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Across The Lake

The exchange of holiday greeting cards has become a Christmas tradition and although ours was late this year, again we were able to escape using the "This year I'm just sending New Year's cards instead" excuse. Even better than any cards at all are the phone calls from friends and family and topping all else is the visitor who stops by with a personal greeting.

Some guests are expected, some not, but all are welcome and if one shows up from another city, it's especially nice. If that city happens to be Haifa in Israel, you feel doubly pleased to have been included in their itinerary. And so it was with us on Christmas Day when cousin Mary Swenson stopped by. She's no stranger to the area, of course, having graduated from Blackduck High and resided at various times in Hines, Northome, Squaw Lake, Roseau and other places where the family followed her highway engineer father as he oversaw the building of so many of the highways we drive on now.

Clif (E. C). Swenson was pretty well known, too, for putting so many young men to work on summer highway crews and Mary remembers many of them. Always, she's been a lover of history, but when asked why she never majored in the subject, her answer is practical. "If I had, there wasn't much of a future unless I became a teacher. I couldn't do that" and she goes on to reflect the admiration she has for people who can teach and for the temperament it requires.

(Younger brother, Jerry, was a teacher in Iowa, that state's teacher of the year not too many years ago and one of those of whom she speaks admiringly).

In Israel everything you see has history, she says and when you can look back not just for years or even decades, but for centuries, it's overwhelming. That wasn't what took her there, but it's why she stayed after careers in chemistry and physics, until her retirement a few years ago as a technical writer for the electronics firm Intel. (Her PhD is in biophysics and I was smart enough not to ask for details, though I suspect she could have explained it so even I could understand).

We talked of every day life, how she rides her bike through the country, how she has a new stray kitten that still hides at the sound of rockets overhead, how a neighbor turning 91 just had his driver's license renewed but not until he produced a certificate from a doctor attesting to his good health. The renewal, she said, was for another five years. She said wages are good, but taxes very high. We didn't compare any specifics, but it does provide a nice point to slide into the tax item I mentioned last week.

Mary Landrieu is a senator from Louisiana. She asked Congress for $250 billion (that's billion with a b) to rebuild New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina. New Orleans had 484,674 residents. It would mean $516,528 for each of them -- more than $2 million for a family of four. If you had one of the 188,251 homes in New Orleans, that would amount to $1,329,787 for each of those homes. All of those dollars, of course, would come from your taxes.

Do any of us realize the taxes we pay? An alphabetical list was an eye-opener for me. It started with building permit taxes and went on from there. Cigarette tax, corporate income tax, dog license tax, federal income tax, federal unemployment tax, fishing license tax, gasoline tax, hunting license tax, inheritance tax, inventory tax, liquor tax, luxury tax, marriage license tax and

Medicare tax, property tax, real estate tax, along with road mileage tax paid by truckers, Social Security tax, sales tax, school tax, state income tax, telephone excise tax, vehicle license fee, registration tax, workmen's compensation tax and about a score of others, all of them serving to remind us we fought to escape the British and the taxes they imposed.

I was about to toss this e-mail until I read the last paragraph. "Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago. Our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We had no national debt. We had the largest middle class in the world and mom could stay home to raise the kids." Since then, we've had a century filled with politicians. Of both parties!

Thoughts while drying the dishes... This all seems timely because this is the time of year when we get those forms from the IRS, except this year we won't unless we ask for them. If you have trouble getting them, you can always make your request by phone. Just remember to Press 1 for English.