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FROM CHILDREN, FRIENDS AND FOES COME WORDS OF WISDOM, WONDER AND WOE

Out of the mouths of babes: I was asked to read a poem to a group of kids at Mountain View Elementary in Brigham City recently. I chose a piece of X.J. Kennedy's nonsense verse.

"This is an absurd poem," I said. "That means it has things in it that are impossible. It talks about winter in August, for example, and you can't have winter in August."A shy second-grader raised his hand.

"You can," he said, "if you live in Mantua."

I've been to Mantua. He's right.

Out of the mouths of babes II: I was watching a Cubs game with my daughter Helena the other day when she said:

"Why do baseball coaches wear the same uniforms as the players? They don't do that in basketball or football."

I thought about this for a long, long time.

"They do that, Helena," I said, "because baseball is a more wonderful sport than basketball and football."

Out of the mouths of geniuses: I recently read that the big sin for women is "vanity" while the big sin for men is "arrogance."

I think that means when arrogant men meet vain women, the women figure they're too good for the guys, while the guys try to take advantage of the women, figuring they need to be humbled.4 OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF READERS: My column on abortion in Utah kindled a brush fire in my mail. I wrote the column to provoke discussion, so included some startling quotes and notions - not all of them mine.

What I provoked was anger. The column became a lightning rod.

And I learned a good lesson. The words "abortion" and "dispassionate discussion" have no business appearing in the same sentence.

Oddly enough, several of the warmer letters came to me unsigned, while the strident responses tended to be signed, with credentials and enclosures.

Tom Barberi of KALL Radio wrote to say: "Great column - 5-22-91. Makes me proud to be a Californian!"

I wrote back telling him people who lived in Utah - like him - were Utahns - tarred by the same brush. Californians lived in California.

He replied: "Paint as you will with your broad brush, just don't splash the ignorance of provincial Utah thinking on me."

A couple of letter writers came to praise me, several came to bury me. A woman I've known for three years said I had "the mentality of a Brigham City farmer with an eighth-grade education."

So now the Farm Bureau can be upset.

In the end, I've come to see the abortion debate as a symptom - the fever or cough - of deeper trouble. Pro-life people would say it's a symptom of a diseased society; pro-choice people would say it's the pain that comes before the gain.

I say this: Don't write about abortion unless you want to get more letters than Santa Claus.