The teacher said she had never called a newspaper before. I promised it wouldn't hurt. So she read me a letter that restored my faith in the political process. (The rest of humanity will take a bit longer.)

The teacher serves in a "typical seventh-grade classroom in the Fairfax County public schools," she said. As part of a civics unit, she asked her students to write a letter to an imaginary member of Congress who represents them. "I wanted them to explain what they liked and didn't like about politics," the teacher said. She didn't want the students to address their letters to Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who actually represents them in the House. "I just told them to pretend the letter was going to a generic congressman," the teacher said.

About half the letters decried Northern Virginia traffic ("big surprise," the teacher commented). Several others wondered why Congress couldn't keep the environment safe for the next generation.

A few asked for additional funds for the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The teacher was puzzled by this--until she realized that those children have parents who work for those agencies.

Then there was a letter from "a boy who, honestly, hadn't been attracting much attention all year," the teacher said.

"He just kind of sits there, day after day. But I have to read you what his letter says."

"Dear Hard-Working Congressman," it begins. "I have never voted for you, or for anyone else. I'm too young. But I want you to know how much I appreciate your efforts.

"I have been studying the way politics works, and I know that one member of Congress has very little power. I also know that one party has a majority in the House of Representatives by only a few seats, so it's very hard to put together an agreement about anything.

"It must be hard to go to work every day, knowing what's right, and having trouble passing laws that are right. It must be hard to work late into the night, and to miss time with your families, because someone else wants to delay everything and just hear himself talk.

"I just want you to know that I believe in democracy, and I know you do, too. I appreciate your honesty and your sacrifices.

"It would be very easy for you to go work somewhere else--on Wall Street, or maybe at the Pentagon. I just want you to know that there is one 13-year-old out here who knows you are trying to do your best."

Is this the child of public relations people, I wondered, in my usual suspicious way?

"The father is a policeman, the mother is an accountant," the teacher said. "As far as I know, the parents aren't political at all. But isn't this wonderful insight from a young child?"

Wonderful, and rare, and instructive. So many politicians think that votes are cast because of issues and anger about them. If 13-year-olds could vote, they'd be swayed by hard work, honesty and sacrifice.

Sounds like a platform to me.

It was a rib-tickling misunderstanding, co-starring R.L. Simms, of Reston.

He takes the bus to do his grocery shopping. It's called the Reston Internal Bus System. Restonians know it as RIBS.

One recent day, as he was checking out, R.L. told the cashier: "I don't have much time. I have to get the RIBS."

"Thyme? Ribs? Okay, I'll wait," said the clerk, helpfully. And then: "Herbs are on aisle four, on your way to the meat department."

CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

It's pretty hard not to love matching gift programs. They instantly double or triple your gift to our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital.

If your employer participates--and hundreds do--all you need to do is write your check, obtain the appropriate forms and mail the entire kit and caboodle to me.

To spur you along . . .

David Crozier, of the Children's Hospital development office, says employees of the following companies have done best over the years at playing the matching gift "card":

American Express Foundation, Automatic Data Processing, Booz Allen & Hamilton, Dominion Resources, Fannie Mae Foundation, Freddie Mac Foundation, Geico Foundation, IBM, Mobil Foundation, Reader's Digest Foundation, Sony USA Foundation and The Washington Post.

If you work for one of these companies, consider yourself elbowed in the ribs. If you don't and would like to see your company's name in lights, you know what to do. Many thanks.

Our goal by Jan. 21: $650,000.

In hand as of Dec. 2: $66,810.12.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

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

BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:

Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.