of her children were in the armed forces and sent to the Persian Gulf, though she added that she would "also feel very proud."

And in a message aimed at Saddam, she said: "Let your 'guests' go and then let's talk about this."

Asked last week on a campaign trip in Nebraska whether President Bush would consider "a face-to-face" meeting with Saddam, she said she thought he would consider "anything to get the Kuwaitis back in their country and get our men out."

The president, informed later of his wife's comments, said he would take such a step only after Saddam yields to the demand that Iraq leave Kuwait.

The Nov. 21-22 stop in Saudi Arabia won't be the first time Mrs. Bush has been there. She was with Vice President Bush in April 1986 when the Saudis kept him cooling his heels in response to his pre-trip remarks indirectly blaming them for the "free fall" of oil prices.

The Saudis also turned thumbs down on a photo opportunity of King Fahd and Bush. When at the last minute Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, intervened, reporters first learned that Fahd had avoided meeting privately with Bush.

No serious gathering of Jack Benny fans could forget Benny the violinist, and at a book party Sunday, his daughter Joan Benny shared a story -- whether apocryphal or not -- that her father used to tell. In it, the comedian arrived at the White House one day and a guard demanded to know the contents of a long black bag Benny was carrying.

"A shotgun," Benny told him.

"Oh, that's a relief," the guard replied. "I thought it might be a violin."

In the book "Sunday Nights at Seven," which is a melding of her father's heretofore unpublished autobiography and Joan Benny's reminiscences, Jack Benny writes that his violin was no stage prop or gimmick, that he was deadly serious about playing it well.

When he and Harry Truman met at a National Press Club dinner in 1945, he realized they had a lot in common: "the same midwestern background, the same moral values, the same small-town childhood and a similar sense of humor. We talked the same language." And they both were amateur musicians.

Once, at a small dinner party in San Francisco, Truman, aware of Benny's concert appearances for charities such as Greek War Relief, the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital and the City of Hope Hospital, asked if the comedian really played the violin well enough to appear as a guest performer. He was "no Isaac Stern," Benny said he told him, but explained that he practiced regularly and that his concert appearances were always sold out, though he didn't know if it was because people came to hear him play classical music or to make a fool of himself.

That impressed Truman, who asked Benny to mention the new Truman Library on his show. Benny offered to do more than that by appearing as guest violinist at a fund-raising concert with the Kansas City Symphony. A few weeks later, Truman called to say the symphony needed the money more than the library and would Benny instead give the concert as a benefit for the orchestra? Not only would he do that, Benny told Truman, but from then on he would give concerts only for musicians' pensions funds, symphony endowments or new concert halls.

And what did professional musicians think of Benny, the Waukegan fiddle player who might have been a pit musician if he hadn't become a comedian?

Isaac Stern, a friend of Jack's, told Joan Benny for the book that he had never said anything complimentary about Jack's violin playing and found it "difficult to break the habit." So he didn't try.

Benny, Stern said, had "little talent but much desire," a "good ear," didn't know the notes well though played "in their general vicinity," did not study the instrument in a "serious way," had no suppleness or strength in the fingers, which moved "too slowly, too inaccurate."

"Aside from all the above," Stern added, "he was fine."

Giving $10,000 to a cause should eliminate any doubt about the intensity of that commitment. So it is with the Friends of the First Ladies, a group of nearly 50 women who are rallying around the restoration and reinstallation of the First Ladies' gowns at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Last week in New York City, their $10,000 contributions entitled about 30 of them to see -- and be seen with -- such headliners as Ivana Trump, Georgette Mosbacher, Arnold Scaasi and Judith Leiber as they toured Seventh Avenue, visited museums and attended lectures and dinners. For an additional $1,000 gift, the generous ones were christened "underwriters" and permitted to attend a performance of Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" at the Metropolitan Opera.

With an overall goal of $2 million, the Friends' next fund-raiser will be a $250 per person gala dinner dance Nov. 18, when Hermes opens its first Washington area boutique at Fairfax Square in Tysons Corner. On hand will be Hermes Chairman Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermes and Hermes USA President Chrys Fisher.

Prime mover and money-shaker in all of this is Dorene Whitney, a volunteer fund-raiser from La Jolla, Calif., who, after taking on the task, promptly lined up every First Lady from Jacqueline Onassis to Barbara Bush to serve on the Friends' honorary committee. She also arranged for Mrs. Bush to welcome the Friends to a White House tea last spring, put together the New York outing and came up with the idea that Hermes was looking for to make its local presence known.

Meanwhile, under direction of conservator Polly Wilman, the museum's lab in Suitland continues to restore gowns in the First Ladies collection. The target date for reopening the display is April 1992. Already on exhibit in the Ceremonial Court at the museum are the dresses of the seven most recent First Ladies, including Nancy Reagan's one-shouldered white beaded number, which has finally stopped stretching.