The four of them -- Jane, Grandmother, the dog and "Cap" -- arrived here in February 1970, and from then on Washingtonians fortunate enough to know Jane Weinberger were in for a surprise. Irreverent at times, frequently just plain funny, she and her pen were off and running the next 17 years while her husband, Caspar, moved up through three Republican administrations from Federal Trade Commission chairman to director of the budget, secretary of health, education and welfare and finally secretary of defense.

An inveterate letter writer, she kept friends and family entertained with what she calls "the views of one ordinary woman living a somewhat extraordinary life." Now compiled in a book titled "As Ever," and published by her own Windswept House of Mount Desert, Maine, the letters are the latest in "wife of" comments and reminiscences about the high and mighty and what made them fly or fall.

Spiro Agnew's acceptance of "dirty little bits of money to do what stupid favors, heaven only knows ... makes me sick ... the children had just begun to believe in the government again. Damm!" she writes. And since she was one of those "still waving the flag on deck when the Captain {Richard Nixon} abandoned ship, I don't feel qualified to say anything."

In one letter she remembers Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin as "a wily old bastard but amusing." In another, she hopes Nancy Reagan, as America's new First Lady, won't be "irritable and snappish. ... We all know how easily upset she can be when things are not exactly as she wants them."

In October 1983, she writes that Cap Weinberger was "grieving and blaming himself because he was unable to persuade The White House to move the Marines from the airport in Beirut -- move them in time to prevent that terrible massacre." And that despite his pleas, he was "always being told that it would look like we had 'cut and run.' That 'Marines never backed down' and other rot like that."

In March 1984, she is the outraged "wife of" shooting off a letter to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens that she is "appalled at your lack of judgment, sensitivity and morality. ... You seem to be upset that my husband's great-grandfather changed his religious beliefs." (He'd been misquoted, he replied a few days later.)

After a Senate ladies' luncheon, she returned home to write how "Cabinet wives mingled with Senate wives and we all behaved beautifully -- except me, I tried to avoid yet another picture with Nancy but Barbara Bush wouldn't let me get by with that."

And in her 1985 Christmas letter, she describes being "reprimanded (by the V.P.'s wife) for having neglected my husband all summer. Not true! I maintain an open door policy at Windswept from April to October. If he only came once or twice, it was the fault of the government -- not me."

When Weinberger resigned as defense secretary in November 1987, she writes, she was the reason -- because of her illness resulting from osteoporatic loss of bone in the spine, a side effect of radiation treatments. "But I'm not as bad as reported," she reassures her pen pal and a couple of weeks later proved it by attending the Reagans' White House dinner for the Gorbachevs, about whom she writes: "He seemed affable enough, but I should hate to meet her on a mountain pass."

Jane's motorized chair "was deemed unseemly" for such an august occasion so a wheelchair and a Marine to push it were provided. "Hellishly embarrassing and undignified," she laments, describing still a "further humiliation: we ran over the President's foot -- luckily, ours, not theirs. Ever the gentleman, {Reagan} forgave me for, as he said, I was not driving."

Despite the word "country" in its name, Barbara Bush's childhood school, the Rye Country Day School in Rye, N.Y., was hardly a one-room country schoolhouse like those that dotted America's rural landscape for the better part of two centuries. In those simple buildings pioneer children learned the Three R's and lots more about growing up in a rugged new frontier. Mrs. Bush may not have attended one but she nonetheless manages to capture some of that nostalgia in a preface she has written to "America's Country Schools" by Andrew Gulliford, being brought out next month by the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Publication Press.

"Young rural schoolteachers -- some barely older than their students -- struggled bravely and with great dedication to share their precious knowledge with the children of our growing nation," the First Lady writes. "Despite their real hardships, country schoolchildren were exposed to a broad view of life. They learned a curriculum steeped in such values as honesty, industry, sobriety and patriotism -- values we all cherish."

But the real point of her preface comes when she reminds readers that in addition to educating children, the country schoolhouse became "the roots of today's adult literacy programs," serving as "a community center, where neighbors gathered for dances, concerts, lectures, debates, political caucuses and worship. By the early 1900s these lively places began attracting older family members in search of knowledge."

"The pioneer families settling America's vast frontiers understood one of Thomas Jefferson's most deeply held convictions," she writes. "That good education is the essential foundation of a strong democracy."

Barbara Bush is big on Thomas Jefferson. She evoked his name again last week at the Library of Congress, where she was recognized for her work supporting literacy. ("Imagine getting an award for believing reading is so very important to our lives, and for saying so in public!" she said.) "Thomas Jefferson and James Madison set what they called 'objects of primary education,' " she told an told an audience celebrating the 20th anniversary of the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS). "The very democratic goal of our democratic founding fathers was that every citizen has access to the information he needs to live his daily life."

Like others there that night to kick off the Center for the Book's "Year of the Lifetime Reader" campaign, Mrs. Bush took home a copy of "Principles of Public Information." In a town where the public's right to know is constantly being debated -- most urgently on the subject of the Persian Gulf War -- the NCLIS offered its definition of "public information" as "information created, compiled and/or maintained by the Federal Government." And it sets out eight principles in a preamble that would guarantee the public's right to know.