Let us drift back one year in time, dear friends. On a blustery day in early December, Levey parked his car in front of 1515 L St. NW., the side entrance to The Washington Post.

The sign said no parking between 7 and 9:30 a.m., and Levey's watch said 9:20. But what was ten minutes between friends? Especially since Levey merely wanted to offload a glass water bottle that contained about 200 pounds in change for Children's Hospital.

It took about 90 seconds for Old Mr. Two-Fingers to run inside and find someone with muscles to help lift the money out of his trunk. Alas, it took only about 30 seconds for an operative from the D.C. Government to sock Levey with a $35 parking ticket.

Impelled by cold fury, Levey wrote about the episode. Ever since, the gang at American Legion Post 139 in Arlington has been feeling a little guilty.

'Twas they who had presented me with the bottle full of money the night before I got the ticket. 'Twas they who had nothing but the best of intentions as they waved goodbye in their parking lot off Washington Boulevard. And now 'twas they who were indirectly responsible for Levey's $35 civics lesson.

So when Post 139 invited me back two weeks ago to pick up a donation for the 1990-'91 Children's campaign, I suspected that parking tickets and sore muscles might come up in conversation.

Little did I know.

Post 139 not only presented me with more than $3,300 for Children's Hospital -- better than three times their gift of a year ago. The guys presented me with my very own parking meter.

Yup, a real, honest-to-goodness, five-foot-high red-white-and-blue jobbie that Billy Rodgers and Jack "Pop" Bernd made with spare parts and spare time in an Arlington machine shop.

The meter has an American flag on one side of the pole and the words "POST 139" on the other. It has a real working meter and crank that Billy and Pop scavenged from an Arlington County Government storage facility. And when I opened the little trap door to the bin that collects the money, I discovered a $20 bill, a $10 bill and a $5 bill.

"We thought you could use this," deadpanned one Legionnaire, as the monthly dinner meeting rocked with laughter.

I told the assembled multitude that the $35 would go straight into the Children's fund -- and the next day, it did. I also said that I planned to bring the meter to my office, where I'd set it up outside my door and charge editors 25 cents each to walk through.

Cooler heads (mainly the cool head I married) persuaded me that such a plan might not be politically correct. So the parking meter now sits in our den, where it is sure to start (and stop) many conversations.

Not only am I delighted by Post 139's venture into iron work, but I'm delighted at the form their 1990 Children's donation took.

Part of Post 139's gift was once again a water bottle containing coins and a few bills. But this time, the bottle was only about one-fifth full, and it weighed only about 40 pounds. I could lift it easily, by myself, without risk of back surgery or parking tickets. Best of all, the bulk of the donation came in the form of two checks. Two pieces of paper couldn't weigh too much if they tried.

To my friends in Arlington, sincere thanks for one of the most clever gifts I've ever received. It will remind me each day that the District Government is dreadful at many things. But handing out parking tickets isn't one of them.

It will also remind me of Post 139's generous gift to the hospital that always runs in the red. The sick kids at Children's are facing much tougher medicine than parking tickets -- and their families are facing much larger tabs than $35. But because of Post 139's donation, the horizon has become just a little brighter.

These groups have made donations in recent days:

Scott Johnson Collins Ladies Auxiliary 9619, Veterans of Foreign Wars ($50).

The Jolly Cruisers ($150).

Washington, D.C., Chapter, International Plastic Modelers Society ($157 raised at the October and November kit raffles).

Riverdale Seniors Club ($60 in lieu of exchanging Christmas gifts).

Capital City Branch 67, Fleet Reserve Association, Suitland ($67).

Stallings-Williams Post No. 206, The American Legion, Chesapeake Beach, Md. ($250).

Lakevale Swim Team ($775.30 when 25 "Dolphins" swam 2,957 laps at the team's pool in Vienna).

AEG & PAD Coffee Drinkers ($80).

Thanks so much, one and all.


Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.