It may have taken 17 years for the cicadas to return, but it took me more than 20. And now after a short stay of nine months, I must leave Washington again, as I did once before as a 9-year-old boy.

I left in 1967, before Metro, before Watergate, even before the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Back then, all Washingtonians were content to take the bus. Lyndon Johnson was president, and blacks were called Negroes. This meant nothing to me at the time. Children will ride anything, are intrinsically democratic and are born without prejudice.

My childhood memories have come back to me in the past few months. I can remember the Good Humor man, the Marine Corps band, trips to Mount Vernon and trick-or-treating on Quebec Street, all as if it were yesterday. Still, the city has changed in many ways. The Sheraton Park lost its "Park," and its ice skating rink became shoe-box-sized suites for visiting conventioneers. The soda fountain that graced a Peoples Drug on Wisconsin Avenue is gone too. Now a condom display is in its place.

Today, I look on my childhood city with the benefit of experience. With a history of my own comes a certain cynicism but also a sense of nostalgia because the best things never change. Every spring, Rock Creek Park blushes anew into a verdant jungle, the boxwood at the Cathedral fragrant as ever and the city's magnolias beautiful and bright.

Nor have the people of Washington changed. You remain friendly and outgoing, helpful and concerned. I hope some of your spirit has rubbed off on me. I'll be back. And next time, I'll beat the cicadas.

PATRICK RAFTER Brookline, Mass.