My Turn: Tax season


Published: 3/22/2021 4:05:45 PM

It’s mud season. It’s tax season. Every year, when the sap buckets come out, when the days get longer, when there is only that single patch of snow and ice in the back yard (where the shade is greatest) and when tax season arrives, Harry does too. The connection, of course, is taxes. Harry did mine many decades ago.

Harry was friend of my parents, they had many. When friends arrived, we kissed cheeks and mostly ignored each other. Once in a while, Harry came for dinner, spoke little, praised my grandmother’s brisket over and over, but ate little. As an old friend and a professional accountant, he offered to do my parents’ taxes, accepting little if any reimbursement. And then, years later, when I was a working gal, he offered to do my taxes too.

That was when I got to know him in his own right. He was a small, wiry, gray man with a stubborn demeanor. You’d miss him in a crowd. Life had offered him a few gifts and then had cruelly taken them away. His devoted wife Rose, his beautiful daughter Ruthie. Yet, like someone out of a Yiddish tale, he kept going, living out his days, making a difference where he could and keeping on the move. For example, he insisted on coming to my home to do my taxes. He would travel from his apartment in Brooklyn to where I lived on the upper west side in Manhattan, over an hour ride on the subway. So, that going.

“I’ll come down town, I’d say.

“Never mind, for me it’s no bother,” he’d say and appear at my door at 7 p.m. sharp.

“Let me pay for a taxi home,” I’d say, meaning to show thanks and make things a little easier on Harry.

“What? There’s a subway strike tonight?” he’d reply. He wasn’t a taxi taker.

One year, my taxes got audited. Harry insisted on coming with me to the audit. Suddenly, he became a force of nature, roaring into action. Arguing every question, pouncing on every line, intimidating our poor IRS accountant into submission. I wasn’t allowed to say a word.

“She’s a teacher, for god’s sakes. She buys stuff for the kids. What you want a receipt for every damn crayon?” He argued. He pontificated. He swore. The poor schmo couldn’t be done with us fast enough. So out we went, audit complete. I imagine that forever after my taxes have had some sort of color-coded Harry warning on them.

After the audit, I offered to buy Harry lunch. Anything you want, I said, pointing to all the steak joints and the line-up of Chinese, Italian, Mexican, fish restaurants — anything you want,Harry. But again, with the humility of that Jewish schlemiel in a story, who arrives in heaven and God offers him anything he wants and after days upon days of deliberation, he chooses only a hot buttered roll for breakfast, Harry chose a hot dog from the hot dog cart. I was disappointed. I wanted to serve him up a feast. For me, he added the onions and sauerkraut.

And now I’m thinking, it’s good that I remember Harry even if only during tax season. Good that we recall that we have a purpose to remember Harry or whoever else did us great favors and asked so little in return. How then an act of memory is an act of thanks.

Ruth Charney is a Greenfield resident.


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